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Manchester’s 24:7 Theatre Festival returns with a bumper line-up

By Tom Midlane

The annual 24:7 Theatre Festival returns for its eighth year to warm the cultural cockles of those still mourning the passing of the Manchester International Festival.

Taking place over nine days (July 21-29), the festival will showcase 13 premieres across three venues – Sachas hotel on Tib Street, The Midland hotel on Peter Street, and New Century House on Corporation Street.

Founded in 2004 as a rival to the Edinburgh Festival, 24:7 has championed the work of new writers since its inception. The rules are simple: the plays must clock in under the hour mark and must not have been performed before professionally (though producers are allowed up to three previews under the 24:7 banner).

All submissions were reviewed by industry professionals, before being shortlisted to a final 13, and as always with 24:7, there’s a real diversity evident in the plays selected by the panel.

Acclaimed Oldham director and playwright Matthew Dunster’s I Know Where The Dead Are Buried explores violence in a northern town (with a cast including former Hollyoaks star Tony Hirst), while 24:7 founder David Slack appears in Sherica, the story of a lefty teacher whose infatuation with a sex worker opens him up to blackmail and ultimately threatens a vulnerable pupil in his care.

Speaking to Mancunian Matters, Slack says: “For a playwright there’s no greater thrill than hearing the expectant hum of an audience gathered to see your script performed. The connections and confidence gained from having a show on at 24:7 can really start something.

“Previous writers have gone on to be commissioned, had their plays toured or have just found the confidence to produce their plays themselves. But none of it would happen without an audience so we hope to see you there!”

Elsewhere, darkly comic drama The Crimson Retribution features artwork by Hammo, responsible for some of the amazing graffiti in the northern quarter, and Telling Lives tells the emotionally fraught drama of Manchester’s Prestwich Asylum.

However, it’s not all grim up north. Light relief is on hand in the form of comedies Keep It Simple and Flag, while Joyce Branagh has penned family adventure Peggy and the Spaceman, about Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s real-life 1961 visit to Manchester, for children aged 6+.

Alongside the main festival, there’s a whole host of after hours events including comedy sketches, performances by the Chinese Pagoda Youth Orchestra, a work in progress night, and a spoken word night starring Tony Walsh, poet-in-resident for the 2011 Glastonbury Festival.

The 24:7 organisers have also embarked on the ambitious staging of two 24 hour plays, which will see audience members pitching ideas one evening, with actors, writers and directors given only a day to produce it.

Writers Cathy Crabb and Sarah McDonald Hughes are ready to burn the midnight oil, with directors David Fleeeshamn (fresh from starring as Thomas Gradgrind in the Library Theatre’s much-acclaimed production of Hard Times in Murray Mills) and Elisabeth Newman (resident director at the Bolton Octagon) on hand to translate their words into a coherent performance.

Grabbing a quick word with Festival Director Kathryn Worthington before this year’s 24:7 kicks off, she tells MM: “There’s a great line up this year and advance sales are going strong. Grab a ticket now while you can!”

For full event listings, tickets and information on 24:7 Theatre Festival, see http://www.247theatrefestival.co.uk/

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