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First radio drama festival comes to Herne Bay

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HERNE BAY is to host a new festival this month that could spread the town’s name across the world.

The UK International Radio Drama Festival is the creation of Moving Theatre and will run over the last three days of this month, Thursday to Friday, February 26-28, at venues throughout the town.

Put simply, the festival involves people gathering in small, intimate venues and listening to high-quality radio plays from around the world. To make the experience all the more welcoming, you will be served tea and cake.

All very civilised and it seems a long way from today’s multi-media onslaught of hi-tech entertainment, but any images of men in 1950s tank-tops listening to crackling wooden radio sets disappear when you appreciate just how many people tune in to radio drama.

“Excluding The A rchers, a million people a day listen to radio drama in this country,” said Moving Theatre development director Melanie Nock.

Consider that The Archers, Radio 4’s long-running saga of country folk, pulls in an audience of more than five million and the appeal is clear.

“The digital age has reinvented radio drama,” said Jonathan Banatvala, the theatre’s artistic director.

“In a way we’re harking back, but it’s really about digitalisation because you can reach people’s homes in a way you couldn’t before, even 10 years ago. And we can still listen to radio drama as we used to, like when we’re doing the ironing.”

This year’s festival, which also involves Herne Bay Town Partners, is a pilot project and it is hoped it will have a long-term future that could ultimately draw hundreds, if not thousands, of people to the town.

“This is the country’s first radio drama festival and we could see Herne Bay associated with radio drama in the way that Hay-on-Wye is with literature,” said Mr Banatvala.

Listenings will be based primarily at the Vintage Empire Tea Room, throughout Thursday and Friday morning, and at the Beach Creative gallery, both in Beach Street, while there will also be internet broadcast to pubs and cafes.

Dramatists from around the world have been asked to take part and there have been contributions from as far afield as the US, Russia, Germany, Spain and Slovenia, while the BBC has also put forward some work.

For a piece to be considered, it must have been broadcast within the past two years.

Plays that are spoken in a foreign language will have scripts provided for the audience.

“It will be like watching a film with subtitles,” said Mr Banatvala. “But you hear the narrative in a different way when you don’t know the language.”

Any work selected will have some connection to live theatre, for example it could be a live stage play, be about theatre or have been recorded in a theatre.

“We’re interested in the crossover between the two forms of presentation,” said Mr Banatvala.

A panel will decide which play is the best and its writers will receive a £2,000 prize. Such incentive has attracted 23 full-length dramas and six short pieces.

So why Herne Bay, especially given that Moving Thetare is based in East Sussex?

“We’ve been to events like this in glorious conditions around the world, such as Croatia, Rome and Berlin, but there wasn’t one in the UK.

“We chose Kent because there is a genuine commitment to the arts here. And Herne Bay is a beautiful, windswept seaside town with lots of cosy places – it’s a celebration of England in winter.”

To learn more about this month’s UK International Radio Drama Festival, visit radiodramafestival.org.uk.

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