The UK International Radio Drama Festival, which ran from Thursday to Saturday (February 26-28), was the creation of Moving Theatre and played productions from across the across the world to audiences at the Beach Creative gallery and the Vintage Empire Tea Room. Melanie Nock, the delighted development director of Moving Theatre, said:
“It went really, really well – we were very pleased. There were full houses every day and we had international, national and local visitors. Some would listen to as many plays as they could, while others would come in for a particular production, such as one from, say, Russia. People came and went throughout the festival, so it was difficult to put a precise number on how many people came.”
With seating for up to 30 people at the tea room and 40 at Beach Creative, it was standing room only for some of the more popular productions. And, whether standing or sitting, scones and tea or coffee was available for everyone. It was a situation enhanced by the opening of Beach Creative’s new café.
It was something of a gamble for the Moving Theatre team and Melanie admits there was an element of heart in mouth as to how well the festival would be received.
“Sir Roger Gale opened it, which gave it that little bit more exposure – and he was a radio drama actor himself, which I didn’t know before, to be honest. And Beach Creative was having its own exhibition and craft fair, so people were going along for that and hearing the drama and wanting to stay for it. A lot of the people who came in said ‘Gosh! We’ve never seen anything like this’.”
And how did the team find Herne Bay as a venue?
“Brilliant. Everyone was friendly, supportive, helpful and enthusiastic – all those good things.”
Visitors travelled to Herne Bay specifically for the festival from as far afield as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia, while submissions came from the US and Russia. Notable faces were the heads of drama at both Czech and Hungarian national radio stations, together with the BBC’s head of radio drama, who had travelled from Wales.
There was also the small matter of prizes to be won, with a panel of eight judges choosing the best productions of the festival. Hilda, a tale of modern-day slavery from Slovenian national radio, took the £2,000 first prize in the long-form category, followed by a Czech production called The Maze, which had been inspired by the writer’s visit to Hampton Court maze in the 1960s, and then Big Broadcast: Snow, a BBC story about a crew putting together a production on Christmas Day but being snowed in.
The short-form category winner, which took £350 prize money, was Against Democracy, from the Czech national station, in which a son is told by his parents that was an ‘accident’ and not wanted. Runners-up were Countdown, a Romanian piece about soldiers in a tank under attack, and a more light-hearted work from East London Radio’s Clare Spencer called Coke Owl, the tale of a man training his 95 owls to communicate with drug-dealers.
In all, the festival cost Moving Theatre £5,000-£6,000 “from its reserve”. Ultimately, it will look to cover those costs at future events, perhaps through grant money, but the important thing is that the festival happened. Melanie said:
“It’s an art form that really needs encouragement. We did it because we thought it really important to have this in the UK. It’s hugely important that it’s accessible because people in the UK don’t get chance to hear much of it, partly, admittedly, because the BBC does so much. Its quality can be excellent, but there isn’t always the variety of contributors you have in some countries.”
So, will the festival be coming back to Herne Bay next year?
“Definitely, and it will be bigger. We’ll keep to the same time of year as well. Winter’s the perfect time to sit in and listen to radio. It rained a lot to prove the point.”