At this time of year North East theatregoers get the chance to see something a little different and sometimes challenging – thanks to SunFest.
The annual festival of theatre gives drama students at the University of Sunderland the chance to take over a performance space for a month and run their own programme of work.
This is the fifth year that the festival, full of youthful invention and vigour, has taken place, and Arts Centre Washington is the venue.
“Sunfest gives our students the experience of planning, producing and performing shows for a paying audience,” says Graeme Thompson, dean of arts, design and media at the university.
“It’s an invaluable experience and a tremendous platform for them to showcase their skills.
“I am grateful to our friends at Arts Centre Washington for providing this unique opportunity for our students.”
SunFest made its debut in 2011, having been forged in the hope that it would offer something diverse and exciting as well as attracting a new audience to the region’s theatres.
Helen Green, creative director at Arts Centre Washington, which hosts SunFest 2015, backs the festival and embraces its aims wholeheartedly.
“At Arts Centre Washington we are passionate about working with young people, supporting new and emerging talent in Sunderland and the development of high-quality theatre experiences for all,” she says.
“We are, therefore, delighted to be able to merge all three of these priorities in the SunFest partnership with the University of Sunderland.
“Arts Centre Washington’s growing reputation for original and innovative theatre makes it an ideal base for the drama students.
“It’s a place where they can gain a real insight into the workings of a small-scale touring venue.”
The festival started in April but there are still some good plays in search of an audience.
Top Girls by Caryl Churchill (April 30) was premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1982. It looks at women’s role in society and what it means to be a successful woman.
The play introduces us to career-driven Marlene, who is determined to reach the top. As the action unfolds we find that Marlene has left her illegitimate child with her sister Joyce while she strives to get on in business.
As the newly appointed managing director of the Top Girls employment agency, she throws a dinner party for famous women from history.
Cloud Nine (May 2) is another play by Caryl Churchill, one of our most influential playwrights.
Premiered in 1979, it is a challenging play with two acts, one set in the Victorian era in an African country under British colonial rule and the other in a London park in the late 1970s. It is a challenging satire, with controversial portrayals of sexuality and obscene language.
Oresteia by Aeschylus (May 8) offers no light relief. One of the masters of Greek tragedy presents his audience with the House of Atreus of the Peloponnese, which is drowning in blood.
“Vengeance begets vengeance in a vicious cycle as alluring as it is affronting,” goes the billing.
Macbeth (May 14) is the first of a brace of Shakespeare productions to grace the Washington stage – in an abridged version which is unlikely to stint on madness and death.
Measure for Measure (May 16) is another abridged version of a Shakespeare classic, this the one in which Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, goes undercover to spy on those he has left in charge while he – as far as they know – is abroad on a diplomatic mission.
All these SunFest performances are at 7.30pm. For more information or to book tickets visit www.artscentrewashington.co.uk or call (0191) 219 3455.