National Student Drama Festival
Various venues, Scarborough
March, 2008

As I noted last year, the wobble suffered by the Festival under its previous director has been corrected under Holly Kendrick’s directorship, and the Festival is benefiting from being helmed by a producer who is both experienced and skilled at putting together entire packages of events and productions. 

It was noticeable, however, that the Festival community knew better than to believe the news stories about those Arts Council funding reprieves.  As I pointed out at the time, NSDF’s funding was restored for this year only, with the next two years’ allocations subject to a fundamental review, which was partly conducted during the week of the Festival itself.  However fervently Robert Hewison may spin that in terms of the Festival welcoming a chance to re-examine and reinvigorate itself, there was at times a feeling akin to that among the staff at a school with the Ofsted inspectors carrying out their flavour of social and intellectual audit.


The rest of the week was… well, was a lot more fun than might be suggested by a viewing schedule that began with Martin Crimp’s Fewer Emergencies and ended with Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis and Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker.  An imaginative company from York University even succeeded in demonstrating (to those of us who needed convincing) that there can be far better ways of performing the works of Steven Berkoff than the way Steven Berkoff performs them.  Their immersive production of Berkoff’s adaptation of Metamorphosis was in many ways a joy, although it gave rise to some controversy about enforced audience participation; some dissent was also voiced about the presentation of the Buzz Goodbody Student Director Award to Alexander G Wright after he effectively admitted during one of the week’s formal discussion sessions that he was unable to control his cast in performance. 

But these are the kind of issues that enliven a festival rather than crippling it.  Thankfully, astute action by Andrew Haydon and his team on the Festival’s daily magazine Noises Off managed to head off yet another repetition this year of the periodic brouhaha about “destructive criticism”, which I’ve now seen so often that I can write articles of rebuttal in my sleep, and sometimes do.  My own re-entry into the Noises Off office this year, after a couple of years of staying in the bar, was a nostalgic event, and I was rewarded with the allocation of a daily column… entitled “When I Was Your Age”!  Well, fair enough, it was 20 years ago that I attended my first NSDF, so the potential for old-fart-type reminiscence was considerable, and boy, did I embrace it.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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