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The Flash Festival Review 2016 held at the Looking Glass Theatre (Hazelrigg House), St Peter's Church and Castle Hill URC, Northampton

For two previous years the Flash Festival had been a highlight of my theatre year. Full of energy, invention and talent, the University Of Northampton BA Actors students had created many a magic moment. So once again I was back at the brand new locations for 2016 for six days and thirteen shows of entertainment in the company of fellow "independent reviewers" Mudbeast76 and new recruit The Real Chrisparkle.

The first thing that must be said about this years Flash was that of the three I have attended, it was significantly the best organised. Our five event organisers, Vicky Cooper, Aisha Ruth-Francis, Lucy Taylor, Daniel Gardner and James Broomfield were without doubt more organised and enthusiastic than any previous ones, and more importantly they had the stamina for the whole week. This coupled with a much improved schedule over the previous year, a better website design, more busy hub space and the impressive videos that were recorded made this without doubt the best year yet. Congratulations to you all.

The venues this year, all brand new, were also the most perfect selection. Breathing new life into not only the event, but by their very nature, life into the plays performed in them. Shows like Mortem Artis could hardly have been imagined in a venue other than the claustrophobic basement at Hazelrigg House. While St Peter's Church created a buzz of new ideas into The End and The Hold Up that no routine theatre space could have done. Even the more routine spaces like the studios at Hazelrigg House and Castle Hill URC were perfect for the more standard play performances, with the latter a really brilliant venue of future potential.

Attendance seemed to be improved on previous years also, although many of the venues were smaller and the bulk of the audience still consisted of other students. Therefore I think there is still work needed to get these shows into the public domain more. However with fifteen shows sold out, there was some good success. My recommendation for next year (and to whom it may concern, there should definitely be a next year, Flash must live on) is to maybe drop a weekday and get shows onto the Sunday to allow a more general audience the chance to attend.

Now onto the shows. This year group were the first that I had seen performances in their first year, so as I reached Flash I had followed them for twenty-five months, so had more invested in these shows than previous years.

They didn't disappoint, so let me present to you my very humble awards ceremony:

Best Technology Use

This year over the previous two, I did feel that technology was slightly underwhelming. Only certain shows used it to a great deal of success. However while there may have been some sound issues on the performance I saw, both prerecorded video, lighting and sound were used to the best effect in:
Illicit Theatre's Forever Looking Up

Best Physical Theatre

As always for the student shows, physical theatre is an important element and while there was slightly less of it in this years offering, the quality was nevertheless excellent. Shows like Altered and Forever Looking Up provided energy and style in abundance. However for the absolute entertainment and appeal of performance, as well as a significant amount of danger, the award goes to:
Two Funny's What If They Were Wrong?

Best Set

There were a number of interesting sets this year. I loved the simplicity of Mortem Artis in the basement, while 100, Acre Wood suitably created a flat with seemingly alive cupboards. Him also provided a realistic living environment very well in St Peter's Church.
However for absolute exuberance and creation of atmosphere there was nothing better than:
Illicit Theatre's Forever Looking Up

Best Individual Scene

This was far less clear cut than the last two years picks, however like both them emotionally breaking scenes, I once again without question chose a sad, but powerful one. As a song is emotionally performed, we witness the graceful packing away of an entire life. Leaving very few dry eyes in the room, the winner is:
Lead Feather Theatre Company's The Show Must Go On

Best Play

This year this was an incredibly tough category to decide with a number of shows offering a similar level of both quality and invention. That invention also created a difficulty in comparing shows, with event theatre and just simple storytelling on offer.

However needs must and my top five shows are:

Fifth place for a mix of stunning movement pieces and heartrending monologues is Infuse Theatre's X Or Y

Fourth place for a riveting and intriguing world setting and an absolutely full-on performance from Amber Mae is Artifex Theatre Group's Mortem Artis

Third place for a theatre experience of a very different kind and a genuine feeling of tension and hostility is Overflow Theatre Company's The Hold Up

Second place for creating a very real futuristic atmosphere and a quite incredible collection of performances is Illicit Theatre's Forever Looking Up

First place and once again like last years choice of top play, an absolute roller coaster of emotion with subtle and soft performances and an incredibly intelligent script is Lead Feather Theatre Company's The Show Must Go On

Best Female Performers (Flash Festival shows)

The Flash Festival shook up my picks for top three females that I had felt were certain at the start of the week, and two unexpected names replaced consistent favourites. This of course was down to the material they had, and indeed provided themselves with.

Third place with an incredibly deep sorrowful portrayal of a cancer victim in Lead Feather Theatre Company's The Show Must Go On is Penelope May

Second place for yet another emotionally taunt performance and that landmark final scene playing two characters in Faux Pas Theatre's Altered is Sophie-rose Darby

First place for delivering a forceful and unquestionably brilliant performance within a group of huge talent is Illicit Theatre's Forever Looking Up'Sharni Tapako-Brown

Best Male Performers (Flash Festival shows)

I knew who was going to win this going into it and they didn't. I haven't even put them in the top three, such is the surprise sometimes with Flash.

Third place was a huge challenge for me to nail down, I knew absolutely which show they were going to come from having decided on first and second places, however which actor from Overflow Theatre Company's The Hold Up? Such was the drama impacted from the show, it was so difficult to choose. However for that shifting persona of initial friend (with a gun) to then outright lunatic (with a gun) it is Tom Stone

Second place for an impressively deep and throughful portrayal of mental disorder, with many silent moments depicting more than words could is Nonsens!cal Theatre's Jared Gregory

First place and genuinely totally unexpected was the stunningly physical, comic and all round barmy performance from Two Funny's Benjamin Williams

Best Female Performers (Full course)

I have added this new category this year to cover the whole course for two reasons, 1) that I have been there for pretty much the whole course, and 2) that the Flash Festival altered things so much that I must regain the balance.

Third place for excellent performances across the whole course, going above and beyond the call of duty in Flash and that performance as Bev in Orientation I may never forget, is Caroline Avis

Second place for a gradual build of performance that reached optimum on the Royal stage with Welcome The Thebes is the captivating Sharni Tapako-Brown

First place and like the male winner, almost a winner from day one at the John Dunne performance (despite then not knowing any names) and who continued to sparkle through the entire course peaking with that standout Blue Stockings performance, it is the dynamic and ultra talented Lucy Kitson

Best Male Performers (Full course)

Third place was a challenge, I knew my top two comfortably at the end of the Royal shows. However this was still open and for the taking. However after careful consideration combining Flash with shows before it. I decided that the wonderful Merry Wives Welsh minister who later went on to perform the most black of comedy rountines had it. It is indeed Jake Rivers

Second place for an incredibly vile character in Blue Stockings, a brilliantly comic Falstaff in Merry Wives and an ominous presense in The Hold Up, it is Stuart Warren

First place and a beacon of intensity from day one, both brilliant in the physical scenes of Gathering Of Infidels and viscous in Welcome To Thebes, it is the superb Charlie Clee


And that was that, another Flash and another group of actors out into the big world. I wish them all well in whatever they now choose to pursue. I hope once again as always at this time, that I get to see many of them perform again. However all I can say for now is go forth and conquer the world. Be someone special, all of you.


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