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Nidderdale and District Drama Festival

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The 55th Nidderdale and District Drama Festival held at the Frazer Theatre on 15-17 March was won in style by Pateley Bridge Dramatic Society with a bravura performance of Keith Burton’s witty and action-packed comedy ‘On False Premises’. The action takes place in a luxury, New York apartment which Jake, a chancer with sex on his mind, has borrowed from a friend at Vacation Swappers.com but pretends he owns to impress his new girlfriend, Mary. The premature arrival of vacation swappers Dan and Rose, forces Jake and Mary to pass themselves off as the real owners. But then Dan and Rose spring a surprise of their own. The performance was full of fast-paced and confident ensemble acting and won the audience award, the best actor award for Brad Pollard as Jake, the best producer award for Keith Burton himself and the best production trophy. PBDS now go forward to contest the Area Final of the All-England Theatre Festival at Saltburn on 6 and 7 May.

Woodlands Drama Group were close runners-up with their performance of Wilf Hashimi’s intriguing, absurdist comedy ‘May We?…Oui,.Mais…’, imaginatively directed by Julie James and interpreted with flair and subtlety by Howard Atkin and Alison Gilmour as a couple obsessively analysing and re-creating a selection of numbered life moments. The playwright, who made a surprise appearance in the audience on the night, pronounced himself delighted with the interpretation. The production won the runner-up trophy, the Michael Wade artistic originality award and (for the second year running) the best actress award for Alison Gilmour.

Some of the finest acting at the festival came from Alan Harwood and Alex Bird of Harrogate Dramatic Society in a delightful rendering of Peter Quilter’s ‘Blind Date’ (from ‘Duets – a comedy in four acts’). As the middle-aged Jonathan and Wendy, initially awkward and unconfident after arranging to meet through a magazine lonely hearts column, they performed with perfect comic timing and nuanced observation under the assured direction of Tony Fennerty.

Pateley Bridge Juniors, performing on the Friday before their senior colleagues, gave us a delightful rendition of David Campton’s timeless parable ‘Us and Them’ in which two groups settling the same land build a dividing wall for security with disastrous consequences. The youngsters performed this splendid play with great energy, impressive projection and confidence. Daisy Reinsch as the narrator/recorder, won the David Crumpton memorial cup (adjudicator’s discretionary award), Jonathan Levy and Dan Morell jointly won the best male actor trophy and Connie Richards the best female actor award. Joyce Liggins and Ruth Dodsworth, who jointly won the best producer’s award for a junior play, are to be congratulated for their outstanding work with these youngsters.

Knaresborough Players provided a wonderful set to accompany their production of Act I of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, a smash Broadway hit from the late 1960s and deservedly won the F. H Barron cup for best stage décor. Colin Beveridge made an assured directoral debut and Jemma Bunting and Mike Atkinson gave confident performances as the not-so-blissfully married couple Sam and Karen Nash, though the decision to perform a very American play with English accents puzzled the festival adjudicator, Cherry Stephenson.

Much was expected of Dewsbury Arts Group, a troupe with an outstanding pedigree who made their festival debut on the final night with a new play by the distinguished David Foxton. ‘Make Yourself at Home’, a modern take on French farce, proved enjoyable fare, but the performance, unexpectedly, failed to take-off, the large and beautifully designed set appearing to inhibit the obviously talented actors on the small stage at the Frazer. Malcolm Parkinson, with a larger-than-life performance, won the Philip Hickson Memorial Cup for Acting.

This year’s event, excellently hosted by Knaresborough Players, proved one of the most enjoyable and best supported festivals for some years and bodes well for the future of this long-established staple of the local amateur drama scene.