Despite the circumstances, I am proud of everyone who has been involved with DDF. It has not been easy, but we have done it. In a time where theatre has come to a standstill, it fills me with delight to know that we can still persist and do what we can to celebrate the art form that we love even if we cannot be in person. Social Distancing and lockdowns have reminded us not to take basic human interactions for granted, including that of sharing artistic experience with others whoever they may be. I eagerly await the day I will be able to sit in a dark room with a bunch of strangers who collectively engage in theatre as well as the day I will be able to meet the creatives I have been lucky enough to work with in-person.
Alexander Cohen, Festival Director

Durham Drama Festival (DDF) 2021 begins tomorrow, running from 1st to 7th February. DDF has been one of the annual highlights of the DST calendar for over 40 years, comprising an entire week of theatre that is written, produced, directed, performed, and organised by students.

While typically performed in the Assembly Rooms, this year’s festival will be entirely online due to the effects of COVID-19. Shows have been adapted from stage pieces to Zoom pre-recordings, live online shows and audio plays, all of which will be available for free on Youtube. Links to the premieres will be provided from the Durham Drama Festival Facebook page.

This year, DDF features nine shows in various forms, welcoming two returning and seven new writers to the festival scene. More information on the motivations and themes behind each show can be found in their writer’s notes, published daily by First Night during the week of the festival.

Imogen Usherwood, writer of ‘Meeting Point’, commented: “DDF looks very different this year, but I’m so glad to be part of it – we hoped that by February things might be a bit more back to normal, but nonetheless it’s been a pleasure to work with such a talented cast and crew on some online theatre. I’m excited for Meeting Point to make its first appearance in preview form, even if it isn’t what we planned at first.”

Meanwhile, Harry Jenkins, writer of ‘Degenerate’, noted: “I’m super excited to be kicking off this year’s DDF with my play, ‘Degenerate’, and looking forward to seeing the rest of the lineup too! My hope is that the unique challenges we’ve faced this year will have lead to some really interesting, unusual theatre being made. It would be amazing, too, to see work from it spread beyond Durham, as these online releases allow far more people than usual to watch the shows. My family at least are pleased they’ll finally get to see something I’ve done at Durham!”. 

The 2021 festival will be judged by acclaimed dramatist April De Angelis and award-winning director, writer and poet Jake Murray. De Angelis’ adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, ‘My Brilliant Friend’, was performed at the National Theatre in 2017, while Murray is the Artistic Director of Durham-based Elysium Theatre Company. 

DDF 2021 judges, April de Angelis and Jake Murray.

The festival also features workshops and events with impressive industry professionals. Students are encouraged to sign up for the events early from their Facebook event pages, even if they are not sure of their attendance, in order to receive the Zoom link and further event information.

Theatre-maker and performer Helen Goalen begins the educative program at 2pm on Monday 1st with a workshop entitled, “Expressing the radical”. Goalen is a founding member of RashDash, a theatre company who specialise in devising new pieces of physical theatre, seeking to “move people emotionally and viscerally, to be non-elitist and promote activist thought, conversation and action.”

DDF judge April De Angelis will take part in a Q&A on Tuesday 2nd at 2 pm, giving a talk about her illustrious career before opening up to questions from the audience.

On Wednesday 3rd, DDF welcomes acclaimed playwrights Simon Stephens & Chris Thorpe to a virtual roundtable, where they will reflect on the meaning of ‘radical’ as well as what the future holds for theatre as an industry. Simon Stephen is an Olivier winning playwright whose adaption of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time toured across the world. Meanwhile, Chris Thorpe is an Associate Artist at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, and the organiser of the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). 

In addition to these performances, workshops and events, DDF includes more relaxed, social activities, such the DDF Quiz Night on the evening of Thursday 4th. Any DST cast is encouraged to sign up as a team, with a cash prize and donation to a charity of their choice on offer for the winner.

The award for ‘Best Writing’ will be presented by a special guest at the closing ceremony on Sunday 7th February. In previous years, before the COVID-19 pandemic, awards have been more extended and presented at the D’Oliviers ceremony, including categories such as ‘Best Lighting Design’, Best Male or Female Actor, and ‘Best Show’.

The closing event will also feature a screening of student-made short films and trailers, curated by the DDF executive committee.

Students are encouraged to make the most of our virtual circumstances by arranging a zoom call with their casts, production teams and friends to enjoy the ceremony together.

Further details for all of these events and performances can be found on the Durham Drama Festival section of this website and the Durham Drama Festival Facebook page.

A day-by-view view of what’s in store for Durham Drama Festival 2021.