As Artistic Director Steven Atkinson produces his final Festival, he leaves HighTide behind for Suba Das to take the reins. Daniel Perks reflects on the last thirteen years with Steven:

HighTide Festival 2019 has opened its Aldeburgh doors for another year. But when they close, they will bid a fond fairwell to its founding Artistic Director, Steven Atkinson,

“I’m thrilled to be going out with a bang. We’re producing six world premiere productions at HighTide Aldeburgh.

“As someone who commissioned these ideas and brought them in to being, I’m very proud. And I’m confident our audiences in Aldeburgh will love them too.”

Pops Assembly Roxy
Pops‘ Nigel Barrett & Sophie Melville (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

Many of this year’s works were tried and tested as part of the Disruption festival at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019. The likes of Pops, Collapsible, Since U Been Gone and Pink Lemonade sit alongside the two centre shows – Kenny Emson‘s Rust and Sophie Ellerby‘s LIT,

“I had wanted to work with Kenny for years because he’s a wonderful writer; funny, innovative, and smart, and he’s very successful in TV and film, not least being BAFTA-nominated, but he hadn’t had a stage piece fully produced by a major theatre, so I wanted HighTide to seize the opportunity by getting in first.”

Rust Assembly Roxy
Rust‘s Jon Foster & Claire Lams (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

LIT will be my last show as Artistic Director and it feels perfect to bow out with. Sophie Ellerby is unusually gifted. Her writing is hilarious and vivid. I’m convinced in time that she’ll have as successful a career in TV and film as Phoebe Waller-Bridge now has, so to have helped discover her and promote her talent is why I love this job.”

HighTide EdFringe 2019
Since U Been Gone‘s Teddy Lamb

And after thirteen years, Atkinson has given several now prominent playwrights a much-needed platform to springboard from – Luke Barnes, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Ella Hickson and Vinay Patel are just a few names in a long list of glittering alumni,

“I love how fearless I was. To have taken on the hardest type of theatre – new plays by new writers – staged these shows in a festival in a tiny rural town, and to have had the luck and ambition to get those shows to places like the Royal Court and National Theatre, the West End and Off-Broadway, is the stuff of dreams.

“The fact that HighTide has developed so much of what is seen as today’s contemporary British new writing theatre scene, and that the company has become so well regarded, is such a collective tribute to the staff here over the years and the talents of all the artists. I’m immensely proud.”

Collapsible Assembly Roxy
Collapsible‘s Breffni Holahan (image courtesy of Holly Revell)

Back to 2019 and Atkinson’s swansong, his final year of programming before Suba Das takes over. In addition to the Disruption plays are Untapped award winners Poltergeist Theatre, bringing Art Heist and Molly Naylor‘s Lights! Planets! People!. A programme almost entirely comprised of female and queer playwrights,

“When I started planning to leave HighTide, I did the inevitable and reflected on my time here. And I was surprised that I/ we hadn’t promoted queer culture more given I’m gay.

“Prior to starting work on this festival, I didn’t have contact with any non-binary people, and one of the gifts of this year has been creating new friendships and gaining an insight into the world through the prism of non-binary artists.”

Pink Lemonade Assembly Roxy
Pink Lemonade‘s Mika Johnson

“The gender choices were much less conscious, though my full-time colleagues at HighTide are all women so perhaps it’s inevitable that when we’re making team programming choices, we’re all very interested in female perspectives.”

And as HighTide closes one chapter for 2019 and enters its next phase, Atkinson is as proud and positive about his achievements as he rightly should be. So how to summarise the HighTide experience in five words?

“Adventurous theatre for adventurous audiences”.

The HighTide Festival plays in Aldeburgh on 10-15 September 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.