CENTREFOLD / Opportunity knocks: London New Play Festival delivers a wealth of writing talent

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Why should any writer of talent bother to write plays? No one notices them. No one pays for them. And precious few people ever get to see them. All the same, this year's London New Play Festival received over 400 scripts from which 13 will be performed over the next five weeks. The programme contains plays from Nigeria, Canada,

Australia and Britain, on vegetarianism, murder, refrigeration (Julie Baloo's Cartoons from a Cold Corner, right) and (best title) The Girl Who Fell through a Hole in Her Jumper. It also includes devised and mixed-media work (notably Noelle Janaczewska's The History of Water) from playwrights down to the age of 22. 'We have a responsibility to the future of contemporary theatre,' says director Phil Setrin. 'This programme is our prediction about what will be happening in theatre in two years' time.'

For the playwrights involved, things are more down to earth. 'The aim is to find a way to make my living by writing,' says Craig Baxter, a part-time typist and no spring chicken at 29. Last year six festival writers came away with BBC commissions and one (Wendy Hammond) has gone to California to work in a Spielberg write-tank.

Eye-fluttering agents and TV script editors haunt new-writing festivals. 'Theatre feeds TV,' says Lizzie Taylor of Yorkshire TV, whose own teeth are still sharp from her theatre-producing days. 'Theatre is still the place where writers are most likely to take risks.'

Not all the writers in Setren's festival need to impress Taylor. Biyi Bandele Thomas has just completed a feature film with the BBC (an urban fairy-tale called Bad Boys) and is set fair with TV commissions through the Nineties. But he returns to the stage in order to keep his writing alive. 'There are very few chances for dramatic writers to learn their craft,' he says. 'This festival is vital.'

The 1994 London New Play Festival takes place at the Old Red Lion and Gate Theatres from today until 20 August. For full programme details call 071-833 8755

(Photograph omitted)

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