Dramatic happenings will come thick and fast this week as the curtain rises on Swindon’s annual one act play festival.

The 66th Harold Jolliffe One Act Play Festival features nine plays in three days, varying from high drama to comedy.

The Swindon Arts Centre in Devizes Road, Old Town, plays host to the festival which runs from Thursday, April 11, to Saturday, April 13, at 7.15pm.

Festival director Ashley Heath said: “For anyone wanting a varied night of theatre, HJ1act is just the ticket. Each of the three sessions provides a rich mix of drama and style.”

The actors are awarded marks for acting, production, stage presentation and dramatic achievement. On the final day there is an award ceremony when the winners of Best Actor, Best Director and Best Play are revealed.

Ashley said: “It is like the FA Cup for actors.”

The festival is now a member of the National Drama Festivals Association, as well as the All England Theatre Festival.

Tickets to see three plays each night are £10, or £7.50 for concessions. Call 01793 614837.

The Herculean Players with For King and Country (And Me).

The Herculeans, from Lyneham, have been dealt a blow as they heard just two weeks ago that a member of their cast, Martin Boon, has to go to the Falklands for a couple of months. Martin was to play Jim, the assistant radio programme producer in the players entry for the festival.

Chris Bartle, joint director, said: “Having been in the services we are used to this sort of thing happening at fairly short notice, but as this play has a large cast we were using all the company already; so Iris Bartle has taken over the part as well as co-directing, and the character has undergone a sex change to Joan. Fortunately it’s not too big a role, although vital and on stage for most of the play.”

Last year saw the players lose their theatre when RAF Lyneham closed. The Lyneham Stage Club was formed in 1940 shortly after the station opened, and plays were staged in the civilian canteen and then the gym. In 1969 the Juliana Goss Theatre was built at RAF Lyneham and the players spent the next 43 years entertaining service personnel from RAF stations in Melksham, Yatesbury and Compton Bassett. Today they are the Herculean Players, named after the Hercules aircraft that flew from the station.

Iris said: “Last year we had the sorry task of clearing out and auctioning off our scenery and costumes.”

But in true showbiz style the actors soldiered on and will be performing For King And Country (And Me) written by Iris, at this year’s festival on Friday, April 12.

Iris says she based the play on the old BBC series, Hancock’s Half Hour.

“I decided to write a play about the mishaps in a live broadcast of an episode of Dick Barton Special Agent, combined with the showbiz belief that the show must go on,” she said.

The Original Theatre Company with Telescope

The actors may need a telescope when they sail across the Solent to compete in this year’s Swindon festival, as the theatre company is based in the Isle of Wight.

The author of Telescope, Kevin Wilson, is also the founder member of the company.

He said: “I wrote the play and tested it out on a few people and the reaction was good, but although the Island is a great place, I do want to test out my work with a wider audience, and thought that entering the Harold Jolliffe One Act Play Festival would be a great place to start.

“So we are looking forward to sailing across the sea to Swindon.”

The Original Theatre Company was set up 18 months ago and is based in Chale Church. Kevin always wanted to stage his own plays so setting up his own company seemed the perfect vehicle. Joining him in the company are fellow actors Patrick Barry, Rebecca Brough, John Hammond, Jane Moore, Peter Stockman and Lorna Wilson.

The company’s entry in the Swindon festival is based on the theme of looking on the bright side of life.

Kevin, who also directs the drama, said: “My starting point was the simple idea that we can get so downhearted about things that we fail to look closely and see the positives: for example, a grey sea and a grey sky can actually be beautiful.”

The Original Theatre Company will be performing at the festival on its last night, Saturday, April 13.

The Clarendon Players with Good Things

The players are stalwarts of the one act play festival and last year walked away with Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor awards, as well as notching up the runner-up spot overall.

Paula Clifford is this year’s director as they tackle the romantic comedy, Good Things, by Liz Lochhead, on Saturday, April 13.

She said: “The comedy is set in a charity shop in Scotland, and it has a lot to say about finding love in later life. Susan is left on the shelf as her 50th birthday looms. She works as a volunteer and has to deal with her old dad, her adolescent daughter and an ex who still has the capacity to wound.”

The players are based in Royal Wootton Bassett and began performing in 1969. They aim to produce three full length plays a year and compete in the one act play festival, rehearsing every week in the Memorial Hall.

Whole Hog Theatre Company with Wet Work and Funny Ha Ha!

Last year’s winners of the festival are coming back with two strong contenders to compete in the drama festival.

Matthew Clift directs both plays, and co-wrote the comedy drama Funny Ha Ha! with Becky Cann.

He said: “It attempts to see the tears behind the make-up of two circus clowns, down on their luck and their lives, as they contemplate ending it all and visiting The Big Top in the sky.”

Becky stars in her play alongside Darren Little, who is the writer of the theatre company’s second offering, Wet Work - a black comedy about two hit men who are waiting for their next assignment when all hell breaks loose.

Wet Work is performed on the first day of the festival on Thursday, April 11, and Funny Ha Ha! closes the festival on Saturday, April 13.

New College with Strings This collaborative piece of theatre is again directed by Matthew Clift. It was written and devised by the A-Level drama students at New College.

Matthew said: “Using a quote from controversial stand up comedian Bill Hicks as a stimulus, this is an experimental performance with a post-modernist structure, combining a mixture of theatrical styles to create a visionary masterpiece...or maybe just a giant puppet-show?”

Last year the New College students’ entry was Capti-Gaeth, which was nominated in the best play category. The actors will be treading the boards with Strings on Friday, April 12.

Pewsey Vale Amateur Dramatic Society with Towpath and Blood

PVADS have two plays entered in this year’s festival. Towpath is the contribution from the adult group of the society and Blood is the offering from the youth section.

Towpath is a comedy directed by Martin Clifton, and is written by Robert Iles. PVADS began in 1926 and has been entering the festival for more than 10 years.

Martin said: “Towpath is about a homeless women, a deserted wife, a nervous bride and a lonely widow who meet on the canal bank and form an unlikely friendship. The all-women cast form a great vehicle for this comedy drama from a very new dramatist.”

The youngsters from PVADS are tackling Blood, which was written by their director Nettie Powell.

Nettie is a stalwart of the one act play festival and a firm believer in encouraging young people to take up drama, not only as recreation but to instil confidence and teach them how to work as a team.

Nettie said: “Blood is a quirky piece of theatre about an unusual subject – what do your blood cells go through when you live your life to the full? Inspiration for this piece came oddly from one of the youth members turning up to a Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsal last October in a red Morph suit. This is not just a comedy though, in fact it’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.”

She says that many of the original youth members are now fully integrated members of PVADS, on the committee, running the technical teams and starring in all major productions including the recent The Darling Buds of May and Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Towpath opens this year’s festival on Thursday, April 11, and Blood is performed on Friday, April 12.

Swindon Act with Search Party

Swindon ACT is entering this year’s festival with Search Party, a drama directed by Aaron Parsons.

Swindon Act is an adult community theatre that provides drama classes for adults of all ages and abilities, in and around Swindon. It was founded in 2010 by Luke Marquez, a Swindon-based teacher and performer specialising in drama training for people aged 16 plus. In 2011 Luke was joined by Aaron, an experienced theatre practitioner and workshop leader.

The theatre group also offers one-to-one tuition and bespoke workshops for businesses, organisations and amateur theatre groups.

Aaron praises his actors for their hard work in rehearsing for the festival. He said: ‘’It is getting all very exciting as the pieces slot into place.” Search Party will be on stage at the festival on Thursday, April 11.