Manchester is gearing up for a theatre takeover, as the ninth year of the 24:7 Theatre Festival approaches from 20 to 27 July. The festival offers an opportunity for ten playwrights to mount a seven-performance run of their new work.

As well as mainly contemporary, often Mancunian, settings 24:7 Festival also offers a piece set in 1639; the plays range from tragedy to comedy and cover themes including: astronomy, superstition, loss, loneliness, guilt, love, forgiveness, incarceration, mental health, family ties and arson.

Aside from the ten main hour-long plays there is a Rehearsed Reading strand, acting workshops, Q&A sessions with writers and performers, as well as a double-bill of plays from Canberra’s You Are Here Festival. All the action takes place at the three 24:7 venues (two stages in the Co-operative’s New Century House, and one at 3 Minute Theatre in Affleck’s Arcade). In addition, most of the extra events are free, or very low cost.

For writers the obvious appeal comes in the shape of seven audiences, as well as media attention and the potential for further development opportunities and recognition. Earlier this year, the Library Theatre’s Re:Play series (billed as the best of Manchester’s fringe) featured three plays from 24:7 2011, and Ian Winterton’s Sherica won Best of the Fringe in 2011’s prestigious Manchester Theatre Awards.

Most importantly, for audiences, 24:7 Festival offers the chance to discover new writing and see some excellent performances at very little cost (tickets are £8, £6 for concessions). None of the productions are longer than an hour, which means you can (just about!) catch one in a lunch break from work, or fit one in before or after dinner. There’s also a very friendly, community atmosphere to the whole festival, from volunteers to cast and crew.

With variety being one of 24:7’s strengths, it’s impossible to tell which might be the ‘hits’ of the festival although I am particularly looking forward to seeing:

1. Francesca Waite’s Stars Are Fire, which looks at the loneliness of losing a mum and leaving Manchester, is presented by critically-acclaimed Monkeywood Productions who scored a recent hit with Once In A House On Fire.

2. Surreal supernatural comedy as a journalist writes a fairytale, in Anthony Morgan’s The Legend of the Ghost Shark

3. Jo Kirtley-Pritchard’s Loaded, an explosive drama focusing on a stark choice for troubled teenager Chantelle.

4. My Arms, a two-hander by James Leach, with the intriguing prospect of a family’s story told in reverse, and featuring Roberta Kerr who was excellent in True by Emma Rydal which went on to be awarded Audience Award for Best Play in the 2011 festival.

Enjoy!

The 24:7 Theatre Festival runs from 20 - 27 July. For further details visit the 24:7 website.

- Laura Maley