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Up Next Festival returns to Unity Theatre celebrating Merseyside artists

4 weeks ago

Up Next Festival returns to Unity Theatre celebrating Merseyside artists
Picture - Unity Theatre

Unity Theatre’s annual celebration of Merseyside artists – Up Next Festival – is back for 2024, providing a two-week long programme featuring brand-new shows from Merseyside’s most exciting artists and companies.

Following an extended break in 2023, the hotly anticipated Up Next Festival kicks off at the Unity Theatre on Wednesday 24 April.

Up Next Festival has been made possible through Unity’s Open Call Crowdfunder 2023 Donors and as a result of funding from Arts Council England, Liverpool City Council and The Granada Foundation.

This year’s festival includes newly commissioned works across a range of artforms including world premiere plays, poetry, cabaret, installations, drag and music. As well as the packed theatre programme, this mega line-up also includes the first ever Up Next Comedy Night, a 2024 exhibition, DJs, panel discussions, creative events and more.

The line-up of 14 artists/companies has been selected through the award-winning Unity Open Call scheme, which provides Merseyside creatives with funding, producing support and a slot in Unity’s programme.

Opening the festival, Andrew McKay – known for drag persona Filla Crack – presents a new show using interviews from within the drag community to explore the highs and lows of having an alter ego of the opposite sex (Wed 24 April) 

Wo-Man at Unity Theatre
Wo-Man at Unity Theatre

Speaking on the return of Up Next, and holding the prestigious Opening Performance mantle, Andrew said:

“Up Next festival embodies Liverpool’s vibrant community spirit, where the generosity of public donations empowers artists like myself to bring our stories to life on stage. Through our art and creativity, we offer audiences a captivating glimpse into diverse lives and experiences.

“Providing a nurturing space for exploration and learning is pivotal to the success of any show. Just as every major theatrical production undergoes meticulous testing, Up Next serves as a crucial step in this journey, allowing artists to refine their craft and forge meaningful connections with audiences”

New work from Merseyside playwrights at Up Next Festival include Borrowed by Sasha Georgette – a radical story about a pregnant fat girl and a prejudiced healthcare system; At The End of the Day She’s Still Your Mother by the award-winning Jess Green – a darkly comic look at the mother/daughter relationship set in a Breast Cancer Clinic; Buckled by Helen Jeffery – a new show exploring sobriety and drinking culture; and Sass: A Chained Melody by Olayemi Z. Ade – following RnB girl group member Buki as she explores queerness as a Black and North African person.

For Buckled creator, Helen Jeffery, the return of Up Next is a real opportunity to showcase local talent.

Buckled - Unity Theatre
Buckled – Unity Theatre

Helen said:

“I can’t wait to bring ‘Buckled’ to the Stage as part of the Up Next Festival this Spring. There’s so much creative talent in Liverpool and I’m honoured to be a part of this 2-week event showcasing what our city has to offer” 

Other new shows appearing at the festival include a Friday night double-bill of coming-of-age tales-with-atwist in Berber Boy by Habibi Theatre and Space Invaders x Liar by Tip Tray Theatre. Week two then begins with a captivating new sound installation Earth is Lost by Sonic Mutiny, that will take over Unity One and propel audiences into space.

The following Friday (Fri 3 May), Merseyside Woman of the Year Natalie Denny and her much-acclaimed social enterprise, Skywriters Ltd. present Revival – a showcase of writing by Black and Minoritorised women, created through community workshops and culminating in a performance for Black History Month. 

Finally, Up Next Festival 2024 concludes with a Saturday packed full of laughs, beginning with eccentric drag king comedy by The Barry, Brian & Bean Company, followed by the festival’s first-ever comedy night. Hosted by Unity regular and Open Call alumni, the award-winning comedian Sian Davies, this stella line-up of scouse comedians is the perfect way to finish Unity’s two-week celebration of Merseyside artists.

Already announced as part of the line-up are sets by Alex Stringer, Niki Rooney and Sian Davies, with more coming soon.

Ticket prices start from £6 and every performance will be captioned, BSL interpreted and/or audio described to ensure the festival is as accessible as possible.

Up Next Festival - Unity Theatre

Matthew Brown, Unity Theatre CEO, said:

“Up Next is a cornerstone of the Unity calendar, and its return in 2024, following an extended break in 2023, is testament to the popularity and following for this fortnight-long celebration! 

“We know how highly anticipated news on the return of the festival has been and Up Next 2024 will offer something for everybody.  

“And, since the inception of Open Call in the Pandemic, the project has provided over 50 Merseyside artists to date with funding, training, and a slot in the Unity programme. Up Next Festival 2024 is further recognition for Unity Open Call and the important role it plays for our sector, across this region. The Festival will bring some of the best creative talent on Merseyside together in one venue – with a wide variety of diverse performances, in both artform and story, over a 2 week period.  It will inspire. It will provoke. It will offer new perspectives.  

“We’ve also recognised a need to provide affordable performances for all audiences, offering ticket prices which are inclusive and considerate of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Whether you want to see the whole programme, or just one show, there’s an option for everybody. 

“It is wonderful to know that Merseyside based artists are once again taking over Unity; we’re excited to host a programme of insightful and powerful performance” 

Festival schedule: 

•       Wed 24 Apr, 20:00: WoMan by Andrew Mckay / Filla Crack

•       Fri 26 Apr, 18:15: Space Invaders x Liar by Tip Tray Theatre

•       Fri 26 Apr, 20:00: BERBER BOY by Daniel Foxsmith & Moncef Mansur

•       Sat 27 Apr, 18:15: At The End of the Day She’s Still Your Mother by Jess Green

•       Sat 27 Apr, 20:00: Borrowed by Sasha Georgette

•       Wed 1 May, 18:15 & 20:30: Earth is Lost by Sonic Mutiny

•       Wed 1 May, 19:30: Sass: A Chained Melody by Olayemi Z. Ade

•       Fri 3 May, 18:15: Revival by Natalie Denny

•       Fri 3 May, 20:00: Buckled by Helen Jeffery

•       Sat 4 May, 18:15: Losing Brian by The Barry Brian and Bean Company

•       Sat 4 May, 20:00: Up Next Comedy Night

For more info on Up Next Festival click here.

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