It was ambitious to hold an eight-day festival of new dramatic writing in a small town like Duns.

Many were sceptical, some never understood what it was about, and many who had never experienced live theatre were frankly perplexed …. nevertheless they came!

The Duns Volunteer Hall was specially transformed for the occasion by Allanbank Arts, who created an informal, cosy atmosphere which induced people to stay: to watch a play, a cabaret, a film, listen to a story, have a go at improve(isation?) comedy, learn how to write a play, discuss acting with actors and directors, enjoy a meal with friends, have a drink, or simply soak up the atmosphere from the comfort of a sofa or chair.

So much was also happening behind the scenes. Tom Murray, the well known Borders writer and poet, worked with the pupils at the Duns Primary School to write and perform several small plays, and Rona Munro, one of Scotland’s foremost playwrights and script writers, worked with students from BHS on her adaptation of the novel Frankenstein for the stage. These workshops were aimed at nurturing and developing the talent of young people as performers and playwrights.

The Festival audience was wide and various, ranging from young children to senior citizens, and they came from various parts of the country: from Duns itself and from other Borders’ towns and villages, and from the Lake District, Edinburgh and London. For many it was their first experience of live theatre.

John McEwen, the Festival Director, said:  “There were more than 30 events, 20 plays were performed, and 25 organisations, local and national, were involved. The support we received from the various organisations was amazing and we owe them our thanks.”

Here is a list:

  • A Heart For Duns
  • Allanbank Arts
  • Creative Scotland
  • Lammermuir Community Fund
  • Blackhill Windfarm Community Fund
  • Face PR
  • Live Borders
  • Borders Young Creatives
  • Playwrights Studio Scotland
  • Borders Pub Theatre
  • Berwickshire High School
  • Duns Primary School
  • University of the Third Age
  • Alzheimers Scotland
  • Dignity in Dementia
  • Writers in the Library (Creative Writing for Mindfulness and Wellbeing)
  • Community Lunch Club
  • The Open University
  • Treading the Borders
  • Alchemy Film Festival
  • Moving Image Makers’ Collective
  • Berwickshire Wheels
  • Borders Mental Health Awareness Week

Jon added: “We also need to say a special thanks to all those individuals who helped make this festival a success by devoting their time, talent and energy. They are too numerous to list here but you know who you are.  A big thank you to everyone, especially to the people and local businesses of Duns, and we look forward to seeing you all next year!”

The Scottish playwright David Shirreff’s play Colonel Anne was premiered at the DunsPlayFest.

David said:  “I love the atmosphere of the Volunteer Hall, because as you walk in, you see not only chairs and the auditorium, but also a sitting room with sofas and even a skeleton and very interesting décor, and you think you’ve walked into some kind of a club. Between performances, I could happily sit here with a drink and talk to my friends and from there you get drawn into the fact that there are things going on.

“You could spend your entire afternoon here from 2pm until the last show ends at around 9 or 10pm. You feel that you’re in a friendly family atmosphere which is an interesting concept, and it works!

“Another thing that surprised me is that Duns is quite a small town and yet there was a full house here last night. It was bums on seats and it was fantastic and most people I heard from had good things to say about the play, the atmosphere, the production and the acting, and I think it helped in a way to put DunsPlayFest on the map.”

Home page image: A scene from David Shirreff’s play Colonel Anne [Credit Jonathan Findlay]