THE now annual Write On Festival returns this summer with a plethora of brand new and exciting works performed at The Courtyard.

The festival, now in its fifth year, runs from Wednesday, July 1 to Saturday, July 4, showcasing new work from writers, directors and actors.

This year, the search to find the best local talent has expanded to embrace not just Herefordshire, but bordering counties and the West Midlands, and the festival will feature 12 performances over four days and includes drama and poetry as well as site-specific pieces and scratch pieces.

“The Courtyard is committed to new writing, especially that of new staged productions," says David Durant, associate director at The Courtyard, "so we are really excited to be involved with the Write On Festival again.

"The submissions have been of such a high calibre, and cover just about every genre. This will be a fantastic showcase of local talent, created and performed by local people.”

Among the pieces being shown is the premiere of The Magnetic Diaries, the first poetry-play by prize-winning poet Sarah Leavesley, who writes under the pen name of Sarah James.

The production, which is directed by Tiffany Hosking, will star Herefordshire actress Vey Straker and has been developed through script sessions at The Courtyard.

The poetry-play, based on Sarah's third published poetry collection, takes the characters and initial storyline of Gustave Flaubert’s 19th century masterpiece Madame Bovary and re-envisages them in a modern 21st century English setting.

The inspiration for The Magnetic Diaries, says Sarah, was her own experiences of depression, which she then set into a fictional framework in which the narrative unfolds through poems, penned by the heroine Emma Bailey as she struggles with depression and a marriage in trouble, making this an unusual piece to stage.

Vey Straker’s live solo role as Emma is accompanied by a soundtrack of doctors' notes, emails from Emma’s husband and the voice of her daughter.

“Going to London to try out some pioneering new treatment for my own depression, I knew that I wanted to record the experience in some way and try to create something positive from it.

“Almost immediately I felt that the best way to do this was not autobiography but through the eyes of a fictional character, and that that character was a modern Madame Bovary.

“I hope that the poetry aspect will provide an unusual and intense atmosphere for audiences that heightens the natural drama of the story.”

Vey Straker’s previous roles include 4Play Theatre productions: Iron by Rona Munro, Two’ by Jim Cartwright, in which she played all seven female characters and The Pillowman by Martin McDonough. She has also appeared in local writers’ plays including the monologue, ‘The Reason I’m Here, and she reached the semi-finals of the Norman Beaton BBC Radio Drama scholarship and featured in the short film Shadows which premiered at Borderlines Film Festival.

"The poetry is beautiful," says Vey, "Tiff and I have been working on bringing the poetry off the page and turning it into theatre, making the poetry really accessible."

Another brand new production that will be performed for the first time is David Wood's first play, The Call of Duty, which tells the story of one of the greatest English heroines of the 20th century, Gladys Aylward, whose exploits included singlehandedly leading more than 100 children to safety across the war-torn mountains of northern China.

The Call of Duty, directed by Alan Gurr, is an intimate portrayal of her first meeting with the BBC Producer, Alan Burgess, and explores Gladys's life, uncovering a fascinating, personal insight into her remarkable, true story.

There will also be a chance to catch the a dark and twisted comedy by Mariela Stevenson, set in England in the all too near future, in which three pig-farming sisters and their patriotic mother maintain a successful cottage industry by way of an unusual relationship with the authorities.

And another literary figure appears in The Zennor Lantern, a play by Nigel Knowles of Bewdley, which takes an incident from the life of D H Lawrence as its subject - Lawrence and his German wife Frieda are exiled in Zennor, Cornwall during the First World War. The authorities consider them seditious aliens, saying their lantern and open window were a signal to waiting German submarines, when in fact the window was open to ease Lawrence's asthma. The tension between the couple mounts as admirers of his writing and the police arrive at the door.

The Call of Duty, Wednesday, July 1 at 8.45pm; Pigland, Friday, July 3 at 7pm; The Zennor Lantern, Friday, July 3 at 8pm; The Magnetic Diaries, Saturday, July 4 at 7pm.

Full details of all 12 productions can be found at To book, visit the website or call the box office on 01432 340555.