Posted January 31st, 2017

The Devonshire Park Theatre literally (well nearly!) rocked on the opening night of Rent.  A packed house waited in eager anticipation in front of the amazing set for this rock musical – a fitting start the 2017 season – one of change for Eastbourne Theatres.  It was a very different audience for the DPT:  people of all ages – some of whom were perhaps in for a shock if they thought they were going to see a version of Puccini’s La Boheme – on which the story of this is loosely based!

This new production, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of Rent, is set in New York City’s East Village, and tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.  It was hard to imagine how so many fitted on to the DPT stage.

Some of the Cast

Not only a large company of actors with amazing vitality and energy, but five musicians and countless backstage crew who dealt with the challenges of the stage’s infamous rake as they battled to manoeuvre parts of the set during frequent scene changes.  So many commendable performances and beautiful voices: not least of whom was Lucie Jones, who only days earlier had been chosen to represent the UK in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.  Perhaps some might see this is as somewhat of a poison chalice these days – but let us hope it is not “Royaume-Uni nul points” when she competes in the Ukraine in May!  Good luck in the competition Lucie!

Sadly Lucie was not able to join the rest of this talented cast in the theatre bar for a drink with The Friends after the show but it was a pleasure to meet so many of them.  We wish them all well with the remainder of their tour.

Posted January 29th, 2017

Before settling down to a tea of sandwiches and cake at the Cumberland Hotel, around 100 Friends were entertained by their newest Patron, John Hester, with stories about his life as a “jobbing” actor.

The programme for our archives

 

 

John is well known to audiences at the Devonshire Park Theatre in recent years for his appearances in numerous Talking Scarlet plays – in which he made the role of the police inspector his own – and he is currently touring with their production of The Sound of Murder, which he is also directing.  As a memento, John handed over a programme for the show inscribed with personal messages from the cast – all well-loved visitors to our theatre: Michelle Morris, Kim Tiddy, Marcus Hutton, Ben Roddy and Jolyon Young (apologies for any omissions).  This will be kept for posterity in our archives.

 

 

Like so many of us, John’s love of the theatre stems from his very early childhood and he is not alone in his first experience being watching pantomime at Leatherhead Theatre.  The small John would want to sit in the front row – eager to be in prime position for any opportunity to go on stage!  He was also inspired by childhood holidays spent on the Isle of Wight when the theatre played a big part. Not only would John be fascinated by observing the actors leaving the theatre at the stage door, the three-play repertory system with each play starting on a Thursday meant that during a fortnight’s holiday it was possible to see all three productions.  He had hugely supportive and indulgent parents!

After school – where he admits the young John Hester was not encouraged to take up an acting career – at the early age of eighteen he started his training in 1976 at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London; a seedbed for many now famous actors of both stage and screen. Our own Chris Jordan and his wife Natasha are fellow alumni, along with other household names such as Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Keith, Sir Antony Sher, Julian Fellowes, Minnie Driver and Terence Stamp to name but a few.  John recalls it was a tough and strict regime, but he survived the eight term course unscathed and launched himself into his acting career.

His first job was in Chesterfield in two week rep and after eighteen months he joined Newpalm Productions as an Acting ASM in Tonbridge Wells.  He first worked at the Devonshire Park Theatre during the summer season of 1982 as the DSM and Company Manager when he was understudy for the late John Inman in My Fat Friend.

John’s career path then took him into Theatre in Education (TIE) with more than three years of touring the country bringing theatre to young people in schools and other organisations.  A spell with Vanessa Ford Productions followed when he worked mainly as Acting ASM.  He admits that it probably brought him one of his proudest moments of his career when, at the Westminster Theatre,  he ended up – thanks to the step-up understudy system and probably his own diligence – playing three roles in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  from the Chronicles of Narnia!  Spells with Adrian Lloyd-James’ Tabs Productions followed and, of course, more recently his work with Talking Scarlet.

What John did not mention during his talk was that he has also been a speech and drama teacher for around 20 years and was Head of Drama at Newlands School in Seaford for three years, where he taught GCSE and A Level drama. He is a LAMDA examiner, an adjudicator for The British and International Federation of Festivals and has written a number of books on theatre craft.   He also runs his own very successful SPATS theatre school in Carshalton which focuses on bringing high quality professionally based acting tuition to children and young people.

A hugely talented man whom we are proud to have as a Patron!

After a few months’ gap it was a real pleasure to welcome Talking Scarlet back to the Devonshire Park.  This time with Terence Feely’s drama Who Killed Santa Claus – a play that they described themselves as an alternative festive “treat”.  That might be going a little too far as it wouldn’t be a Talking Scarlet production without murder somewhere in the plot – but this is somewhat different: a “who is going to do it” drama. In the end, do we know who did?Judging by the discussions afterwards, that is in dispute so there are certainly no spoilers here!

Front (l-r); Gary Turner, Jeremy Lloyd Thomas Middle: Michael Cross, Freya Copeland, Kim Tiddy Back: Matthew Zilch, David Callister, Davies Palmer

Front (l-r); Gary Turner, Jeremy Lloyd Thomas
Middle: Michael Cross, Freya Copeland, Kim Tiddy
Back: Matthew Zilch, David Callister, Davies Palmer

 

The theatre bar was again packed to welcome all our old friends amongst the Talking Scarlet cast.  It is always such a delight to chat to them and we are grateful for their giving us so much of their time. tricia-doing-the-welcome

While Talking Scarlet are busy with their own Pantomime “Beauty and the Beast” in Brighton, rumour has it that Patric is himself treading the boards as a dame in Cinderella at the New Theatre Royal in Lincoln!  Safe travelling Pat and we look forward to seeing you back in Eastbourne in 2017!

Once again a fundraising event for the Friends of the Devonshire Park Theatre was dogged by the weather, but the wind and rain did not deter our loyal supporters from turning out for what was the last event to be held by the Friends in the Congress Suite before its demolition in the New Year to make way for the exciting developments at the Congress Theatre.

linda-brian-after-opening-the-fair

Opened by Friends’ Patron, actor Brian Murphy and his actress/crime novelist wife Linda Regan (and their delightful dog Frendy), the atmosphere was soon buzzing as the crowd moved around the various stalls bagging those bargains. As usual, cakes and toys proved winners but all the stalls were kept busy throughout the morning.  Trade was particularly brisk for Linda, whose new novel “Sisterhoods” is out later this month, as she and Brian sold and signed her books for eager fans.  The Friends are really grateful to her for donating the profit on these sales to them.

the-buzz-of-the-fair

Among the visitors were two cast members from “Dead Sheep”, Paul Bradley (well known to television audiences for his roles in “Holby City” and “Eastenders”) and Steve Nallon – a founder member of the “Spitting Image” team whose brilliant portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the play has received great critical acclaim. Eastbourne’s MP Caroline Ansell listened intently as he was interviewed by Edward Thomas as his alter ego, the Iron Lady herself!  We understand that she went to see the play for herself that evening.

Once again, the Friends were grateful to their members, distinguished visitors, the attending public and all those who supported their efforts at this fair which raised around £1,500 to be put to good use in our beautiful theatre.

 

 

Posted November 8th, 2016

There was a palpable air of expectation in the theatre as the audience awaited the start of this much heralded play about the events leading to the demise of Margaret Thatcher.  This, the first play written by writer and broadcaster Jonathan Maitland, is the true story of how the Iron Lady, once considered to be the most powerful woman in the western world  –  and at the same time the most divisive Prime Minister of modern times – was brought down by her one time friend and political soul mate, her ex-Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe.

The play gets it curious title from an episode back in 1978 when Denis Healey, the then Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, had likened an attack from Howe as “like being savaged by a dead sheep”.  The play, of course, had particular poignancy for many in the appreciative Eastbourne audience as it also covered the dreadful assassination of local MP Ian Gow.

After two hours of drama full of excellent performances from the six-strong cast, the bar was packed with Friends eager to meet them  –  and they were not to be disappointed.

Front: Paul Bradley, Steve Nallon, Graham Seed Back: Christopher Villiers, John Wark, Oliver Dawe (Associate Director

Front: Paul Bradley, Steve Nallon, Graham Seed
Back: Christopher Villiers, John Wark, Oliver Dawe (Associate Director

It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Steve Nallon, whose portrayal of Margaret Thatcher had been so utterly convincing (although we did hear that the high heels were crippling!) and Paul Bradley who had skilfully penned a delightful and witty speech in response to the welcome from Friends’ Chairman, Lesley Raven. He said how wonderful it had been to be invited to meet some of the audience and compared their treatment in Eastbourne to experiences in some of the other places they had visited on tour:  in Doncaster they had to compete with lively horseracing crowds, in Birmingham the security for the Conservative Conference and in Exeter  –  the hills!

paul-bradley-responding-to-the-welcome-with-chairman-lesley-looking-on

There had been memorable performances from other members of the cast, including some amazing mimicry of Bernard Ingham (which we heard was back-breaking!), Alan Clark and the lisping Brian Walden.  It was an absolute pleasure to chat to them.  We were sorry that a prior engagement prevented Carol Royle from joining us  –  but perhaps next time!  Thank you all for giving so much of your time and we wish you every success with the remainder of your travels with this refreshing play.

Posted November 8th, 2016

Don’t forget to come along to the Congress Theatre on Saturday morning (12 November) for our Autumn Fair in the Foyer and Congress Suite. This year we are absolutely delighted to be welcoming our long-standing Patron, Brian Murphy, who will be opening the event at 10am.  Brian will be accompanied by his wife – the renowned actress and crime writer – Linda Regan who will be selling and signing her books.  Linda is kindly donating the profit from the sale of her books on Saturday to The Friends!

brian-murphy-and-linda-regan-2

With many different stalls and fun things to do – not forgetting our now famous cake and toy stalls – you will be spoilt for choice!  A good opportunity do some early Christmas shopping, or try to win some festive cheer in the wine and spirit raffles, or perhaps chance your luck on the tombola or the instant raffle. Then sit down and relax with a cup of coffee or tea and tempting homemade cakes and scones.

Help makes this Fair – sadly the last we will hold in the Congress Suite – the most successful ever!

There was a tangible sense of excitement and the beginning of a ‘new term’ in the auditorium as the large first night audience waited for the curtain to rise this week.  The theatre had been closed for a month whilst the foyer was undergoing its facelift and everyone was looking forward to the much anticipated new play Princess Undone – starring Stephanie Beacham on her return to the Eastbourne stage after fourteen years.

Fellow Friend and theatre correspondent, Kevin Anderson, summed up the play in his piece in The Herald as, “A consummate study in flawed royalty ………. a literate, elegant script threaded with surprising humour as well as sudden moments of devastating pathos”. Written and directed by Richard Stirling and inspired by actual events, the play gives a tantalising insight into the lives of the inhabitants of Kensington Palace with frequent – and often not particularly flattering – references to other members of the Royal Family who live there.  Stephanie was on stage throughout with an amazingly believable portrayal of Princess Margaret:  fun-loving, kicking her heels off and donning slippers one moment, then standing on ceremony the next!

L-r: Harry Livingstone, Stephanie Beacham, Jason Merrells, Gary Webster Front:  Writer/Director Richard Stirling

L-r: Harry Livingstone, Stephanie Beacham, Jason Merrells, Gary Webster
Front: Writer/Director Richard Stirling

It was with great anticipation that The Friends gathered in the bar to meet the four-strong cast and the writer/director Richard Stirling.  It was a pleasure to chat to them all!

 

 

 

Posted September 18th, 2016

Around 90 Friends gathered in the Congress Suite to take part in a quiz set for them by the Rattonians’ own Mark and Melanie Adams.

melanie-and-mark-adams

Quizmasters – Mark and Melanie Adams

Admitting this was the first time they had devised a quiz, Mark and Melanie explained – to the consternation of many of the six-strong teams – their questions were to be mainly set around the theatre – and in true Rattonians’ tradition, musical theatre at that!

Fortunately for many of those gathered, only the top scoring teams were identified – there would probably have been a whole load of contestants for the lowest score booby prize  (if there had been one!)  – and it was little surprise that the  winning team had two members very closely associated with musical theatre during their professional lives – Gaye Vaughan and Jackie (Toye) Davies.   Well done to them.

the-winning-team

The Winning Team

It was a somewhat bemused gathering that settled down to enjoy their tea of sandwiches and cake!

The raffle held that afternoon raised £116.

Posted September 13th, 2016

The Friends always look forward to welcoming the cast of a Talking Scarlet production to a bar reception and in many ways this was a doubly special occasion as this play, written by Simon Williams, was directed by our new Patron, John Hester.  Alas, this Friends’ gathering was not on the opening night of this play and – as is the wont in the lives of the busy professionals involved in bringing us these productions – both writer and director were absent as they had moved on to their next project.  This by no means detracted from the enjoyment of the play itself by the sizeable audience gathered on the night.

There is no doubt that this play’s success is very dependent on the skills of the four main proponents in the story, and this four/five strong cast did not disappoint.  Sadly, Leah Bracknell who had been cast in the role of Harriet, was taken ill a matter of days before the play was due to open and her part was thrust upon Emily Lawes – who graduated from Exeter University last year, but whose performance was to be commended!  This also meant that we got a brief on-stage glimpse of Bonnie Poole.  Bonnie – whom we had met on several occasions in the recent past in her role as ASM with Talking Scarlet.

After such a hugely entertaining evening – hilarious at times with incongruous cross-dressing, amazingly timed telephone/intercom conversations – it was real joy to welcome this cast to the bar reception after their impressive two-plus hours on stage.

Front (l-r): Bonnie Poole, Tilly Standing, Emily Lawes Behind: Stephen Beckett, Michael Fenner

Front (l-r): Bonnie Poole, Tilly Standing, Emily Lawes
Behind: Stephen Beckett, Michael Fenner

A really friendly group of people who seemed more than happy to mix with the Friends gathered to meet them, share their experiences and sign autographs!

We discovered that Michael Fenner is not only a superb actor, he is also an exceedingly accomplished artist whose work has been shortlisted for the RA Summer Exhibition and is on display in London galleries.  It was also good to learn that this production had brought together two old friends: Tilly Standing and Bonnie Poole had studied together at LAMDA before graduating in 2015.

We wish them all luck as they tour around the country with this play until the middle of November.

Posted August 27th, 2016

We all have a chance to support our lovely Devonshire Park Theatre by voting for it in UK Theatre’s “Most Welcoming Theatre” award for 2016.

UK Theatre is the UK’s leading theatre and performing arts membership organisation and this award is given initially on a regional basis and then an overall UK winner is announced at the UK Theatre Awards ceremony in London’s Guildhall on Sunday 9 October.

Voting is monitored by the Electoral Reform Society and to ensure that smaller theatres, like ours, are not disadvantaged a formula is applied which divides the number of votes by seating capacity – so we do have a chance alongside the larger theatres!

To vote go to the website http://uktheatre.org/vote/  and then select the South East region on the map.  The rest is straightforward.  Please note that only one vote per email address is permitted.

The ballot closes at 12 noon on Monday 19 September and by casting your vote, you will be entered into a Prize Draw for £200 worth of theatre vouchers!

So please get voting!