It is amazing how even the best part of seventy-five years on, the thought of the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands in 1943 can bring a chill.  German-occupied Guernsey was the setting for this wonderful play written by Moira Buffini in 1997 and for which she drew her inspiration from actual accounts of life on the island at that time. She focuses on the sensitive relationships between the local women and the occupying German officers.  It was a time of pure terror, hardship and food shortages and it is a good feeling to think that the desperate – yet feisty –  women in this play were typical of those living what must have been totally terrifying ordeal with a future (if they had one) full of uncertainty.

It was a capacity audience that waited in anticipation of the house lights going down in front of an amazing raised set of a somewhat austere Guernsey farmhouse – which, we were to learn afterwards from the producer, had all manner of significance and symbolism.  Perhaps – as we were also to hear – not so good for those sitting in the front rows of the stalls, though!

This well cast and superbly acted play was full of drama, suspense with some brilliantly timed humour thrown into the mix.  The two hours went amazingly quickly and it was unsurprising that the bar was packed with Friends waiting eagerly to welcome this wonderful cast and members of the company.

The Cast. (clockwise from top left): Paul McGann, Sarah Schoenbeck,
Venice van Someren, Belinda Lang, Jules Melvin, Robin Morrisey

For the majority, it was their first visit to the Eastbourne stage – and for Paul McGann the first time he had taken a play on tour.  It was a joy to welcome them all and we are grateful for their willingness to chat, share their thoughts and allow more than the usual number of selfies!  The party went on for some time – as the pictures below bear witness.

 

 

So, who was was Gabriel?  An RAF pilot, an SS interrogator, a local boy with amnesia or perhaps a saviour sent from heaven?  No spoilers here, but perhaps we will never know!

We have been very lucky this year with some (if not most) of the productions on offer at the DPT and we must all give Chris Jordan a huge vote of thanks for bringing yet another top quality play for us to enjoy.  More of the same, please, Chris!

Following the success of the tours held recently, we are pleased to offer another chance to hear about the history of our theatre, go on stage and be guided through the technical aspects of staging a show and then see the backstage facilities for the actors.  Each tour will be guided by Edward Thomas, whose knowledge of the history of the DPT is unsurpassed.

The Friends are also holding a Spring Coffee Morning at the theatre that day so you will be able to buy coffee (or tea or soft drink) and cake in the bar as well as perhaps bagging yourself a cake from the cake stall.  Books, jewellery, tombola, raffles and lottery game will also be on offer.

There will be an opportunity for buying a memento of your theatre tour in the form of Edward’s informative book The Playhouse in the Park, which will be specially discounted on the day for those doing a tour, or some lovely notecards with photographs depicting the unique safety curtain or some of the beautiful aspects of our theatre you will see during the tour.

Do hurry to get your tickets for the tours – priced at £5 per person – as numbers are limited and those held in February sold out very quickly.  Tours start at 9.45am, 10.45am and 11.45am.

Book in advance to avoid disappointment by calling Maria from the Friends of the Devonshire Park Theatre’s marketing team on 07955 432619 or by emailing email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Please join us on 20 May.

Remember if you are coming to the Box Office,
why not stop for a coffee?

For many in the packed house at the DPT for the first night of Abigail’s Party, it was frightening to think that it is indeed forty years since Mike Leigh’s iconic play was first performed.  The set before them was perhaps so reminiscent of the homes they knew all those years ago.  The room divider – complete with drinks cabinet –  the shag pile carpet, the vinyl records, the cheese and pineapple on sticks stuck into a foil covered orange, not to mention the plentiful supply of alcohol!

It is a period piece now – but so beautifully performed by the five-strong cast led by Amanda Abbington as the appalling hostess, Beverley!  The audience were enthralled and appalled in equal measure as the drinks party from hell degenerates into total chaos, the drama intensifies and the comedy becomes tragedy – ending on a note of total farce!  A heady mixture which, despite those oh so cringing moments, stands the test of time.  So convincing had the performance been, it led one Friend to ask a cast member if there had been much improvisation, “definitely not” came the reply with some mutterings about how unhappy that would have made Mike Leigh!  Not to mention the technical difficulties the stage management would have encountered in synchronising Demis Roussos!

The Cast: clockwise from top left: Ben Caplan, Amanda Abbington, Ciaran Owens, Rose Keegan and Charlotte Mills

It was a very enthusiastic group of Friends who gathered in the bar in anticipation of meeting Beverley, Laurence, Angela, Tony and Susan – aka Amanda, Ben, Charlotte, Ciarán and Rose!  It was an absolute joy to chat to such a friendly group of actors who gave very freely of their time.  This particular party went on for some time.

We wish them well for the remainder of their UK tour and hope to see them all back at the DPT soon!

“Just seen Pink Mist. I nearly didn’t book thinking this really wasn’t my thing – so glad I did” were the words of a Friend posted on our Facebook page after the opening night of the play.  How many times was that sentiment shared by others in the audience that night?  This play, written by Welsh novelist, playwright and poet Owen Sheers and originally commissioned by BBC Radio 4, has been received with much critical acclaim since it was first produced on stage by Bristol Old Vic in 2015.

The play, which tells the story of three young men from Bristol who from an early age had wanted to ‘play war’ and who get to do the real thing in Afghanistan, was inspired by the playwright’s interviews with thirty returning servicemen.  It is not a comfortable subject matter – even less so when research shows that the title is army slang used to describe the way the spray of blood hangs in the air when a body is blown up – when “vitality turns to vapour”.

It is powerful stuff and beautifully performed by the talented six-strong cast – all of whom remain on stage throughout.  A true example of how the right words and actions need no complicated and expensive set – in this case a wheelchair and a bench.  Added to this was really clever lighting, projection, sound and amazing choreography – that was so disciplined and synchronised that at times the cast seemed to perform as one – which made watching the play a spellbinding and heart-wrenching experience.  So much so that there was barely a dry eye in the house as the curtain came down!

Front: Zara Ramm, Peter Edwards, Rebecca Hamilton
Behind: Alex Steadman, Dan Krikler, Rebecca Killick

It had been a good sized audience and the bar was crowded with Friends awaiting the cast and company after the show.  For most, if not all, of this young cast it was a first time in Eastbourne and they all chatted happily sharing their experiences of this demanding play. The discussions went on for some time!

The cast with Producer, Nick Williams; Stage Manager, Tom Gamble and ASM Megan Doherty

We wish them every success as their tour of the UK draws to its end.

Posted February 27th, 2017

Waiting in the foyer before the show, theatre-goers were startled by the sound of gunfire and raised voices – fortunately a rehearsal for what was to unfold some two-plus hours later!  Another slick production from the Kenwright stable – now rebadged The Classic Thriller Theatre Company – and a move away from Agatha Christie to this adaptation of what is considered to be one of Ruth Rendall’s best thriller stories involving the slaughter of four members of the same family in Suffolk on Valentine’s Day sometime in the late 1970s.  Not written as a whodunit – in fact the novel opens with the murder sequence – there is nevertheless a crime to solve and to keep the audience engaged and guessing.  Is the culprit that obvious? Surely too much so; but no spoilers here.

After some brilliant on-stage performances from everyone in this talented twelve-strong cast – with special mention to Sophie Ward as the dowdy, apparently unworldly housekeeper and Deborah Grant as her curly-yellow-wig-toting ex-prostitute-cum-postmistress friend (a mismatched friendship if ever there was one!)  – it was wonderful for the Friends to welcome the cast and company to the bar for a well-earned drink

It had been a packed house on this opening night at the DPT: a situation echoed in the bar where there was barely standing room!

As always so good to chat to the cast and company – old friends and new – and get some insight into the production.  We thank them for giving up their time and their willingness to sign autographs.

We, of course, wish them well for the remainder of their stay in Eastbourne and the success of their continuing tour which, we were told, continues until August.

Posted February 14th, 2017

What a treat for the DPT!  A powerful courtroom drama that had the near-full house on Eastbourne’s opening night on the edge of their seats.  A thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking watch, even before the proverbial curtain went up – or certainly before the house lights went down.   With a cast of actors very familiar to television audiences –  led by Clive Mantle as the washed-up, alcoholic Boston lawyer and Jack Shepherd as his seventy-something  fellow lawyer, mentor and father figure, it was an evening of enthralling theatre with a really heart-wrenching storyline.  Even the evocative Irish music – reminiscent of the proponents’ Irish-American background – tore at the emotions!

Despite it fast approaching most people’s bedtime before the final curtain, it was a packed bar that waited eagerly for the fourteen strong cast and members of the company to join them for a really well-earned drink.

First to arrive was Okon Jones who much to everyone’s delight went the length of the bar shaking all the gathered Friends by the hand!  It was excellent to have Middle Ground back again with their co-founder and Director Michael Lunney  – who himself took to the boards playing no less than two characters in this production – although he was barely recognisable behind the moustache and glasses as the defending anaesthetist (or as the Americans would say anaesthesiologist!) Dr Jonathan J. Crowley.  It was wonderful to see so many familiar and friendly faces back in Eastbourne and the bar was buzzing with animated conversation.

We all hope they enjoy their time off next week and wish them every success with the remainder of the tour.  Hope to see you back again in Eastbourne sometime soon.

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.