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!

It was an absolutely packed house at the Devonshire Park Theatre for the press/Friends night of this classic psychological thriller by Emlyn Williams.  Another cleverly cast and well acted offering from the Original Theatre Company!

Gwen Taylor in the middle with clockwise from bottom left: Melissa Vaughan, Mandi Symonds, Alasdair Buchan Will Featherstone, Anne Odeke, Daragh O'Malley, Niamh McGrady

Gwen Taylor in the middle with
clockwise from bottom left:
Melissa Vaughan, Mandi Symonds, Alasdair Buchan
Will Featherstone, Anne Odeke, Daragh O’Malley, Niamh McGrady

 

Written in 1935, it is without doubt a play of its age – but one that has also stood the test of time with this production.  This is in no small way thanks to the skilful portrayal of the characters by this eight-strong cast – led by Gwen Taylor as the formidable and irascible Mrs Branson and Will Featherstone as Dan, the young man with an eye for the main chance – a part played in the original production by Emlyn Williams himself.

Gwen Taylor and Will Featherstone

As always, it is a real pleasure to welcome Alastair Whatley and his company to a Bar Reception and, as might have been expected with such a full house, the bar was full of Friends waiting to greet them. Conversations abounded as the cast mixed with the Friends keen to discuss what had unfolded on the stage before them.  

It was truly a delight to talk to the cast members and we wish them every success with the remainder of their time in Eastbourne and for the national tour in front of them.

Posted August 20th, 2016

Quite a turnout

Alas no glorious summer day this year, but forecasted gale force winds did not deter us from mounting our annual Summer Fête on the Western Lawns.  The event was opened by the Major of Eastbourne, Councillor Pat Hearn, who entered into the true spirit of the occasion by visiting nearly all the stalls and trying her luck on the many raffles and games – and even sampling a glass of Pimm’s!

Although the weather may have kept away the crowds – and the high winds certainly brought their challenges – stallholders and visitors battled the elements with a surprisingly pleasing result of around £3,000 taken.

As always, Cakes and Toys proved winners, but so did Pandora’s Box – who had some lovely things to sell this year – and many of the other favourite stalls.

No Pimm’s ‘tent’ – but full marks to the Sneath family (with the assistance of Ian Goldsmith) for creating their ‘Pimm’s Garden’ – a delightful resting place as many found – and serving the goodies out of the back of their Volvo as no gazebo would have withstood the gusts!

We were particularly grateful to the many entertainers who carried on despite the weather:  Stix Drummers who marched from the Pier handing out programmes as they went, the girls and boys from Shining Stars Dance Academy, Black Strap Molasses, The Easy Beat Orchestra and Sam Hughes with his amazing tribute to Elton John.

All this was made possible by sound engineer, John Webb, who not only overcame almost impossible conditions to ensure that the show could go on, but also generously donated his fee towards equipment for the Under Ground Theatre and the Friends were delighted to present a cheque to Stephen Rolls-King, the Chair of the Eastbourne Arts Centre.

It is an exciting time for the Devonshire Park Theatre – with the massive project of renovation and restoration of the exterior of the theatre nearing its completion.  Funds raised by The Friends at this Fête will be put towards the money they have already pledged for the redecoration of the foyer.  It should look beautiful when it is completed in October.

For so many years, as many of our members know, much of the work required to the interior of the theatre was put on hold – as there was little point in carrying this out on a leaking building!  Now, with a water-tight and structurally sound theatre, we look forward to a future that will see many more improvements – some with the help of the Friends.

As always, the Friends are grateful to all the organisations, individuals and their members who have contributed so much towards this event.

Theatre in the round?  In Eastbourne?  That is exactly what you got for this year’s summer production of Kiss Me Quickstep.  And it was a near-full house that waited in eager anticipation in the Floral Hall at the Winter Garden – transformed into the venue for the national ballroom dancing championships – for the start of this new play by Amanda Whittington.  Quite a brave departure perhaps for our somewhat conservative audience but there was no doubt that this mix of comedy, wonderful dancing spectacle and drama was a winner.

Even if the scene-setting first half was a little slow, it ended on a dancing high and the audience was totally engaged as the story unfolded after the interval.  No props or set – other than a few suitcases and some wonderful costumes – this was certainly a departure from the norm for most watching but there was an abundance of things to capture the imagination: the clever direction and beautiful choreography brought the best out of the talented cast as you lived through the trials and tribulations of the real lives behind all the spangle and spray tan of the ballroom scene.  Even falling glitter and audience participation came into the finale mix!  Spot our members on the dance floor!

Spot the Friend on the dance floor

It was with real eagerness that the Friends waited for the cast and company to join them in the Bistro for a most well deserved drink after the show.  Such a talented, modest and friendly lot!

The Cast and Company

For those devotees of Strictly, it was hard to believe that some of the cast had not danced before – so convincing was their performance.  There were some familiar faces too:  our own Front of House Manager, Carl Williams (front row far left), took to the boards in the ensemble multi-tasking with his day job and a really welcome return for Alan Burkitt who last appeared at the Congress in Top Hat.

Clockwise from bottom left: Matt Crosby, James Buller, Bart Lambert, Abigail Moore Hannah Edwards, Amy Barnes, Alan  Burkitt

Clockwise from bottom left: Matt Crosby, James Buller, Bart Lambert, Abigail Moore
Hannah Edwards, Amy Barnes, Alan Burkitt

We hope to see them all back again soon – and more innovative theatre like this please, Mr. Jordan!

Posted July 24th, 2016

It was a very hot and sultry afternoon when more than 100 Friends gathered in the restaurant at the Langham Hotel in Royal Parade.  Originally, this was to have been an afternoon of reminiscences from Paul Davis and his wife Jacquie of their life together in show business but after Paul tragically lost his battle with cancer last month Edward – wearing his latest hat as Secretary of the British Music Hall Society – stepped up to the plate with his insight into the world of the Music Hall and Variety.

Edward Thomas

Edward’s confident style and encyclopaedic knowledge of the theatre, soon had his audience tapping and laughing away as he guided them through the music from Charles Jolly’s Laughing Policeman to the transition to ‘variety’ – with particular emphasis on the 1957 Royal Variety Performance and the late Eastbourne resident Malcolm Vaughan whose widow, Gaye, is still a ‘Friend’.

A captivated audience

Edward’s many fascinating anecdotal stories, accompanied by musical interludes, kept his audience totally engaged until it was time for tea.

What's for teaHere, the hotel again excelled itself with an offering of several varieties of sandwich and delicious cake – all washed down with a plentiful supply of tea and coffee.

A most enjoyable afternoon was had by all.  The raffle held raised £148 for the Friends’ coffers.

Posted July 19th, 2016

The dictionary describes farce “as light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect”.  There can be no denial that this production of Don’t Dress for Dinner fits that bill perfectly.  Set in a country house – a short train journey from Paris – this is French farce at its best – and not a phoney French accent within hearing!  Written by French playwright Marc Camoletti (best known for his smash hit Boeing-Boeing), Don’t Dress for Dinner (adapted by Robin Hawdon) first opened in London in 1991 and twenty-five years on proved to be an excellent choice for one of Chris Jordan’s summer productions for Eastbourne Theatres.

All comedy – and farce in particular – relies on perfect timing and even on this first night the cast had it off to a tee.  Within moments, the audience were not only drawn into the web of multiple duplicity unfolding before them but, with no fewer than two pantomime dames (Ben Roddy and Damian Williams) on stage, they were totally hooked! Laughter abounded throughout the auditorium as the plot romped on stage with frequent asides and improvisation.

It was not surprising that, despite the very hot evening, the theatre bar was full to capacity as the Friends gathered to welcome Chris, the talented six strong cast and some of the company for a well-earned drink.

Front (l-r): Janine Mellor (and Chips), Polly Lister, Stephen Oswald Back: Tracey Penn, Ben Roddy, Damian Williams

Front (l-r): Janine Mellor (and Chips), Polly Lister, Stephen Oswald
Back: Tracey Penn, Ben Roddy, Damian Williams

For many it was a first-time experience in Eastbourne – although for Ben Roddy he had practically taken up residence here this season, prompting Chris to remark that he would definitely not be in the next show!  Shame – we love having you around, Ben!

It was a particular delight to welcome Janine Mellor’s dog, Chips – who stole the show in the bar!

A welcome return to the Devonshire Park for so many familiar faces and old friends as Noël Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit opened to a packed house.  Written in 1941, this somewhat dark comedy – about ghosts during wartime Britain and a London (including Coward’s own flat) devastated by the Blitz when death was a constant presence –  was a bold move by the playwright.   However, when it opened in the West End later that year it was a huge success – as it was to be on Broadway and with the many film, television and stage revivals it has enjoyed since.

This excellent production by Talking Scarlet, directed by John Hester – a familiar face on the Devonshire Park stage and indeed himself a ‘Friend’ – continues the success story.  From the opening moment when Michelle Morris (as the ghost Elvira) appeared in one of the upper boxes spying on her widower and his new wife dancing on stage and a lady in the audience was heard to comment , “but she opened the door”, as she left the box and “wafted” away,  we knew we were in for an entertaining evening!

The packed bar

It was again a bar packed with Friends that awaited the arrival of this six-strong cast along with John Hester and a host of other actors come to support their colleagues – including those in rehearsal for next week’s production of Don’t Dress for Dinner.

Front (l-r): Anna Brecon, Polly Jordan, Judy Buxton, Katy Dean  Behind: Oliver Mellor, John Hester, Michelle Morris, Ben Roddy

Front (l-r): Anna Brecon, Polly Jordan, Judy Buxton, Katy Dean
Behind: Oliver Mellor, John Hester, Michelle Morris, Ben Roddy

As always it is such a pleasure to welcome Patric Kearns and his Talking Scarlet company to the Devonshire Park – really part of the family.

A lively evening as the pictures below bear testament!  Thank you Patric and everyone for such an entertaining show!

It is rather sad that this is the fourth and final play in this year’s Murder in the Park season as they have all been excellent  – and very different.  Did they keep the best till last?  This skilful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s  best-selling novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was really good, but to say that would be drumming down the other three plays.

This was a really clever adaptation by Nicholas Briggs who was also the play’s director.   His association with BBC’s Dr Who was never really absent from this compelling, well cast (even with some last-minute changes), brilliantly acted and cleverly staged production.  A story that deals with the duality of human nature  and the battle between good and evil is never going to be a totally comfortable watch. There were times when the audience nearly jumped out of their seats but also moments of humour in this seemingly well known story – the title of which has, of course, entered into common parlance with the very phrase “Jekyll and Hyde”meaning  an individual  who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.

It was therefore a joy to welcome back so many old friends among the cast to the bar for a well-earned drink following their opening night in Eastbourne.  Particularly good to see Patric and Jane with their two daughters, Fleur and Catie, who both had parts – not sure which one had the loudest scream at the sight of Mr Jekyll!

Clockwise from bottom: Marcus Hutton, Fleur and Catie, Kim Wright, Gary Turner, Matthew Zilch, David Keyes, Ben crowe, Megan Terry, Andrew Fettes. Middle: Kim Taylforth, Samuel Clemens

Clockwise from bottom: Marcus Hutton, Fleur and Catie, Kim Wright, Gary Turner,
Matthew Zilch, David Keyes, Ben crowe, Megan Terry, Andrew Fettes.
Middle: Kim Taylforth, Samuel Clemens

 

It was a lively party and we look forward to the next time with Talking Scarlet.  And not long to wait for since they will be back with a somewhat different offering – Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.

Talking Scarlet has really excelled this year – thank you Patric for bringing us such a wide range of plays.  You have a huge task ahead of you for next year!