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 December 13th, 2016

“A bar reception with a difference”.  That was how this year’s after-panto reception was billed and it certainly lived up to its name.  In a Winter Garden Bistro festively decorated by Tricia Sneath and her team, a good number of Friends gathered to welcome the cast and company of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs after the evening performance on Tuesday 13 December.

Once again, Chris Jordan had delivered a truly traditional pantomime with plenty to interest and amuse both young and old – who could believe so much entertainment could be derived from ‘five toilet rolls”!  Spirits were high amongst the many Friends – some accompanied by the younger members of their family – as they enjoyed chatting with the cast.  It was good to see young Danielle following in her mother’s autograph hunting footsteps and all were grateful to the trio of young ladies who mingled amongst the crowd with their baskets of chocolates!

It is always a joy to meet the cast of the panto and to welcome back old friends like Tucker and Martyn.  Also good to see some of the ensemble members back again too.  With around sixty performances of the pantomime ahead of them, the Friends are always grateful to them all for being so willing to spend their precious time with us. It is an absolute delight meeting them and a shame that the Bistro will no longer be available for next year’s party – but who knows what 2017 will bring.

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!

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.

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 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.

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.

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 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!