The Rattonians have come a long way since their first production of The Boyfriend in 1984!  Fair to say they are now a treasured Eastbourne institution and one that the town is very fortunate to have.  It was therefore with great delight that some 90 Friends gathered in the Congress Suite on the last Sunday in September to listen to founder Rattonians, Mark and Melanie Adams recall some of the highs and lows of the past thirty years.

Mark & Melanie Adams

Ever the teacher, Mark started by guiding the audience through a brief history of theatre: charting it though its legendary beginnings in Greece of the 6th Century BC – when around twenty thousand people would crowd into an amphitheatre to watch the revelry surrounding the God of Fertility and Wine, Dionisos (the son of Zeus from a human mother) and his priest, Thespis.  The latter – by engaging in dialogue with the chorus – effectively became the first ‘actor’ and hence the term Thespian widely used to describe members of the acting fraternity today.  He explained how the Greek theatre was governed by strict rules, especially on the number of actors (all wearing elaborate masks) allowed on stage at any one time (usually 3, but a maximum of 5).    Fast forward then to London in 1500 AD and the first theatre in Shoreditch built by James Burbage and, with Shakespeare and his contempories, the birth of theatre as we now know it.

Mark explaining the history of the theatre

Fast forward again to 1984.  It was then that Mark and a group of ex-Ratton school pupils decided to put on a show – funding it by staging a 24-hour play read.  This was The Boyfriend  performed at Eastbourne’s Tivoli theatre.   It was a success and subsequent years saw productions at the Royal Hippodrome and then the Devonshire Park theatres before they moved to The Congress Theatre with Kiss Me Kate in 1990.  2007 saw a milestone in the Rattonians’ story when Mark received a telephone call from David de Silva (the ‘Father of Fame’) inviting them to put on his new musical Fame Forever.  In the end, Fame and Fame Forever were presented in back to back productions and for both shows to be performed one after the other was seen as an extraordinary event and a real theatrical landmark.  The YouTube clip of the finales received 100,000 hits!

Both Melanie and Mark paid tribute to Jan Lynton, who has worked with them since 1986 and choreographed more than thirty of their shows, and to Melanie’s mother,  the Rattonians’ costume supremo.

Mark and Melanie still have their challenges.  Staging these elaborate productions is very costly and it is often difficult to cover costs, although their successful Christmas Shows have helped in this.  Choosing which musical to put on next is ever a challenge: copyright charges can be prohibitive and there are frequently restrictions over what can be performed, when and where – often governed by current (or future) activities in the West End.  The audience were particularly surprised to hear that amateur companies are precluded from staging Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.  Whatever is chosen has to resonate with its audience; it has to be familiar or the public will not support it.

As  Melanie said, “We can’t please all the people all of the time, but we will give it our best shot!”

Melanie and Mark then joined the Friends for tea.  The raffle raised £130.