Festival of Chichester: New Theatre Productions return to their West Dean slot

Rob Hatherley and Elizabeth Harling play Marlow and Kate in She Stoops to Conquer.LA1500137-8 SUS-150626-104415003
Rob Hatherley and Elizabeth Harling play Marlow and Kate in She Stoops to Conquer.LA1500137-8 SUS-150626-104415003

A double bill of English comedy is the promise when outdoor stalwarts New Theatre Productions take to their glorious open-air stage once again at West Dean Gardens.

This year, running Saturday, June 27- Friday, July 10 for the Festival of Chichester for their 36th season, they will be offering Make Way for Lucia by John Van Druten, based on the novels by EF Benson, directed by John Hyatt.

The show will alternate with Oliver Goldsmith’s classic She Stoops to Conquer, directed by Richard Kinder.

Company co-artistic director Peter Breskal said: “The thing we are always trying to think of is to find plays that people can enjoy in the surroundings in which we perform. It’s very special and unusual for amateur companies to get to work in such a wonderful place, and each year we try to think of something that will be right for that format.”

Most years they offer a Shakepeare, and they will certainly do so again in the future, but this year they are ringing the changes with the Goldsmith.

“This is an opportunity to do something that really lends itself to West Dean. It is all about mistaken identities, and it is very funny. There are some really nice characters, and it is set in the grounds of Hardcastle’s mansion. It has lots of wonderful elements of comedy. There is the farcical element with lots of misunderstandings. The audiences will know straight away. Hopefully they will have a smile on their faces because they will know all the things that are going wrong, but the characters won’t. That’s the challenge for the actors. We know the audience knows, but we are not supposed to know! We have just got to play it straight. The joke is there, and we have just got to be the catalyst for the humour.”

As aside from Shakespeare, there really aren’t many comedies from so long ago that have stood the test of time quite so well, Peter says.

“It is going to be challenging from the costume point of view, though,” Peter admits. “Often we do one play which requires more or less modern dress and another with costumes, but this year we have two different periods. She Stoops is late 1700s and Make Way for Lucia is 1930s, but we have a great team 
led by Tony Newton. Tony has taken on the challenge of being in charge of costumes for both plays.”

It’s all part of the meticulous planning which goes into the double undertaking. As Peter says, people often aren’t aware of the vast amount of work which goes into everything: “We are very lucky to be so well looked after by Jim Buckland, the gardens manager at West Dean. He has always been incredibly helpful. There are so many little things that go into a production which would be really difficult if we didn’t have them. Jim is very supportive towards us.”

Make Way For Lucia plays on Saturday, June 27; Monday, June 29; Wednesday, July 1; Friday, July 3; Tuesday, July 7; and Thursday, July 9. She Stoops To Conquer plays on Tuesday, June 30; Thursday, July 2; Saturday, July 4; Monday, July 6; Wednesday, July 8; and Friday, July 10. Picnics welcome. Performances start at 7.45pm. Tickets £10. The Pergola Open Air Theatre, West Dean Gardens, West Dean.

Tickets: 01243 813595.

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