Summer garden open-air theatre delights for Festival of Chichester

Peter Breskal
Peter Breskal

A vintage year is in prospect as New Theatre Productions offer their 38th season during this summer’s Festival of Chichester.

As ever, the key to their success will be to offer two contrasting plays in rep at their home, the Pergola Open Air Theatre, West Dean Gardens.

The Drunkard or Down with Demon Drink!, directed by John Hyatt will be on Monday, June 26, Wednesday, June 28, Friday, June 30, Tuesday, July 4, Thursday, July 6, Saturday, July 8 at 7.45pm, interwoven with Entertaining Angels by Richard Everett, directed by Carol Hicks, on Tuesday, June 27, Thursday, June 29, Saturday, July 1, Monday, July 3, Wednesday, July 5, Friday, July 7, also at 7.45pm.

Company co-chairman Peter Breskal said: “We always have to remember that open-air theatre has its own requirements and that some plays are more suitable to being staged in the open air than others. And also two different plays in two weeks is quite a challenge. We have to have two separate casts and two separate rehearsals and two separate schedules, which isn’t easy. But we have got a loyal audience that comes along, and hopefully we also get new audience members, and we try to give them a mix. We try to have a contrast between the two plays.

“Everybody has their own favourite things, and in the past we have done a lot of Shakespeares, and in the future we will definitely do Shakespeare again, but this year we are going to be doing The Drunkard or Down with Demon Drink! which we last did 12 years ago, so we should get some new audiences for it as well. The whole thing is just good fun from start to finish, and it is full of colourful characters, be they large or small parts. And it is certainly a play that generates audience participation, cheering the hero and booing the villain. There is a lot of interaction!

“It is a Victorian melodrama, but the version we are doing makes it relevant to modern audiences. There are songs in it and there is lots of humour, but from an actor’s point of view, you have to play it very straight although it might be very colourful!

“By playing it straight, the colour comes out, and I know the audience will latch on to that. There is a way of appreciating how to do it to get it right, and I know that our director John knows exactly how to do it,” says Peter who is relishing the part of the dastardly villain in it all.

In complete contrast comes Entertaining Angels, a massive hit at Chichester Festival Theatre a decade ago with Penelope Keith in the central role of Grace, the wife of a vicar and now suddenly forced to cope as the widow of a vicar.

“Finding two casts for a fortnight means finding quite a lot of people, but with this one we wanted something that had a smaller cast, something that would lend itself to the open-air setting – and Entertaining Angels ticks all those boxes. It is set in the garden of a vicarage, and you couldn’t ask for a better setting. We have got the gardens, the hills and the sheep!”

Picnics welcome. Bring your own, or they can be pre-ordered 24 hours in advance from the West Dean Gardens restaurant, which is also open for pre-theatre supper or drinks until 7.30pm on theatre nights on 01243 818215. Tickets £10; under-16s £8. Disabled access.

Tickets are available from Chichester Box Office, The Novium, Tower Street, Chichester, PO19 1QH; phone 01243 816525 or 775888; website www.thenovium.org/boxoffice; email boxoffice@chichester.gov.uk.

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