Unique set of period dramas

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The Petworth Plays will be the headline event at this year’s Petworth Festival, with ten performances at 7pm and 8.45pm from Monday-Friday, July 21-25 (tickets 01798 344576).

They will offer a unique set of Jacobean dramas that has been in the Egremont family’s collection since the 17th century.

Petworth Festival and the National Trust promising five nights of discovery, theatre, laughter and the unexpected, presented by the Guided Theatre Company.

Set over 75 minutes, the audience will tour Petworth’s architectural jewel, discover gems by Shakespeare and other giants of the age including John Lyly, John Webster and Ben Jonson.

The scenes will follow a tour of the House – the Square Dining Room (which houses contemporary images of Shakespeare plays); the grand staircase (which portrays the legend of Pandora’s Box); the formal Marble Hall; the carved room with its painting by JMW Turner and contemporary images of Shakespearean theatre; and the North Gallery packed with classical statuary.

The final scenes will take place in the medieval chapel and in the grounds where a masque will play out.

The plays were apparently bought together as a collection in the late 1630s, by Algernon Percy, the 10th Earl of Northumberland.

The plays chosen for these performances have been selected to give a cross-section of the collection which contains a wide variety of works by different playwrights, with different themes, in different genres and from five different decades.

Comedy, tragedy and history of course, but also allegory, satire, city comedy, biblical epic, classical, military history, domestic tragedy and many others, the Festival promises.

The Petworth Plays will be directed by actor Tam Williams.

Born with acting in his blood (his father is actor Simon Williams, his mother actress Belinda Carroll and aunt actress Kate O’Mara, Tam has been working across theatre, television, film and radio since graduating from the Guildford School of Acting.

Chichester audiences will remember him for his part in the Festival Theatre’s production, Chimes at Midnight.

His other credits include playing Lysander in Sir Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Nights Dream with Dame Judi Dench (2010).

He is a leading member of Edward Hall’s award-winning all-male company, Propeller. Earlier this year, he played the part of Frank Myers in Strangers on a Train” at the Gielguld Theatre, London.

The plays are accompanied by The Petworth Plays Exhibition by Maria Kirk (script research and editing).

Running throughout July, it comprises a small display in the Square Dining Room at Petworth House showcasing the Petworth Plays collection. Among the most important volumes belonging to the National Trust, these fragile texts – not normally on public view – include early editions of plays by such leading Jacobean writers as Shakespeare, Marlowe and Webster, alongside many other works by more obscure playwrights.

Known principally by scholars only, the 16 volumes containing 148 plays are believed to have been acquired in the 1630s by the 10th Earl of Northumberland, a previous owner of Petworth. The display commemorates and reflects a three-year collaborative research project between the University of Sussex and the National Trust, and coincides with selected performances from the Petworth Plays as part of the Petworth Festival.