Welwyn Garden City's Barn Theatre prepares for comeback season after extended lockdown closure
- Credit: The Barn Theatre
With theatres allowed to open again for live performances following the easing of lockdown restrictions, one Welwyn Garden City venue has revealed its comeback season of shows.
Barn Theatre members switched on their laptops last week and enjoyed a highly entertaining directors’ evening.
In normal times, this event is one of the highlights of the theatre’s year, when members gather in the Barn auditorium to enjoy the performances of actor directors as they take to the stage to present their plays for the coming season.
This time it was virtual, but as artistic director Clive Weatherley said, "if it’s good enough for the Oscars, it’s good enough for us".
Like most theatres across the country, the Barn has been dark since the curtain came down on Violence and Son, halfway through February 2020.
In those dark months, the ghost light has shone eerily through the auditorium and, like many of us, the wardrobe women have sorted out their clothes, discovering scrubs from a production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, which they spruced up before donating to a local doctor’s surgery.
Director Simon Wallace set up Kitchen Sink Drama on Facebook, where members posted some terrific 10-minute performances from their favourite plays. It took off and went nationwide.
- 1 Man charged with murder of his own mother
- 2 Stunning photos capture the moment Flying Scotsman crosses viaduct
- 3 ‘Too tall and dominant’ – application to demolish old car dealership to build 111 flats rejected
- 4 Dad avoids jail after downloading indecent images of children
- 5 The latest court results for Welwyn Hatfield and Potters Bar
- 6 Arrest made after dog stolen in suspected knifepoint robbery
- 7 F9: Filming locations of Vin Diesel's new Fast & Furious 9 movie
- 8 Home care provider recognised among best in east of England
- 9 100 homes approved at appeal for Green Belt land
- 10 Welwyn Garden City Heritage Trust and the picnic of the Polish Saturday School
There’s been livestreaming, with Danny Swanson giving a stunning performance of Glyn Maxwell’s Best Man, the Barn’s overall winning production from the recent Welwyn Drama Festival.
But now theatres are opening again, and the Barn’s comeback 2021 season is announced with the emphasis on feel-good comedy and farce.
Here’s the running order.
First up is John Godber’s Happy Jack, an endearing two-hander inspired by his parents’ 40-year marriage.
It’s directed by Cliff Francis, who can’t wait to get back into a live rehearsal room.
Then Bob Thomson teams up with Belinda Gee to direct A Bunch of Amateurs.
Originally a film starring Burt Reynolds, it has to be the most apposite production for any theatre company, telling the story of a washed-up Hollywood film star who thinks he’s coming over to play Lear in a professional production, but it turns out his fellow actors are – a bunch of amateurs!
Audience, is the next one up, written by Peter Morgan, creator of The Crown.
Like that award-winning Netflix series, this is imagined dialogue, sprinkled with facts, between the Queen and seven of her Prime Ministers, including her two alleged favourites, Wilson and Churchill.
Rarely seen on a non-professional stage, it’s directed by Linda Dyne, with a cast that includes some leading Barn actors.
Siobhan Elam always said she’d rather be eaten by dogs than direct a Christmas show, unless that show was Goodnight Mister Tom – and it is, so she’s directing.
One of the nation’s favourite feel-good plays, about the healing power of love, it aired on TV with John Thaw as eponymous Mr Tom. You know what they say about who you shouldn’t perform with – well the cast of 14 includes two children and a collie dog called Sam.
The New Year comes in with a mini Roman season with Maureen Davies directing Up Pompeii, the stage adaptation of Frankie Howerd’s 70s smash TV comedy.
This is followed by Ben Hur directed by Keith Thompson, who reassured his potential cast "you might get blood on your toga, but you won’t be asked to kill a lion".
Then the comedy darkens as John Cook brings to the Barn stage Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen, an edgy and thought-provoking piece from the author of The Pillowman and the multi-award winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.
In a northern pub on the day before hanging is abolished landlord Harry Wade, Britain’s second best hangman, contemplates his future, while reflecting on his past and the shadow cast over it by Pierrepoint, Britain’s best hangman.
Award-winning local poet Glyn Maxwell had been in rehearsal with City of Tomorrow, which was to celebrate the centenary of WGC, when lockdown struck and his cast stood down.
Now he’s delighted to bring to the Barn stage a celebration of his extraordinary home town 102 years on.
Jon Brown likes playwright Amanda Whittington. He directed The Thrill of Love a few seasons ago and returns to the Barn to direct her latest, Kiss Me Quickstep.
Inspired, of course, by Strictly Come Dancing, it promises to be a sparkling, uplifting show, not a musical, but with music and ballroom dancing, of sorts !
And finally Simon Wallace sets Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist in London’s 1990’s Stock Market collapse.
"It’s my favourite play," he said, "the granddaddy of farce, which I’ve wanted to direct for 20 years."
The RSC staged a rare and fabulous production four years ago, leaving its audience to wonder why it doesn’t get seen more often.
Barn chairman Simon Parr closed the evening with thanks to Clive Weatherley for compiling a terrific season in the most difficult of circumstances.
Addressing audiences virtual and actual, he said: "This is the place to escape to – the Barn Theatre.
"We’ve had to make some horrible decisions in order to keep you safe, and we’ll continue to stick to the rules and to keep you safe. So come back to the Barn – we’re going to make theatre!"
Before then, Coral Walton directs CLASS, a heart-breaking but humorous exploration of failing education systems, prejudice and parent-teacher relationships, streamed live from Barn Studio from July 6 to July 9 at 8pm.
Actor director Hannah Sayer rounds off the ‘lockdown season’ with My Old Lady, an eloquent, funny, brilliantly paced plunge into parent-child relationships.
It will be streamed live from the auditorium from July 10 to July 17 at 8pm, with limited, socially distanced seats available.
More details to follow, but tickets are available now from Barn Theatre box office on 01707 324300 or online at www.barntheatre.co.uk
BARN THEATRE SEASON 2021-2022
September 24 to October 2
Happy Jack, by John Godber.
Director Cliff Francis.
October 15 to October 23
A Bunch of Amateurs, by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman.
Director Bob Thomson.
November 12 to November 20
The Audience, by Peter Morgan.
Director Linda Dyne.
DECEMBER – Dates TBA
Goodnight Mr Tom, by Michelle Magorian and David Wood.
Director Siobhán Hill Elam.
January 14 to January 22
Up Pompeii, by Miles Tredinnick.
Director Maureen Davies.
February 4 to February 12
Ben Hur, by Patrick Barlow.
Director Keith Thompson.
March 25 to April 2nd
Hangmen, by Martin McDonagh.
Director John Cook.
April 22 to April 30
City of Tomorrow, written and directed by Glyn Maxwell.
June 3 to June 11
Kiss Me Quickstep, by Amanda Whittington.
Director Jon Brown.
June 24 to July 2
The Alchemist, by Ben Jonson.
Director Simon Wallace.