Welwyn Drama Festival finds a new home in Welwyn Garden City
PUBLISHED: 17:28 03 May 2015 | UPDATED: 17:30 03 May 2015
The annual Welwyn Drama Festival has found a new home in Welwyn Garden City.
"I do think it’s such a great learning experience for a theatre club to enter a festival."
In its 81st year, the Welwyn Drama Festival will take to the stage at the Barn Theatre for the first time later this month.
From Monday, May 18 to Saturday, May 23, some of the best in amateur theatre will take to the Barn’s newly-extended stage to compete for the awards in this festival of one-act plays – the oldest in the country.
The week will offer six nights of comedy, tragedy and everything in between.
Founded in 1929, and as iconic as Welwyn Garden City itself, the festival has been running every year since, with the exception of the war years, and a small blip when the Embassy Theatre had a fire.
For many seasons it was the hottest ticket in town – evening dress was de rigueur, you had to buy your season ticket months in advance and if you were new to the town you had to go on the waiting list.
The Embassy Theatre in Parkway, now an NHS building, was the first venue which, with its 1,200-seat auditorium, could be quite a daunting prospect for the players who had been used to small spaces.
81st Welwyn Drama Festival programme
Monday, May 18
* Company of Teens: The Wardrobe by Sam Holcroft.
* Alternate Shadows: The War Room by Chris Brake.
Tuesday, May 19
* Barn Theatre Club: The Arabian Nights (excerpt) by Mary Zimmerman.
* Wareside Entertainers: Last Panto in Little Grimley by David Tristram.
Wednesday, May 20
* Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls: Daisy Pulls It Off (Act 1) Denise Deegan.
* Tiger Productions: Bill and Ben by Richard James.
Thursday, May 21
* Bawds: Is This Seat Taken? by Sean Baker.
* The Settlement Players: After Midnight, Before Dawn by David Campton.
* Nomansland Theatre Company: Terms and Conditions Apply by Peter Hale.
Friday, May 22
* Longsands Drama Company: The War Time by Sean Lang.
* Clavering Players: Me and My Friend (Act 1) by Gillian Plowman.
* Pier Players: The Last Bread Pudding by Nick Warburton.
Saturday, May 23
* Company of Ten: The Visitation by Jane Fookes.
* Players’ Theatre (Wales): Embodiment by Jeremy Hylton Davies.
One of those actors remembers standing in the wings, waiting to go on and hearing “a tremendous noise like a train and realising it was the chatter of the audience”, adding: “I went on, full of trepidation, delivered my first comic line and 1,200 people laughed... I’d never experienced anything like it.”
A young actress called Flora Robson was Welwyn Drama Festival’s first stage director.
She lived at number 40 Handside Lane, where there is now a blue plaque, because she became Dame Flora Robson, one of the leading actresses of her generation.
Among her many stage and movie roles, she appeared in the 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights, with Laurence Olivier and Geraldine Fitzgerald, whose niece, Sarah, is a current Barn Theatre member.
With the closure of the cinema in 1974, the festival moved to Campus West, where it celebrated its 80th anniversary last year.
This month the festival arrives at the more intimate Barn Theatre, which some might argue is the natural home for such an event.
Festival and Barn president Louis Davis said: “It is a very great honour for me to be president of the Barn Theatre and president of the Welwyn Drama Festival and so it is most appropriate that it is me who welcomes the festival, all the competing teams, and our audiences to the Barn Theatre, for the first time.”
Tickets cost £10 each, or £38 for a season ticket for all six nights.
They are available from the Barn box office on 01707 324300, online at www.welwyndramafestival.com or in person on any show night.
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