Theatre director's funeral on Friday

The funeral takes place this week for the late Julian Sluggett, co-director and producer for WemsFest and groups including Westbourne's Rogues & Vagabonds theatre company..

Thursday, 14th September 2017, 9:19 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:28 pm

The funeral will be at the Oaks, Havant Crematorium, Barton Road at 1pm on Friday, September 15 and afterwards at The Stag’s Head, The Square, Westbourne. Family flowers only. Inquiries to Moore’s Funeral Directors, Southbourne. Mr Sluggett died at King’s Lodge Nursing Home, Chidham, after prolonged illnesses including oesophageal cancer.

Mr Sluggett, who lived at Westbourne and was 72, was a passionate believer in the educational power of the theatre for young people. His own interest in theatre was sparked by the establishment of Chichester Festival Theatre.

His family have prepared the following tribute

Julian Sluggett, well known locally in Hampshire and West Sussex as director and producer for Wemsfest and groups such as the Titchfield Festival Theatre and Youth Theatre, and Westbourne’s own Rogues & Vagabonds, died peacefully on Wednesday August 23rd at King’s Lodge Nursing Home, after recent prolonged illnesses. His family would like to thank the wonderful staff of the ACU at St. Richards Hospital, Chichester for their care and support.

Julian was insistent throughout that he could and would defeat his illnesses; sadly, this was the one battle his optimism and sheer will power couldn’t win.

Julian was born in Exeter but grew up in Chichester where as a teenager he experienced the development of Laurence Olivier’s original ensemble Theatre Company in the exciting new Tyrone Guthrie designed Festival Theatre. It proved a magnet for him and many young people who formed the Attic Youth Theatre after an inspirational YT weekend at Lodge Hill. Many, like Julia Goodman, Michael Elphick and David Wood, later moved into the profession. Julian, as many will remember from his one man show, started as a dishwasher in the Festival Theatre restaurant.

After training as a drama teacher at St Luke’s College in Exeter and The Central School of Speech and Drama in he returned to the Festival Theatre in the summer of 1968. It was during his time at Central he met Christine West, who became his wife and mother of his two sons, Adam Blake and Corin West, of whom he was so proud.

He spent his time that summer running tours, working the bookshop and, with Christine, planning wonderful publicity displays in the town Box Office near the Cross, for the series of classical concerts. One of these great displays artists entitled The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! for which he had organised, of Russian artefacts and cultural items to promote the concerts of prominent Russian artists - had to be swiftly dismantled with the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the abrupt end of Dubcek’s Prague Spring.

Julian strongly believed in the valuable contribution that the arts, particularly drama and theatre, make to the development of young people and began teaching drama in a secondary school in Fleet, Hampshire that autumn. The next year he and Christine enthused other drama teachers to form the Shoestring Theatre for Children, which toured Ireland, the Lake District and other areas in the south of England with original plays each summer until the late 70s. A notable picture in a Hampshire Chronicle report from 1972 shows Julian in fetching green tights and the rest of the company equally colourfully costumed, dancing and singing as they paraded through streets in the Havant area drumming up their young audiences Pied Piper style: Come and see the Shoestring! Kids were mesmerised at every performance.

Julian soon started Fleet Youth Theatre and Adult Theatre Workshops and the catchily titled Aldershot and Farnborough Teachers’ Theatre for Children, and became an advisory drama teacher in North East Hampshire. When they moved into Crookham Youth Club for greater space, Christine applied for a part time youth leader position to offer complementary dance and arts activities. When their popular Crookham Arts Centre again outgrew the premises, Julian succeeded in obtaining John Betjeman’s support in his fight to retain and develop the recently closed 100 year old West End Junior School in Aldershot.

Julian became the founder and first director of West End Centre, one of eight drama based arts centres in Hampshire. With the other directors he formed CHASTE – the Combined Hampshire and Small Scale Touring Theatre circuit, bringing in innovative touring groups like Hull Truck, Tricycle and Knee High widening audience access and supporting small scale theatre companies.

Now affectionately known as The Westy, the thriving community arts centre remains at the heart of Aldershot today and is, perhaps, his most profound and lasting legacy.

In 1975 he and others from Attic Youth theatre days formed Reunion Theatre Company to perform in Chichester’s 9th centenary celebrations: he, David Wood and Bernard Price wrote the revue Chi Chestnuts and Christine wrote The Burning of the Tyger. Both were successfully reprised the following year. Reunion went on to have thriving summer seasons of new plays at The Dolphin and Anchor Hotel in West Street up until the early 80’s.

He moved to South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell in 1980 to become founder director of the Wilde theatre there. In the 1980’s he became restless, and with his new partner, Maggie Hall, looked for fresh challenges. They wrote and produced plays such as Cora, about a Plymouth girl who became a famous Grande Horizontale during the Second Empire period in Paris and adapted Gabiel Chevallier’s Clochemerle, each with excellent scores by Alistair Collingwood and Graham Stanstead respectively. Both have been regularly produced locally, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and in America.

Julian and Maggie then moved to London working for Capital radio and organising several of their summer Music Festivals, including the Soho Jazz festival which ran for 14 years and the hugely popular reggae festival, Sunsplash in 1986.

They went on to form MJM productions, and eventually returned to Chichester. In the early 90’s Julian achieved a long time ambition; he adapted and directed Whisky Galore, staging it in a tented theatre in the Festival Theatre grounds.

Later he moved to Southbourne and began to work with the Titchfield Festival Theatre and formed the popular Titchfield Youth Theatre, reviving, directing and writing a large number of productions.

After Maggie died in 2005, he returned to drama teaching and up until ill health got the better of him in 2015, was in demand as a supply drama teacher all over Hampshire and West Sussex.

When he moved to Westbourne, he established WemsFest with Mark Ringwood, gaining a sizeable Lottery Heritage grant for their 2014 D Day commemorative productions and events. He also established a local drama group, the suitably named, Rogues & Vagabonds! He expressed the desire that all these activities should carry on after his death.

Julian had a knack for gathering people around him through the force of his personality and could inspire creative work many hadn’t known they were capable of. He was the life of any party, fun to be with and always included everyone. His joie de vivre was infectious. He was also very talented; at the top of his game he was brilliant.

As with anyone who pushes people and boundaries to previously unknown heights and places he could be very challenging but we loved him for it – as that was made Julian “a character, in the finest sense of the word”.

As with his life, so in his death he did “rage against the dying of the light” and retained his stubbornness and inimitable sense of humour until the end.

Julian was not only a beloved father to Adam and Corin, but a hugely proud Father-In-Law (or FIL as he liked to say) to Anna and Patti and an adoring Grandfather to Beatrix.

May he rest easy knowing he touched so many people’s lives in so many ways and for that he will never be forgotten.

Julian George Sluggett June 8, 1945 - August 23, 2017

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