West Dean Gardens theatre season gets under way

The 39th season from New Theatre Productions brings together a rare Priestley and The Rivals at the Pergola Open Air Theatre at West Dean Gardens for this year’s Festival of Chichester.

Directing the Priestley will be New Theatre Productions founder John Hyatt.

The Roundabout

The Roundabout

“I have read up on the play and have found it quite fascinating. After nearly 80 years, it has come to light. It was found among his papers, they said. I think it was found six or seven years ago. It was put on in a fringe theatre and it got some very good reviews.

“(New Theatre Productions co-chairman) Peter (Breskal) found it on the web or something like that… and we managed to track down some copies. My copy says ‘Chester library – withdrawn for sale’! It is a very, very old copy.

“But when I started reading it, I thought my goodness, this is good, this is funny. It is so skilfully put together. It was one of his early plays. He wrote it for Peggy Ashcroft. She didn’t perform in it. She got involved in another production and instead of receiving plaudits for The Roundabout she got brickbats for daring to go on stage and kiss Paul Robeson in Othello. She was hit with all sorts of racist hate mail. This was the early 1930s.

“The Roundabout starts off like a lot of comedies, then and now. It is the English country house and the lord of the manor, and then it takes all these different directions which is rather lovely.

“This is the roundabout and everyone gets on with their lives and then something happens and somebody falls off the roundabout. My lord has all the money. Then the wife has all the money and loses it and then the butler has all the money and loses it.

“I would say that the play is mainly fun, but you can see Priestley being rather prophetic. It is 1931, 1932 and two of his characters are young communist. They come in and the lord of the manor is saying ‘I think everything is alright in England now’, and they say ‘It might be alright at the moment but it won’t be!’ This is Priestley foreseeing the Second World War. But really that’s just a passing moment. The play is basically good fun.

“I haven’t done nearly as much Priestley as I would have liked. I do admire him.”

The play comes as John and the company are contemplating their 40th anniversary next year.

“Everybody is saying it is remarkable which is rather nice that they are being so kind, but really I just got on with it.

“It was something I thought would be rather nice to do, and fortunately other people thought the same. And we were very lucky with the old Chichester Festivities and now with the Festival of Chichester and also with West Dean because otherwise we wouldn’t have had anywhere to do it! But it has been great – and I know that Peter will be coming up wiht lots of special plans for next year!”

The Rivals, Sheridan’s classic comedy, directed by Carol Hicks, will be performed on Friday, June 29; Tuesday, July 3; Thursday, July 5, Saturday July 7, 7.45pm.

The Roundabout by J B Priestley, directed by John Hyatt, will be performed on Thursday, June 28; Saturday, June 30; Monday, July 2; Wednesday, July 4; Friday, July 6, 7.45pm.

Picnics welcome. The West Dean Gardens Restaurant is open for pre-theatre supper and/or drinks until 7.30pm on theatre nights (01243 818215). Tickets £10; under-16s £8. Disabled access.After a successful debut at the Brighton Fringe in May, The Harbour Theatre Company bring Love in “The Harbour” to the Festival of Chichester.

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