Saturday, 12 December 2015

Twelfth Night

This delightful romantic comedy was much enjoyed by audience and performers alike. Here are some comments from our ‘feedback blackboard’ in the theatre foyer.

“The Sewell Barn Company once again triumphs, offering a production of both young and experienced actors.”
“A successful cocktail of high energy Shakespeare.”
“A lovely warm welcome to the festive season.”
“What a wealth of young and older talent!  Superb!”
“Brilliant – the best performance of Twelfth Night I have ever seen.”
“Wonderful production – loved every minute.”
“A truly imaginative rendition of Twelfth Night!”

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Thrill of Love

A review from David Porter of the EDP:

Poignant story with a punch

"There’s something about sitting almost with the performers, as the audience does at the Sewell Barn, that makes everything so intimate, so absorbing.

This play packs a punch exploring the tragedy that was the life and death of Ruth Ellis. Notorious as the last woman in England to be hanged, she is superbly portrayed by Abbie Eastwood - the frail, petite platinum blonde who dreamed of Hollywood but got Holloway.

The abuse she suffered and the dying of her dreams in the reality of life in seedy nightclubs was the backstory while the police inspector-cum-narrator (James Thomson) grappled to understand the woman who shot her lover.

Her speedy confession, explanation of all the facts except how she got the gun and her rejection of a final appeal comes over with shocking clarity. Director Ginny Porteous brings out her vulnerability amidst the wheels of criminal justice which contributed significantly to the abolition of the death penalty.

Friends who care (Jen Dewsbury, Hayley Evenett and Verity Roat) catch the 1950s period with its values and struggles to support the telling of this poignant, memorable true story."

[You can also see David's review on his own blog here.]

Review on Facebook:

"Absolutely enthralling and powerful production last night. The Thrill of Love tells the tragic story of Ruth Ellis through an eavesdropping view of her emotions leading up to the murder and the acceptance of her fate. Just five amazing actors hold your emotions in their hands and squeeze them till you come away realising that the death penalty can never be right.

The entire cast starred, each bringing the characters back to life for the night, perfect casting as you really believed they were Ruth, Sylvia Vickie, Doris and Jack whatever the programme said their real names were.

I have always found the theatre perfect for some productions and this was certainly one as we sat at the table with the cast."

Email from audience member:

"[We] were at the theatre on Friday night to see the Ruth Ellis story "The Thrill of Love".  The acting was superb and all are to be congratulated.  We did not go home hopping and singing - but thoughtful, and feeling it was a very worthwhile experience."

Saturday, 18 July 2015


An email to Jane, who plays Margarethe:

We came to watch Copenhagen at the Sewell Barn last night. As you may be aware we go to most of the performances. What an undertaking. With only 3 characters, you all had so much to learn!

I was so pleased that we have been watching The Saboteurs on More 4 as it is about the same event but from a slightly different perspective. It helped me to feel that I knew a more detailed background of the setting. The two men managed very well to make the physics accessible to people like me...I got a 9 at O level science as I did not bother to revise stuff that I could not understand. I assume that I wrote my name correctly at the top!!

Your character stopped it from becoming too dull and brought in the humour and the human touch. You carried that off so well.I also enjoyed the way that you in particular...managed so well to alternate between narrating and being your character.

I like to leave the theatre with something to muse on and this play did that for me. I assume that the conversation has been a source of speculation, without anyone really knowing the complete truth. How scary to be left with the idea of the alternative conversation. It doesn't bear thinking about!

I felt disappointed that the theatre was not as full as you deserved. I do hope that it does not make the directors move towards easy watch theatre as we get enough of that in the mainstream theatres. I hope that you get good audiences next weekend. Thank goodness for places like the Sewell Barn.

Very well done. An amazing achievement.


Some audience feedback:

We were at the first night. Well done to all of you for an extraordinary performance . The script was so detailed and must have been difficult to learn. The story is still under discussion here, and the secret is one that we will not know for certain. 

The Sewell Barn puts on really challenging plays and this one is outstanding. Thank you for all your efforts in this and I hope you have a good run.


Want an intelligent, thought provoking evening? Go and see Copenhagen at the Sewell Barn Theatre. Lots to think about, and some laughs too.


More audience feedback, both on Copenhagen and praising the season it concludes:

We would like to congratulate the Sewell Barn  company for an excellent season of drama. You have taken on controversial subjects which have been challenge to perform, but have executed to the highest degree. 

Last night we attended ' Copenhagen ' which the players took on with such professionalism. It was intriguing and thought provoking and caused great debate. It was made more difficult by the content of the play. Well done to all involved and we look forward to the next season.


Review published in the Eastern Daily Press, 18 July 2015

Michael Frayn’s 1998 play is based on a secret 1941 meeting in Copenhagen between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. It’s a gripping drama – what really went on when they talked?

Danish Bohr (Kevin Oelrichs) and German Heisenberg (Rob Tiffen) had been friends before the war; now Denmark was occupied by the Nazis who were looking to beat the allies to the atomic bomb.

The non-linear play is a clever construct set after their deaths as Bohr’s wife, Margrethe (Jane de la Tour) helps the men rehearse various ‘drafts’ of what could have been discussed and its profound consequences.

Politics and physics, friendship and trust, idealism and reality intertwine in an evening that the actors handle with skill and thought, ably directed by Carole Lovett. The play is neither comedy nor tragedy, the language doesn’t contradict logic yet is a mix of the present and the past, history and ‘what if …’

The evening leaves the audience glad the Nazis didn’t get the bomb and wondering about all the shadows, hopes and ideas that swirled round the world in those war years. Thoroughly recommended.

Monday, 22 June 2015


Beautifully restrained yet emotionally charged piece about a decent family dealing with (or not dealing with) a crime and its punishment. Both the writing and the performances exemplify the dictum 'less is more'. Make time to see it.


Well done guys. Thoroughly enjoyed it.


Extremely professional cast, very clever set, and beautiful music! Very enjoyable and loved the shifts from laugh out loud funny to awkward and uncomfortable! Congratulations cast and crew!!!


Great play - very impressed with the youngest lady on the cast, but all were fab. Well done.


Review from Cassie Tillett - click here


A well-conceived symmetrical set focussed us from the beginning [from before the beginning!] on Alan as the nucleus of this drama, then unfolded and changed as his centrality began to shift, through the first half, to be revealed in the second rather as the epicentre of a domestic social earthquake. The play itself, like the set, is deceptively simple, and despite the undoubtedly skilful writing, I can imagine it being unjustifiably brought down to the level of social-realism dreariness that has become fashionable, if attempted by mediocre artists.

But certainly not here. Full personalities emerge from what could, in the wrong hands, be so-ordinary characters, and everyday difficulties that so many ordinary folk have to endure have their sharp depths shown to us, often profoundly. It's a short play, but doesn't feel like it, because it's real – I can't find a more suitable word - all the time. Jen Dewsbury has done sterling work in getting to the foundations of things, and her actors have responded with power and sensitivity.

Time and pace are used for a lot here. I'm not sure if the projections between scenes of dates and memorable current events are original to this production; they were interesting, and definitely helped those of us not in the first flower of youth to find an authentic flavour of setting; but I did want them to follow one another a bit faster. However, what no fault can be found with is the treatment of spaces in dialogue – even in the action, occasionally – reflecting the spaces between the people. As is well understood by any playwright, what on the stage affects us as real is actually pretty artificial. There's a huge danger in just copying what goes on in the real world; and one of these pitfalls is in the naturalness of pauses and silences. In this production the director has been very daring, pushing these spaces to the limit, not just those charged with passion, but also the awkwardnesses and embarrassments, the uncertainties and hesitations that could so easily bog down a staged dialogue with a plot to keep moving along. It could have gone wrong – some of these 'gaps' were right on the edge of acceptance; but, again, the company must have so well and intelligently explored this piece that every space came to us as entirely relevant, telling its own tale, pushing on the story.

Glenda Gardiner as the mother trying to be kind through the damaged shell of respectability was perhaps the best exponent of these 'filled spaces', showing the working of a shocked mind wanting distance or closure, and fearful of more discoveries; an admirable control of a role; while the husband Roger Gardiner provided the contrast of jerky frustration and repressed rage, inarticulate until at breaking point. Rebecca Wass's character had less strong, more diffused, emotions to deal with, but she proved the same mastery of silence over rich subtext; and Rachel Godfrey-Bennet showed us splendidly in her now assured and spirited stride the rapid life-changes and character development of the other sister. A great pleasure indeed to watch all these acting skills. The child of the piece [alongside which [along with animals], one should never act, as the old adage runs!] in this instance did not steal the show from the adults – they were too good for anything like that to be possible – but, my, how well she did. Connie Reid must have been acting, because she must have been aware of stage and audience etc, and her character was of a different age; yet one would never have guessed. The charm and humour of a small child's actions and mannerisms, all authentically there. And last of this small and intimate and so-mutually-responsive cast, Steve Dunn as the empty hole at the centre of the wheel of destruction that no-one was willing or able to help to fill with new good things, gave us great stage-presence and a perfectly-played understatement to display a sympathetic character, trying to learn through a hard field of many misdirections, a basically strong man whose faults could so easily be transformed by the encouragement of his finer qualities, if only... He achieves a lot, this actor, and I'm always impressed by how he can do it so economically. Certainly one of his best performances, strong and deep and touching.

Good work also by all the backroom people. The baby's cries were stereophonically too high up and to stage-right; and, did she rather strongly hiccup at one point? No, I expect that was just an extra bit of expertly-conceived and executed realism... :)

So, great work again by the Sewell Barn. Please go and see this, anyone who hasn't. Three more performances only! And, although they missed the opportunity of a raffle for the cake, you do get a free baking lesson included in the ticket price!

Cowardy Custard

Many, many thanks for the show last night, people. [We] really enjoyed the performances. Judging from the slickness of the singing, the dancing and movement, the rehearsals must have been lengthy but it was well worth it: everything came together. A well-known local actor, who happened to be sitting next to me, was singing along and commented that he hadn't realised 'so-and-so' was a singer and how beautiful was her voice. Congratulations. It's a show you could watch twice without tiring of the anecdotes, the songs or the performances.


Well done Dawn Brindle, Angela Rowe & all the cast for a thoroughly enjoyable show this evening. Hope you have a great run. x


What a lovely evening! Great performances! Have a wonderful run. xx


...I saw it on Saturday and thought it was delightful and superbly executed by all concerned. Highly recommended! Many congratulations Cassie Tillett, Ruth Bennett Selwyn Tillett and everyone.


Well done to all the cast and crew, a fantastic show, had a great evening. Enjoy the rest of the run  xx


Just back from the Sewell Barn Theatre and Cowardy Custard. What a lovely evening - thank you to Cassie Tillett, Selwyn Tillett, Dawn Brindle, Ruth Bennett, Huw Jones and all the rest of the cast. Well worth a visit if you get the chance.


Great show last night, my best wishes and congrats to all involved.


Just back from a joyous evening in the company of the talented cast of Cowardy Custard at the Sewell Barn. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show played with great energy and pizzaz! Do get along to see it if you can.


And a splendid and thorough review here, shown in its entirety:

Any of you out there thinking that this is merely a lot of old out-of-date songs, so we'll give it a miss this time: well, think again.

'Old', yes; but 'out-of-date', never. Most of the numbers are timeless, indeed some directly applicable to current times – tweaked or not – and all a celebration of the art of song-making at its very best. The phenomenally productive polymath Noël Coward was not called 'The Master' for nothing.

And my other descriptors? – 'a lot': yes, and gloriously so; but 'merely'? Not at all. Complementing the expressiveness of these fine singers, there are clever dramatizations, both funny and moving, of most of the songs, and dance sections of very effective choreography; and all of it is held together by interspersed narrations, some of them immaculately rendered, revealing salient points of Coward's path through his life and career.

For most of the time I was grinning at the fun – there was a great deal of that - or wiping my eyes for the beauty and the poignancy. My companion who hadn't really heard of Coward, and hadn't been prepared, took a few minutes to work out what was going on, and then she got it and was as entranced as I: so you don't need to be familiar with even this particular genre of music: sheer quality – from two strands - is the driving force in this production.

Having grown up hearing several of these songs on the radio, when, despite changing times and fashions, there was a bit of a revival of interest before Coward died in 1973, I think I had rather taken him for granted. His plays, very good and witty, and many still put on, of course; his so successful and remunerative London and New York productions; his theatre and film roles impeccably performed; etc etc; all these, despite the advanced views on sex and drugs that occasionally tried to surface, supported the idea of a mannered upper-middle-class ethos, definitely of the first half of the century, whose time of relevance, no matter how gloriously it had sparkled in its heyday, had now gone; and all of it projected through an undoubtedly clever but basically fortunate artist who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Some of which is, broadly, true; but my poet's hat must have been hanging on the peg when I formed this appraisal. For an additional delight for me was being reminded of just how extraordinary a lyricist he was. Half of the pleasure in these works comes from his joyously apt and often wickedly funny choice of words. Precision out of erudition, in the playful spirit of a kindly personality; exquisite is the only word for the result. His musical flair also is remarkable [especially considering his lack of training in formal theory], cradling his urbane and intellectual wizardry in the most lovely melodies and memorable rhythms. In an age of the commercial popular-song industry when its composers can succeed with knowledge of four or five chords, and its barely-literate writers with rhyming dictionaries of even fewer pages, an evening with these masterpieces is refreshing indeed.

The other strand of excellence, of course, comes from the performers. Here we had experience and talent a-plenty, in the gorgeous forms of Dawn Brindle, Fiona MacPherson, Ruth Bennett, Angela Rowe, and Gill Tichborne, and the manly presences of Rob Tiffen, Scott Brown, and Huw Jones, all costumed, and uniformed, delightfully by Anne Giles and her team of experts. Last, but certainly not least, was the gentleman who, in addition to acting, is expected to play the piano for about two and a half hours each evening. That's getting on for a hundred thousand notes – and if Selwyn “Red-Hot-Fingers” Tillett was cavalier with one or two of the particularly hard cases, then I for one certainly didn't notice. The same with the singing: any pitch or breathing uncertainties must have been so minor, so 'professionally rare', I would say, that no audience member, being so spellbound for so much of the time, felt them at all. Indeed some of the tone-production was striking, from both male and female voices. And remember that we're talking about something like sixty different songs, often - despite their classification as popular music - very compex in both words and music, bringing many technical difficulties. The sheer amount of work, and extension and development of abilities, in the ensemble and private practices, must have been tremendous. But whatever anxieties these fine performers went through, it was absolutely worth it, for, in no uncertain term, they succeeded!
[And here an aspect that other actors will appreciate: when having a 'moment' in a spoken play, one can fluff about, improvise, do something, until all comes smooth again, and usually the audience never notices. Not with this, though - singing, with others! But there was never a breath or suspicion of hesitation.]

The more mature of us remembered so many of these wonderful songs, and had a hard job holding back from joining in; but even if this genre or world is unfamiliar to the fresher sprigs reading this, just go and try it – you're guaranteed to love it, it's just so bloody good. I won't describe any of the scenes, I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but so many of these renditions, and the methods of interpretion chosen by the director and her artists, will stay forever in memory. Who could ever forget Nina from Argentina! Or the cool Alice! This is the original Mermaid Theatre version, from 1972, and includes such gems as the riotously-funny [and perfectly-cast...? wink emoticon ] 'I've Been to a Marvellous Party' and 'I Wonder What Happened to Him'; the excellent favourites 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' and 'Mrs Worthington'; the re-topicalized 'Let's Do It'; 'Mad About the Boy' transiting funnily and then very movingly through the range of interpreters; and - well, I could go on and on, so many deservedly-famous and well-known examples of satire, plaintive sentiment, or sheer comedy, all with a fresh creativity from the performers and director, who displays here so well her love and understanding of music, poetry, and drama, and their effective harmonisation. [Just put that last clause in hoping to get another kiss soon...]

So, people, if you're interested in quality, if you love art, if your brows are wide enough to include high and low and everything between when it's intelligent and clever, and if you just like to smile and laugh and feel good, get on down to Prelude Records and get a handful of amazing-value-for-money tickets, and honour this giant person and unique personality – no one will ever come close Noël Coward – by enjoying what I promise will be one of the best and most entertaining evenings of your life. Wednesday 20th through to Saturday, five great performances still to go!

Thank you all.