Monday, 16 November 2020

Stella Jay

Stella was, as many have said, the 'face of the Sewell Barn' right from our earliest days. Robert Little, Chair of Trustees and previous Artistic Director, shares his memories.


"I have just heard the news that Stella Jay has passed away. Our thoughts go out her family during these difficult times.

It seems that Stella was part of the foundations of the Sewell Barn. So how did it all start? Well, her son Peter was a student at the Blyth Jex School (as it was then). The headmistress at that time, Valerie Glauert, was mustering local support to help fundraise for a community Theatre. The Sewell Barn was born.

Stella, whose son was interested in drama, went along to offer her support. Peter would perform in the early days of the company; Stella came to help and loved being involved with all those friendly people starting a new, exciting chapter in the Norwich theatre scene. Quite simply, she never really left. She was neither an actor nor a stage manager; but she was involved in more productions than anyone else. Although never officially a member of the acting company, she certainly belonged to it, by default.  Stella was to head the Front of House Team for over 25 years before handing the title to her friend, Jane Page. She retired twice, although she kept coming back. She would restock the bar from the cash-and-carry, sort out the cleaning rotas, and sometimes take the rubbish home to her own bin. 

She was a great persuader, managing to bring on board people to fulfil various roles within the Barn family. She served on the management committee for over twenty years, and then went on to become a Trustee. In her front of house capacity she would include most of her family - husband, children and grandchildren - although I suspect that was the best place to be able to see and speak to her. She also, with her husband Wilf, managed the distribution of our newsletter for many years. Her service to the company and the Sewell Barn in general was never a task or a problem: she loved to be part of it all. She was always willing to help where needed. 

A friend of mine once said of Stella. “She is the face of the Sewell Barn, the first face to greet you when you arrive to see a show; always with a big smile, you know that you are in place that cares.”

Stella will be greatly missed by so many, but she will always be with us in spirit."

The photograph above was taken by Andrew Evans as part of a set of images of all Trustees and Committee in 2004. We brought Stella on stage – not in reality, but virtually – in my July 2019 production of Noel Coward’s Waiting in the Wings.  One character, Martha, was spoken of but never appeared. I needed, however, an image of ‘Martha’ as part of the display board of all the residents in their days on stage, and Stella’s family were happy to oblige with the lovely photograph below. We were delighted when they brought Stella to see her friends, and to see her own image as part of our front-of-house display, between the matinee and the evening performance of the show. She was a kind, gentle, hardworking and loyal member of our theatre family. RIP, dear Stella.

Cassie Tillett

Since publishing the above tribute in our newsletter, we have received many lovely comments.

"I've been attending Sewell Barn for 35 years... she was always  there.. lovely lady. RIP" Ruth M

"I was saddened to read of the death of Stella Jay. She was one of my generation of Sewell Barn people! Though she did a lot more than I did; she was always there! We shared the highs, and occasional lows, but most of all the fun and laughs of many shows together. I echo Robert - RIP Stella and thank you." Frances M

"So sorry to see Stella Jay has passed away. She truly was the Face of Sewell Barn." Cherry C

"Really sad to hear Stella passed away. My love and thoughts go with her." James B

"A lovely tribute to Stella, a character the like of which we won't see again!" June G

... and many, many tributes on the posting on our Facebook page can be seen by clicking here (you will be able to see it whether or not you have a Facebook account).

Monday, 17 February 2020

The Female of the Species

Acclaimed author Margot Mason has writer’s block and is struggling to meet a deadline. She is interrupted by the arrival of an unexpected guest, followed by several more uninvited visitors.

This wickedly satirical comedy, verging on farce, was inspired by a true-life incident involving Germaine Greer and a student. It is full of drama, bad language, bad behaviour and some rather deliciously ridiculous people.

Photography: Andrew Evans
Full of characters that are as colourful as the language and the set, this fabulous comedy is a great way to celebrate our 300th production at the Sewell Barn Theatre (during our 40th season).

"The Female of the Species - absolutely superb! Firstly, I'd like the chaise lounge please...  Beautiful, bright bold set, fantastic strong cast, a serious yet hilarious play - a must see! Thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish." Gwen H-C

"‘The Female of the Species’ is a brilliantly incisive piece of comedy theatre, penetratingly exposing the bulls**t of self-righteous glorification." Vincent G

"Brilliant production! Well done all!!" Robin W

"I enjoyed the play, well written and acted, great set too." Chris B

"We travelled 230 miles to see ‘The Female of the Species' at ‘Sewell Barn Theatre’ last weekend. We were certainly not disappointed! We were immediately impressed and also entertained by the colourful, interesting and clever set. The cast were all excellent with some extremely witty and convincing performances and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Well done to everyone who took part. If you haven’t seen it ..... get your tickets.... you won’t be disappointed!" Jan H

"Another brilliant show with excellent performances all round! Funny too! Well done." Shelagh S

"An entertaining 90 minutes of action... Michelle Moore steals the show with a fine performance as the writer's unloved offspring - now a tired mother-of-three and at the end of her tether. Her tantrum at the insanity of parenting is brilliant, falling to the floor something like a defeated toddler herself. The design team of Pete Sessions, Jo Parker-Sessions, and Phil Williamson have had fun with the set and props, with great fake book covers and well-executed gun shot effects that build up a visually delightful production." James Goffin, EDP [click here for full review]

"I'm just home from the Sewell Barn theatre where I've been extremely well entertained by the fabulous cast of The Female of the Species! Having had nothing to do with this production, apart from reading it a year ago when Mel Sessions (the director) first suggested it, it's been a joy to discover what a great show it's turned out to be. Clever, serious, witty and with a bit of silliness thrown in, it makes you think and laugh in equal measures - the best sort of drama in my opinion. It's been beautifully directed, the cast are fantastic and the set showcases interior design at its showbizzy best - I want that chaise longue now!" Clare Williamson [Joint Artistic Director, Sewell Barn]

Friday, 10 January 2020

The Innocents

“I want to save the children, not destroy them...”

Based on the greatest of Victorian ghost stories – Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw – this is a play about a haunted mansion and a governess’s attempts to save the two orphaned children who inhabit it. Are the ghosts real or a figment of the imagination? Of those two possibilities, which is the most terrifying?

The show plays 9-11 and 15-18 January at 7.30pm, with a matinee on the final Saturday at 2.30pm. Book your tickets at St Georges Music Shop on 01603 626414, or online at

Photography: Sean Owen of Reflective Arts
"I saw the performance last night and was properly spooked!  I know the original Henry James story but had not seen this version before.  I thought it was a splendid play.The whole production was superb - set great as always and the quality of acting sustained and professional by all.  I loved how the tension was built up so quickly and then increased! My congratulations to everyone." Jill C

"I went to see The Innocents last night. There are already many great reviews for this fabulous production, the cast were superb, but Megan Artherton, that was a brilliant performance. If a Victorian ghost story is your cup of tea, then go and see this." David R

"I thought The Innocents was absolutely brilliant - please pass on my congratulations to director, cast and crew! The build-up of menace and suspense was superb, and I had the feeling that everything came together in that performance - the timing seemed to be spot-on, and I take my hat off to all four members of the speaking cast because the delivery was seemingly faultless. Wow, what a triumph!" Sue N

"Last night I had the pleasure of one last trip to the Sewell Barn Theatre (with some of my favourite people) to see their current production: The Innocents. I am so glad I did. It was a truly excellent evening of theatre. I don't want to give too much away as it really is worth going to see for yourself. The whole play was presented with such understanding of how to create an unsettling atmosphere that really draws you in and makes for an engrossing, unnerving and riveting production that you can't take your eyes off. A sparse but detailed set with some subtle changes in the second half to reflect the unravelling of Miss Giddens mental state. Fantastic use of lighting and sound that toys with the senses in the already atmospheric space that is the Barn. And then the actors themselves. The children were wonderfully creepy and the two ghosts genuinely menacing, ominous and not over played in the slightest. Gill Tichborne as the house keeper was a marvel but the final word must go to Megan Artherton as Miss Giddens. A masterful performance delivered with such humanity which had me transfixed throughout. I loved this show and suggest as many people go to see it as possible. I will certainly miss being part of this great Company in the future." Matt S

"Just been to see “The Innocents” @sewellbarn theatre. The perfect Victorian ghost story with a wonderfully engaging and often chilling cast. They don’t hold back! More performances to come. See their website for details. I’ll tell you more on Monday @BBCNorfolk. Sleep well." Stephen Bumfrey - BBC Radio Norfolk [via Twitter]

"Just been to see the chilling production of The Innocents at Sewell Barn. Megan Artherton - you expertly took me on a journey of emotion with your portrayal of this story, so natural was your performance that I felt every emotion with you. You lead the play with assurance and authority and so subtly and effectively built the suspense for the audience. I wanted to applaud after each of your scenes but couldn't because it would have ruined the atmosphere you had created!! I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of you. There were so many complexities and layers that you brought to the character that even the most seasoned actresses would have struggled to have achieved. I was particularly impressed with the vulnerability you showed whilst also maintaining the characters natural reserve and restraint, something that is not easy to pull off. Congratulations and enjoy the rest of your run." Laura W

"This retelling of a classic Henry James tale is a menacing and suspenseful production, with more chills than the winter weather... The small cast is led by Megan Artherton as governess Miss Giddens. She puts in an exceptional performance, with her initial over-cheeriness giving way to mental and physical decline. Along with her the audience can never quite be sure whether the 'ghosts' are real, or part of her imagination; Artherton's tension and nervous exhaustion are palpable... This dark and provocative tale with an outstanding performance at its heart makes for a spooky winter treat." [Click here for full review.] James Goffin, EDP

"Congratulations to Richard Hand on a wonderful production of The Innocents at the Sewell Barn. He produces an atmosphere of approaching menace from the moment the audience arrives. Three excellent performances from the child, the maiden and the crone (in the pagan connotation of the word). An absolutely outstanding performance from Megan Artherton as the governess. We witnessed her mental deterioration palpably and painfully. Where does this actor come from? Superb! One little negative from me personally. I didn't like the Addams family portrayal of Quint. Otherwise, superb! Well, well done, everyone." David W

"Fantastic evening at @sewellbarn watching ‘The Innocents’ starring one of our very talented students, Freya! This brilliant production is not for the faint hearted!" Triple Threat Stage School

Friday, 22 November 2019


It’s 1958. Soho. There’s a body in two bins and five friends spend the weekend locked in a London night-club waiting for the chop.

Photography: Barry Parsons

When Jez Butterworth’s Olivier-award winning Mojo debuted at The Royal Court in 1995 it was hailed as one of the most important pieces of theatre in the twentieth century. The Sewell Barn Theatre has now assembled a supremely talented cast of young men to take on this fast paced black comedy. “It’s like Beckett on speed” explained director, Nick Meir. “Butterworth’s writing never lets up, and we have an extraordinarily talented cast who are very, very funny. Audiences are in for a real treat”.

Responses from our audiences seem to indicate that they agree!

“OMG. Came tonight because we saw Jerusalem [also by Jez Butterworth]. Anyone who was associated with “Mojo” should be extremely proud of a professional standard production. The acting was phenomenal! The cast held a consistently high line throughout the play rewarding excellent direction. Such pace, atmosphere and tension! Wow. Honestly initially speechless. One regret; that we didn’t come earlier in the run and have the opportunity to tell everyone we know to go! So glad we didn’t miss it, productions like this are few and far between. Congratulations to all.” Tabi P

"Just returned from watching Jez Butterworth's 'Mojo' at the Sewell Barn theatre. This really was a quite superb piece of theatre - a deftly directed and perfectly paced mixture of comedy and action, taking place on a deceptively simple set that nicely captured the front of house / back of house seedy club vibe. It was also, probably, the sweariest production I've seen there. But this dialogue fits perfectly with the characters and didn't contrived, forced or affected. Thoroughly enjoyable (if blood, dark humour and uncomfortable characters are your thing), I hope you got a chance to see it." Myles C

"Mojo at @sewellbarn. A ever-thrilling, often obscene, occasionally terrifying theatrical whirlwind, loaded with black comedy, killer 50s tunes, and outstanding, blistering performances from the young cast." David W

"Just two more performances tomorrow to catch this excellent production of Jez Butterworth's Mojo at the Sewell Barn. Maybe the cocaine and pills weren't real, but the frenetic energy and sweat of the young male cast were. Butterworth is a master of dark twists and poetic use of street vernacular. Nick Meir s direction keeps our noses pressed to this scary, comic window. It's set in 1958 and I remember the impact of rock and roll, but then we didn't have the Kray twins knocking on our door. Go see!" David N

"Pills and thrills a-plenty pepper this tale of the violent underbelly of 1950s sleazy Soho clubland, told with verve and style." James Goffin - EDP (for full review, click here)

"Went to see opening night of Mojo by Jez Butterworth last night at The Sewell Barn Theatre. Do please try and see this extraordinary production! Directed by Nick Mier with subtly, wit and style and performed by a young and very strong cast. It’s dark, it’s fast, it’s funny and just a little scary! Congratulations to you all and to John Dixon for his brilliant set." Robin W

"Came and watched Mojo, great performance, lovely theatre, I will be back!" Kate C

"Break a leg to the cast and crew of Mojo at the Sewell Barn Theatre. I was lucky enough to watch their final dress rehearsal and it's a terrific production. Go and see it!" Alice W

"It's fabulously energetic and quite wacky with great dialogue and really well cast. We loved it." Annette B

Saturday, 19 October 2019

The Tempest

Magic, betrayal, revenge, and forgiveness provide the timeless themes of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Clare Williamson has chosen for her production a barren, post-industrial landscape for The Tempest’s island setting – inspired by the rusting military structures of Orford Ness and nuclear test sites in the Pacific – rather than the more usual setting of the Mediterranean or Caribbean. Barnacled buoys and other flotsam combine with a re-appropriated mobile phone mast to provide clangs, creaks, whistles and eerie vibrations.

Photography: Sean Owen
"Last night was our annual pilgrimage to honour the Bard. We really enjoyed The Tempest at the Sewell Barn Theatre (in the round), and would highly recommend this production to our friends. The set was outstanding: No, it really was an outstanding set. The performers managed to get both the story and the humor beautifully across to the audience, which means the director, producer and crew did an exceptional job. The second part of this run is next week.... please go and enjoy it as we did." Gareth L

"Just went to see the Tempest at the Sewell Barn Theatre on Constitution Hill this evening. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. The scenery and atmosphere were extraordinary as was the acting which was beyond brilliant." Clive E

“We found the play very interesting last night and the theme of power and colonialism came over strongly. Prospero was very good and clear and managed the opening exposition with Miranda really well. Ariel was really great. Singing, verse and movement were really powerful and the androgynous quality worked superbly. I also liked Caliban and the sense of brutishness, as well as the other complexities in his character. The set was wonderful, so much interest.” Liz D

“Loved the performance! Only the second time I’ve seen The Tempest. Cast, lighting, sound, direction – everything was top notch.” Nik T

Thanks so much for a magical evening. Lovely production and set.” Joc M

"We thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Tempest’ on Wednesday – you really are brilliant Players – your creativity is marvellous." Roy & Eva L

"Splendid evening seeing 'The Tempest' at @sewellbarn with some familiar faces in the cast. Highly recommend going to see it whilst it's on if you have the chance." Steve I

"We had a great evening at Sewell Barn Theatre last night watching The Tempest .... wonderful performances from the whole cast." Joy P

"Huge congratulations to the cast and crew of The Tempest. Thank you for a magical evening." Jen D

"Excellent production of ‘The Tempest’ at the Sewell Barn. Imaginative setting, superb performances, enthralling direction. Brave new world indeed! Highly recommended!" Vincent G

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Waiting in the Wings

‘The Wings’ is a charity home for retired actresses. Into the jealousies, point-scoring and memories of many decades comes Lotta, new resident and former leading lady. Her arrival revives a long-dormant personal feud which eventually involves the whole community and is only resolved when another resident has to leave in tragic circumstances.

Photography: Sean Owen of Reflective Arts
A mammoth cast of 18 people, with a combined age of well in excess of 1,000 years and centuries of theatrical experience, delighted our audiences.

"This show is as perfect as live performance gets. I am so glad I got there!" Clare H

"We went to see Waiting in the Wings last week, and enjoyed a fantastic evening's entertainment - hilarious, poignant, sad - it was a great show. A difficult one to pull off, with a huge cast, and not a lot of action apart from Deidre's dramatic demise, but the company managed it superbly under Cassie's direction. Sewell Barn scores again!" Frances M

"Great characters, making a fabulous team... This was a triumph. It’s hard to pick out performers, they were all excellent including the cameos. Doreen was a delight. Perhaps it helps being a certain age to fully enjoy Coward; we certainly did. We simply loved the production. You and everyone involved may feel very pleased."  Michael & Margaret D

"Many congratulations to cast and whole company of “Waiting in the Wings”. Excellent production. Funny, touching, poignant and moving." Robin W

"I'm not sure that any theatre other than the Barn could have put this play on with the same result: there was an intimacy about the performances that was enhanced so much by the ambience of the theatre itself. Almost three hours in length but the time simply rolled on by; the audience was almost a part of the production. This was an absolutely wonderful production. Lovely to see." Terry C

"Delighted this show has had an awesome run! Saw it Thurs eve. I giggled, outright laughed and cried! Brilliantly, beautifully done." Tracie N

"Thank you Cassie, Cast and Crew for a wonderfully entertaining and memorable evening. I doubt I'll ever see so much acting experience in one place at one time again. Memories are made of this." Zanna F-D

"Waiting in the Wings was fantastic! Beautifully scripted by Noel Coward and brought to life by the ladies with wit, humour and compassion. The chaps weren’t bad either!" Paula M

"Just wanted to say how much [we] enjoyed the play last night. Thoroughly absorbing and characterisations seemed spot-on... Thanks to you all." Richard S

"Old age awaits us all and the spectre of losing one’s independence and ending up in a home looms large on many a horizon. But in Waiting in the Wings, the audience is offered a somewhat brighter outlook on the future in a home. This is a touching story that lifts a lid on the fears of the new residents leaving behind their old lives, the spectre of dementia, old rivalries laid bare and friendships forged, celebrated and held dear with a whole host of charming, likeable characters that make up the residents and staff and assorted others at the Wings. It really is an ensemble piece with all the cast fully inhabiting their parts so that wherever you look on the (at times very busy!) stage there is something happening. They all work together as a collective whole to immerse you in this absorbing play and together with the help of the backstage team (another fab set and flawless scene changes) have produced a most enjoyable evening of theatre. I would happily pay another visit to the ladies in The Wings and if this is what awaits us in the retirement homes of our future then we could do a whole lot worse!" Matt S

"Impeccable timing of dialogue, humour and witticisms.  Good characterisation of the time period, being well thought out and researched to make a truly wonderful production of a time tested play.
There were some very gifted actors and actresses amongst the cast, with great potential.  All fitted together admirably. Always amazing how so many lines and changes of costume can be managed. The production depicted so acutely life’s realities. Impressive to see how the use of one set, with one or two changes, could be used so effectively throughout. Felt better for the experience - a production full of fun, laughter and tears. Congratulations to all.” Sue L

"What a lovely, warm, truly ensemble performance, where the 18-strong cast fully inhabit an array of wonderful, eccentric, and yet wholly relatable characters. I was entirely drawn into their world,  laughing and crying along with them, relishing in the gossip and scandals, the rivalries and reconciliations...and most of all praying for that solarium! Congratulations all on a touching and thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre!" Sarah J

"Just back from watching Waiting in the Wings, what a fab show, a great show for all ages - our 14 year old daughter loved it. The characters were great and after spending some time visiting an old peoples home we could identify with the characters. Well worth a watch." Sarah R

"This show has a delightful warmth about it and truly honest performances which was a joy to behold, and by the end I was quite emotional which is highly unusual for a Noel Coward! It was wonderful spending an evening with these characters and I didn't want it to end!" Barnaby M

"Excellent cast and production. Felt like old friends by the end of the play!" From comments board

"This is a bittersweet play, with plenty of laughs and a good deal of pathos... a surprisingly powerful piece and a great chance to see some experienced talent back on stage." James Goffin for Norwich Evening News. For full article, click here.

Eastern Daily Press letters page

Saturday, 8 June 2019


Photography: Barry Parsons
In rural Spain of the 1930’s, a childless woman in a cold marriage becomes so obsessed with the idea of motherhood that her frustration leads her to commit a terrible crime that ultimately kills her own dreams.

Lorca’s play sees the collision of female sexuality and toxic masculinity, Catholicism and paganism, tradition and change dressed in evocative poetry, song, imagery and ritual. It results in an adult parable of dark beauty and visceral humanity.

Phillip Rowe's directorial debut at the theatre uses puppetry, masks, dance, music and a strong cast to portray this tragic story.

"Just seen Yerma at the Sewell Barn. Stunning performances, gorgeous design and atmospheric music. Congratulations to all involved in producing some gripping theatre. Go see it!!!" Jessica H

"'Yerma' at @sewellbarn. An intense #drama full of potent #symbolism, set in a stunning piece of #design. The cast delivered the visceral yet poetic language in some heart-rending performances. Congratulations to all involved!" David W

"Top show, Sewell Barn." Dylan B

"It was amazing!" Dylan B's 12-year-old daughter

"Sewell Barn really impressed me with its simple layout and profound decor. Yerma's production and delivery was absolutely intense, passionate and connected. I felt part of the play.. well done all." Roy A

"Well, that was yet another wonderful evening of local theatre at the Sewell Barn Theatre. A brilliant and enthralling interpretation of Lorca’s intense play Yerma by director Phillip Rowe. Clever use of masks and elements of folk music and dance powerfully evoke the claustrophobic atmosphere of 1930s rural Spain in the Barn’s intimate space. The difficult themes all come threateningly alive at the hands of an exciting and thoroughly committed cast. Can I break all the reviewer's rules? all right, then I have to single out Zachary Burbridge as the stolid farmer Juan, and above all the magnificent Sarah Jenkins in the title role as his suppressed and frustrated wife – this is a spine-tingling performance worthy of huge respect, congratulations and wide recognition. If you’re anywhere within several hundred miles of Norwich you just have to come and see it today or next week. And I mean, you *have* to come and see this. It’s not an easy watch but my God it’s worth it." Selwyn Tillett [Secretary to Sewell Barn Committee]