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