New, historic place to stage theatre

SUE SKINNER A theatre and arts venue's summer season will be played out in a new auditorium this year.

SUE SKINNER

A theatre and arts venue's summer season will be played out in a new auditorium this year.

For more than a decade, thousands of people enjoyed open-air productions in the grounds of Abbey House, West Acre, against the backdrop of a ruined 13th-century priory.

Last year the stage moved to the courtyard of the barns complex at the property, where construction has now begun on a new arena.

The Summer Tent, with comfortable new seating, will stand in a newly-landscaped area in the lee of the historic Great Barn and allow a longer season from May through to August, more events – and shelter from the elements.

The start of the scheme follows a year's fundraising by Westacre Arts Foundation, which has got a £24,000 grant from Arts Council England East and £15,000 from West Norfolk Council.

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A further £30,000 has been contributed by sponsors and supporters of Westacre River Studios, which opened in 2000 after a £1m transformation of the village's Methodist Chapel.

The private gardens of Abbey House, home of Henry and Garlinda Birkbeck, will still be open before each performance for picnics beside the River Nar – now a well-established tradition among West Acre regulars.

River Studios' patron, actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry, is due to attend the gala opening on May 1, which will be a celebration evening with summer cocktails, canapes and wine.

Entertainment will include Hic! – or the entire history of wine (abridged), written and performed by Julian Curry, and music from the Cocktail Jazz Band.

The first production to take place in the new auditorium will be Shakespeare's classic tragedy Macbeth, opening on May 19 and staged in the round.

Other summer events include Habeas Corpus, a farcical comedy about the permissive society by Alan Bennett; Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest; and Swinging Sixties musical A Slice of Saturday Night.

Music lovers will be catered for with three Sunday jazz picnics and two live music concerts, featuring the Half Moon Band and the After Hours Blues Band.

On July 1, Paul Foot – one of the Edinburgh Festival's greatest successes – will deliver an evening of stand-up comedy.

Details are available from the box office on 01760 755800.

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