New season: Westacre Theatre

Keiron Pim It’s a bustling hub of the arts in the midst of one of Norfolk’s quietest corners. KEIRON PIM takes a look at what’s on offer at Christmas and into next year at Westacre Theatre.

Keiron Pim

Nestling by the riverside in a small West Norfolk village, it is a theatre with a growing name for producing quality drama.

Westacre Theatre has been one of the success stories of the Norfolk arts scene in recent years and with the actor and writer Stephen Fry as its patron, the theatre's profile is growing all the time.

The theatre operates out of two sites - a converted chapel serving as a studio theatre seating 70 people in the spring and autumn, and a custom-made octagonal tent used throughout the summer seating 150. It has been offering classical and experimental theatre for more than 20 years and its success was recently marked with an IVCA Clarion Award for Excellence in the Performing Arts category.

Now as theatre-goers look forward to this year's Christmas production, the team behind the theatre are looking to the schedule for 2009.

Highlights include actor David Benson's one man show To Be Frank: Frankie Howerd and the Secret of Happiness, Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, and the Westacre Theatre Company's new adaptation of Richard III, of which theatre spokesman Camilla Falconbridge said: “Westacre's artistic director Andy Naylor is well known for his exciting and innovative adaptations and this streamlined text-driven studio version is sure to send shivers down your spine. Richard Crook-back is a Shakespearian villain with an irresistible charm - one of the most charismatic rogues ever to grace the stage.”

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But before that the theatre is gearing up for its Christmas show, which this year is Humbug!, an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, featuring live action and puppets. It starts on Friday and stars Issy Huckle, one of the people at the heart of the theatre. Several performances have already sold out.

Issy oversees the theatre in tandem with Andy, and she explained their intentions.

“For many years now we have been working to provide the local area with classical, traditional and experimental theatre together with all our workshops and musical events,” she said.

“We believe strongly in giving young people the opportunity to be part of a working theatre and that the benefits they gain through their involvement, both by working together with their peers and the other adults in our team, are enormous.”

Working with young people is a growing part of what the theatre is about. They run regular drama workshops catering for children and young people aged six to 21, which tend to be heavily subscribed, and their bursary awards are in their fourth year, bringing talented young performers, stage managers and technicians to Westacre for a summer residency.

“They become part of the Westacre Theatre Company for the summer and participate in productions, work back stage, join the front-of-house teams and help with workshops,” said Camilla.

“This year we are aiming to be able to offer eight awards which will enable the lucky students the invaluable experience of life in a working theatre.

“They contribute a huge amount to our Summer seasons and we very much hope to continue the scheme for many years to come.”

t Westacre Theatre is at River Road, Westacre, Norfolk PE32 1UD. See www.westacretheatre.com for more information. Box office 01760 755800.

COMING SOON

t Humbug! A new adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol featuring live action and puppets, suitable for ages three and upwards. Friday 12, Saturday 13, Friday 19 and Monday, December 22, 7pm; Saturday 20, Tuesday 23 and Saturday, December 27, 2pm and 7pm Tickets £12/£6

t David Benson in To Be Frank: Frankie Howerd and the Secret of Happiness. Friday, February 13, 7.30pm All tickets £15.

t The Cocktail Jazz Band for a Valentine Special on Sunday, February 15, noon-2.30pm £15 - all tickets include a cocktail and light lunch.

t Alan Bennett's Talking Heads - a chance to see six monologue masterpieces over three weekends, featuring the cream of Westacre Theatre Company's acting talent. Featuring Bed Among the Lentils, A Lady of Letters, A Woman of No Importance, Soldiering On, A Cream-cracker under the Settee and A Chip in the Sugar. Friday 20, Saturday 21, Friday 27, Saturday, February 28, and Friday 6, Saturday, March 7, 7.30pm £12/£6

t Richard III - a Shakespearian Thriller, adapted by Andy Naylor. Friday 20, Saturday 21, Friday 27, Saturday, March 28 and Friday 3, Saturday, April 4, 7.30pm Tickets £12/£6.