Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Killing of Sister George

Frank Marcus' iconic 1964 play is a wonderful combination of broad comedy, deep pathos, vicious relationship manipulation and pastiche.

Four highly skilled performers create the world in the flat of June Buckridge, who plays the beloved Sister George in the radio soap Applehurst (a thinly-disguised reflection of The Archers). Ironically, at the time of writing (25th February) the latter show has just dramatically killed off a much-loved character - a case of art imitating art?!

Photography: Barry Parsons
We have been delighted with audience reactions to the first three performances; do come and see what it's all about as it continues between 28 February and 3 March.

"[We] would just like to say how much we enjoyed the production last night. The performances were exemplary in a play that was beautifully paced and subtly nuanced and I, for one, was left wondering why there hasn't been a professional revival in recent times. It would be difficult to single out one actor for especial praise but I thought Gill's performance was the finest of all the plays I've seen her in. Those audience members who braved the cold last night were clearly delighted by what they saw." Peter W

"I was at last night's performance... and HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT! [Five stars]" Eve P

"An excellent production from Clare Williamson, seamless direction, flawlessly paced, very enjoyable, with a tour de force from Gillian Tichborne as the eponymous George. A thoroughly nasty bullying creature, yet Gilly showed us moments of vulnerability and occasional tenderness, a well rounded performance.
I love Mandy Kiley, so this appraisal is biased. She was brilliant. Showing a saccharine sweetness disguising a steely predatory cunning. Excellent!
An accomplished debut performance from Sophie Blythe. She resisted overtly showing us her self interest, but it was there alright.
A very funny and mature performance from Joy Davidson completed a quartet of very polished performances.
Good set too, and I loved the Archers parody of music interspersing scenes and act.
Bravo to you all." David W

"We are sadly now well prepared for abusive relationships the gender, and sexuality, of the protagonists irrelevant to the ongoing need for total control of the victim. And when the abuser loses control of her working life she becomes even more desperate and cruel in her relationships.
BUT Wait! This play isn't hard going and 'heavy' it's crammed with passion and laughter and fierce energy that streams from George, who seems to only just control it at times. This play has a historical feel, but the sensitive cast have made these characters so real, you care for them all, following their ups and downs, even the outrageous George. It is really captivating to watch. The cast as we expect are perfect in their portrayal of these characters, and it is lovely to watch their expertise and experience, especially when the title character, and actress, could easily overwhelm the stage, but instead she, of course, gives space for the others to play, this is what acting is about, re-acting to each other. It really was a pleasure to watch, a master class, as has already been mentioned.

It's not often 'Whoops!' of enjoyment accompany the sustained applause in the Barn, but it happened this night and was well deserved. Really don't miss....." Mark M

Friday, 12 January 2018

Blood and Ice

It's 200 years ago this month (January 2018) that Mary Shelley's iconic novel was published, and we're delighted to be celebrating this milestone with Liz Lochhead's dark, powerful play about Mary and her world.

Photography: Sean Owen of Reflective Arts
We were especially pleased to be given a double-page spread of advance publicity in the Eastern Daily Press about the show, and you can read the online version here.

The show has been greeted with great enthusiasm, and here are some of the reviews...

"Went to see Blood & Ice at Sewell Barn last night (17th Jan) and it was fantastic. Such a strong show, actors were excellent, particularly the young lady who played Mary Shelley. She had so many lines and delivered them incredibly well. I thought it a very credible performance. Well done." Dawn T

"... tension is brilliantly maintained throughout, with the whole space of the theatre used for action above, below and around us..." Charlotte Valori (click here to read the whole review)

"I didn’t know what to expect as I didn’t know the play. It was brilliantly performed, the effects were excellent and scary at times. I was on the edge of my seat! A play that combined an element of horror with a moving story line. Not to be missed. Congratulations all round." Jill F

"Went to see Blood & Ice last night. What a pleasure it was! A fascinating study of Mary Shelley and the creation of Frankenstein. Strong direction, clear communication and a very effective set all enhanced the experience. I'm happy to say that my Norwegian sister in law followed every word! We'll done to all involved for a fantastic evening out. Lots of food for thought and isn't that what the best theatre should be about?" Clare W

"Very atmospheric with some great set pieces... visually stunning." Barnaby M

"Very thought provoking play. Some very good performances and wonderful direction. Costumes were excellent too." David W

"A night of dark interest as we went to see Blood and Ice The life and sometimes frightful times of #frankenstein author Mary Shelley Directed by our beautiful and talented friend (gents she's single;)) @sabz_101 this being my first visit to a theatre. It was a real treat and kept me gripped from start to finish." Carl S

"Blood and Ice. Sewell Barn Theatre. Fantastic play, wonderful acting, inspired directing. A thrill to watch!" James T

"Tightly directed, beautifully characterised and well focused." Cassie T

Book at St George's Music Shop (by phone or in person), or online; visit our booking page for details.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Dario Fo's manic political farce has long been considered a classic of twentieth-century theatre, and for good reason. As Director Karl Harland says: “Are you worried that the world has descended into corruption, incompetence, and bad language? If so then the Sewell Barn’s next show, Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, will reassure you that you’re not wrong and it’s nothing new.

It’s 1969 or thereabouts and after gaining access to a Milan police station, the scene of the death of a suspect in a previous terrorist incident, our hero the Maniac sets to work digging up the truth that was buried by a nest of corrupt coppers. Add journalist Maria Feletti to the mix and it can only end one way. Or can it?"

Photography: Sean Owen of Reflective Arts

The positive reviews started arriving as soon as the first night was over, and we're very proud of the magnificent cast and crew who have brought their energy and skills to this show.

"Very impressed with the actors and performance. Icing on the cake was a set prop: a portrait of Mussolini with Donald Trump hair ... great to see such an amazing performance and the Italian songs were just awesome! Congratulations!!" Kiran G

"This show is a blast and I honestly thought I was going to explode with laughter. A madcap frantic evening which will entertain and delight! My face is still aching from all the laughs, and the cast were clearly loving every moment! Bravo!" Barnaby M

"Directors Karl Hartland and Clare Williamson preside over a successful farce, powered throughout by a hyperactively brilliant, rapidly paced central performance from Hattie Scopes as the Maniac, whose machine-gun delivery of Fo’s punishing lines comes with shattering speed and clarity..." Charlotte Valori [click here to read the full review]

"There’s nothing accidental about the laughs; this is a rude and spunky production of a modern classic." James Goffin, Eastern Daily Press [click here to read the full review]

"Well done Accidental Death of an Anarchist! Though I am utterly bias, I think Jessica Hutchings singing at the end was the most beautiful moment of the whole thing! Was a great show, you should all be very proud!" Megan R

"Really enjoyed it. Fantastic show." Frank S

"[I] was very impressed with the cast and direction. It was my first visit but you can be assured it won't be my last.{also an added mention to the voluntary staff who made my wife and I very welcome as did the wonderful cast afterwards.}" Eddie K

"Saw Accidental Death of an Anarchist yesterday eve. Loved the high energy & little touches like putting up a picture of Mussolini to show that the police rooms were different, even though the same set!" Jack S

"Well done to all involved in Accidental Death of an Anarchist... Fast paced and so funny... had a really great evening." Ruth H

"'Anarchist' was fantastic last night – I sometimes think I have (peaceful) anarchist tendencies!" Roy T

This characteristically inventive posting from Mark Mobbs deserves quoting in full:

The pace, energy and volume!
(Yes at times it is a bit shouty)
Of this production is breathtaking!
Characters don't form slowly,
They are there, and grab your
Attention instantly.
Real reactions to a crazy situation,
We are drawn into this Python-esk world,
The main mad 'man' is amazing and
has perfect Support from, an unwilling,
Crazy gang. Many funny and hysterical
Moments, the audience convulsed,
In agonised laughter.
The cast seemed to relish this punishing,
Rush of words, from profanity to songs,
All gathering to a big final..............!
No spoilers, watch and enjoy this
Energising, provocative production.

And our audience have congratulated the cast through the medium of the blackboard in the foyer:

Monday, 16 October 2017

Lark Rise to Candleford

Flora Thompson's well-loved trilogy (Lark Rise, Over to Candleford and Candleford Green) were written during the years of WW2, reflecting largely autobiographically on Thompson's own life in late 19th century rural Oxfordshire. In the 1970s, Keith Dewhurst adapted the three books into two plays: charming, humorous, observant, poignant, and using traditional music to link wonderful vignettes of village life. They were originally staged in the National Theatre's Cottesloe space, using a promenade style. Finally, the books were adapted again for television in 2008.

It's a rare treat to have the chance to see both Lark Rise and Candleford performed together (each is a full-length play, standing on its own), not least because of the large cast required for each show (two dozen actors across the two plays), as well as four first-rate musicians. Robert Little and his cast have done a wonderful job, using our unique and intimate space with simple staging, a marvellous band and a tremendous family feel.

We were delighted by so many positive comments from our audiences, via email, social media and our audience survey.


"Very thought provoking and moving... Mrs Timms and the barrow boy deserve particular credit.  Well done!"

"Excellent.  Looking forward to tomorrow night's Candleford.  Enjoying the music."

"I have been coming to Sewell Barn for years but this is the most brilliant production I have ever seen there - and elsewhere.  Congratulations to ALL concerned" Elizabeth N

"Excellent, as always!"

"I came to Lark Rise and Candleford because I saw both at the National Theatre in London many years ago.  Your production does them credit." Carolyn A

"I loved it."

"A seamless string of vignettes, gently and accurately observed, and presented with sincerity and sympathy, humour and pathos." Cassie T

" wonderful to see the theatre alive with music, drama and dance! Congratulations to Robert Little and his team for a marvellous evening's entertainment. Looking forward to Candleford next week!" Clare W

"Last night was my first visit to Sewell Barn and I was very impressed both with the theatre itself and the production of Lark Rise which was excellent. My wife and I also have tickets for “Candleford” next Wednesday the 18th - very much looking forward to it." Mike H

Saturday, 15 July 2017

A Chorus of Disapproval

Alan Ayckbourn's wonderful comedy rang true for anyone who's been a member of a club, society or group. As one of our reviewers said, "The performances are all honest and real" - every one of the fourteen actors presents a very recognisable personality...

Photography: Sean Owen of Reflective Arts
Here's what audiences said.

"Haven't laughed so much in ages, what a fantastic show, beautiful singing too, well done to everyone involved." Ruth H

"Had a great evening watching A Chorus of Disapproval at the Sewell Barn last night - lots of laughs, high production values and beautiful characterisation. Well done and thank you." Clare H

"Enjoyed it immensely. The cast seemed effortlessly (or should that be seamlessly?) meshed into a well tuned ensemble - the mark of good direction and casting coming together." Jack S

"There is an excellent production of Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval showing at the Sewell Barn at the moment. We saw it at last night's packed performance,and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a cracking, crackling show, intelligently directed by Cassie Tillett. Minimal settings that keep the action flowing seamlessly, and a staging that enables all characters to be seen and heard (something that has been sadly remiss at recent productions in another local theatre!).

The performances are all honest and real, and very funny. Mark Kitto drives the play with his energetic, slightly manic portrayal of Dafydd ap Llewellyn, with a nice touch of pathos at the end, and Nick Meir is very good as the hapless Guy Jones. They were all excellent, but I hope the director will forgive me for singling out Mandy Kiley as Enid. She was so real and warm, in what I suppose is a small part, if you use those terms, that I had to be restrained from leaping on stage and hugging her!

I confess to having an aversion to Alan Ayckbourn, which I think has developed from seeing so many bad amateur productions. I am so relieved to say that Cassie Tillett, and her excellent company have restored my faith. Well done, everyone." David W

"3 more days and 4 more chances to see 'A Chorus of Disapproval" at The Sewell Barn in Norwich. Make it a priority if you haven't been yet. Highly recommended!" Steve A

"Funny play. Lots of laugh out loud moments... Definitely worth a look if you have an evening free. A total bargain night out too." Marie C

"This is a great production of one of Sir Alan's finest comedies - characters are so well formed that much laughter and contrasting emotions sit well together - don't miss it!!! Well done everyone." John G

"Superb show! So much passion, energy and talent. And what surprising singing voices! And a round of applause for Jonathan Redding and the stage crew - such swift and precise settings! Well done Cassie and all! Do see it Sat! Last chance!" Robin S


And finally, a wonderfully detailed and appreciative review from our good friend Rob Fradley-Wilde:

"Last night was a real treat: one of Ayckbourn's most successful comedies given by fifteen most excellent performers. I say 'performers' because they sang and played as well as acted. Even those new to singing did a fine job, and should continue and develop their skill. The director Cassie Tillet certainly had an envious cast, but that in no way detracts from her accomplishment here: no dull spots, with clarity as well as good pace – the play's more-than-average length presented no difficulty for us.

New to me were David Vayne and Diane Webb, with small but well-realised parts. Selwyn Tillet brought his pianistic skill [only one and a half fluffed notes out of thirty-seven thousand, five hundred and forty-nine – not bad] – and behind the scenes I dare say his coaching methods will have made invaluable contribution to this show's success. Lovely flute playing by Jessica Hutchings took us nearer to the time of the 'play-within-a-play', as a delightful addition to her great and in this case vigorously-applied acting talent.

Then there were the four couples. Gill Tichborne, undeterred by breaking an arm in rehearsal, swanned around in her great style, an unlikely though perfectly feasible wife to the block of a stereotypical Yorkshireman pushed at us by Peter Wood, cleverly alternately boring then waking-up the audience as well as his co-characters. Mandy Kiley and Kevin Oelrichs just had us in stitches with their double-acts, but we felt deeply for their sufferings. Their daughter was seductively played by Fiona MacPherson, whose feisty war with Jessica Hutchings's character delighted us as much as her clear soprano. Quite different colours were applied by James Thomson, sinister and dangerous, and his sexually-manipulative wife so joyfully and ruthlessly [no pun intended] played by Ruth Bennett. And as though all this were not enough, Emma Kirkham and Mark Kitto showcased their deep theatrical skills [and capacity for sheer work!] in the complex characters of the director blinded to the state of his marriage by the stress of his obsessive need to create, and his repressed wife tormented by her own different needs for recognition and understanding.

And into this heady mix comes the self-effacing, unsure but honest Guy Jones, played with confidence, courage, and a very impressive empathy, by Nick Meir.

Lastly, Jonathan Redding left his stage-management desk for what must be his smallest-ever role – small maybe, but beautifully formed!

In short, a very talented ensemble who drew their characters and the complicated relationships between them with skill and charm and energy, moving from brisk and physical through humour to tenderness and poignancy. They made the drama easy to follow, thoroughly enjoyable, and kept our interest unflagging throughout.

Noting to fault – one would have to nit-pick about a slightly- mistimed start from one of the set changes, or, in the music, the odd note slightly awry, or breathing a little unskilful [though of course they were playing amateur singers!]; anyway, nothing of substance. The singers' [and accompanists'] sense of time and rhythm, and togetherness, was good. Indeed, the delivery of the memorable and lovely solos, duets, trios and choruses, from the original Beggar's Opera, ranged from more than adequate to, often, very fine. We were charmed by the musical element as much as by the drama.

So - love, spite, pathos, fights, sex, music, jealousy, sharp practice, and actors acting actors – what more could you want for a hugely enjoyable evening's entertainment? If you've not been, well, only Saturday's performances to go now, but this play, one of the Sewell Barn's best, will make rearranging your weekend very worth while."

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Talking Heads

Alan Bennett is well known for his observant, hilarious, often painful creations. His Talking Heads monologues - two series, each of six characters, one male and five female - are widely acknowledged as being some of the finest solo works in the theatre.

While we were sad at the Sewell Barn to have had to cancel our planned June production due to casting difficulties and illness, we couldn't be more pleased with its replacement. Two of the Passion Play cast join director Judi Daykin to portray three very different women telling their stories.

Photography: Michael Stanislaw

In A Lady of Letters, lonely spinster Irene watches the world from behind net curtains, writing to complain about anything she sees. But when a couple across the road seem to be abusing their child, should she intervene?

Recently widowed Muriel faces a series of challenges and revelations after the sudden death of husband Ralph, not least from her two children. As the truth about the family is uncovered, will she manage to keep Soldiering On?

Lesley is a young aspiring actress, so she is not about to miss Her Big Chance when it comes along. But is the film she becomes involved in as good an opportunity as she thinks? Can she learn to water ski and play chess in time, or fit into the dress and bikini they need her to wear?

What our audiences said...

"Had a hugely enjoyable afternoon yesterday at Sewell Barn Theatre's, production of Alan Bennetts "Talking Heads." Wonderful tragi-comic performances, very innovative direction, loved the way the audience got to "dip in and out" of the three central characters stories before their final revelations!" Janice C

"Very enjoyable indeed, the 3 actors were very convincing as their characters ... brilliant thought provoking perfomances ... 10 out of 10 from me." Kathy S

"Saw this last week. Can't recommend it highly enough. It was brilliant." Morgan

"Thank you to the three excellent actresses who held our attention so well this evening, and thanks to the crew too." @NchCathVerger

"Great evening @sewellbarn , delightful dark undercurrents to Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, absorbing performance by engaging performers." Daren L

"An excellent evening... three very accomplished actresses... roars of laughter as well as gasps of surprise throughout." Barnaby M

"I am impressed by @sewellbarn #AlanBennett #TalkingHeads" Daniele F

"I pity the fool who doesn't go and see Talking Heads @sewellbarn before the run ends on Saturday." Karl H

"Went last night, with a friend, to see 'Talking Heads', and so glad that we gave up a beautiful evening to see a brilliant acted and staged set of monologues. It far exceeded my expectations, especially when I’d been to the Theatre Royal the previous evening... I enjoyed a master-class in finely delivered roles that relied so much on the words rather than plot per se." Jack S

"Saw this tonight at Sewell Barn. As [other have said] this is a real masterclass in acting. Superb! Please get a ticket and see this brilliant show. Well done Judi Daykin, we loved it," Laura M-J

"Saw a lovely production at the Sewell Barn last night. Alan Bennett's Talking Heads superbly and inventively directed by Judi Daykin was a delight. Splitting the action between the 3 monologues was inspired, and increased the anticipation of the outcome of the fate of the three very different women.
The acting was confident and extremely enjoyable to watch. Dawn Brindle, Hattie Scopes and Judi Daykin were all excellent. A very enjoyable, amusing and thought provoking evening. Thank you all." David W

"... we are privileged to witness three masterclasses in performance skill. The stagecraft is first-rate, the focus on character complete, and the integrity absolute. One might not like these people - they would in all three cases be dubious social company - but, my goodness, we believe in them, and feel for them and with them. And that, perhaps, is one of the greatest achievements - of Bennett's writing, Daykin's direction and of all three performances - to ensure that we care very much about what happens to people that we wouldn't necessarily want to share a room with." Cassie T

"Wonderful set, costumes, sound, lighting and acting. Splitting the monologues up and interspersing them with each other worked brilliantly, I think better than having them as stand alone monologues if I'm honest! Three superb actors showcasing their talent :)" Emma K

"Congratulations to the cast and crew of Talking Heads for a wonderful show. Cross cutting between the monos was a brave directorial decision but it works absolutely, creating a thought provoking and cohesive piece of theatre. The audience were absorbed throughout as the three stories unfolded, beautifully conveyed by three actors who inhabited their characters with great control, precision and artistry. Go and enjoy for yourself!" Clare W

NB: please excuse the (implied) strong language below, but anyone attending the play will understand why it was both relevant and funny!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Kissing Sid James

A disastrous follow-up to a disastrous first date: a weekend in rainy Blackpool. As director Angela Rowe put it, "If you have ever been single, if you have ever wanted everything to turn out alright, if you have wanted something better or you just want to see great theatre then come and see Kissing Sid James." This fabulous two-hander has been delighting audiences during the first week of performances; don't miss your chance during the second half of the run (Wed 10 to Sat 13 May).

"You MUST see this rather wonderful comedy/drama.
I know, I KNOW, you get so many people saying, YOU MUST SEE THIS! These are usually posted by friends or advertisers hidden behind the cloud of social medias masses, not me, er well...not this time anyway.
Two characters, just 2, away for a 'dirty weekend' grab our attention from the first few moments, then the laughter begins. These are people we know, perhaps even us sometimes, coping with life while searching for 'love' and fun. These characters are full of life and 'talk' much sometimes, as show hilariously in the brilliant bed sex scene. There are also moments of pure fun, and caring, anger, and incredible drunken stupidity.
This two actors are really amazing creating characters that zing with life and humanity, they use the dialogue, all those words, to brilliant effect making us laugh and love and sigh, but mostly laugh.
And with a superb single set that represents all the scenes so well, this play is a joy as soon as you walk into the theatre.
Take a break from the tedium of a Saturday afternoon, Or have a dose of delicious comedy on a Saturday evening, before you dive into the nocturnal night life of Norwich.
All live performance has something special to offer, and the best plays capture some of the magic that there should be in life. 
I think this one has a touch of that. 
Really don't miss." Mark M

"Last night I actually managed to get to see Kissing Sid James at Sewell Barn Theatre. Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great script, interesting characters, laughs and moments of poignancy. If you have this afternoon or evening free I urge you to go..." Rebecca W

"What a great play - laughed out loud lots! Stellar performances from Matt and Chloe ... Highly recommended ..." Jo M

"It was brilliant last night... haven't laughed so much for ages!!!" Jill F

"Another excellent evening at the Barn. A very funny and entertaining show which was led by two very accomplished and likeable performers. The pace never dropped. Bravo!" Barnaby M

"...that's one of the funniest, and most painful, portrayals of human relationships I have ever seen. On a beautifully created and painted set, the two actors moved us from belly-laughs to understanding and emotion as we came to comprehend their back-story and their lives. Two massive roles - especially Eddie - with almost no time off stage nor place to hide, handled with sheer professionalism and deep integrity, creating a scenario that was utterly believable." Cassie T

"Kissing Sid James... excellent production. First class professional acting: incredibly believable characters. Well done to all." Reg W

"Matt Scantlebury is terrific as the outwardly effusive but inwardly crumpled Eddie, who somehow manages to persuade the differently broken Crystal (played with a heart-breaking, fading spark by Chloe Norris) to check in with him for the dirty weekend... This is a chillingly real and entertaining tale of the search for love, butting up against the reality of vices amongst the ices. Go see." James Goffin - Eastern Daily Press [click here for full review]