Some of the many supportive and encouraging responses we have received to our recent open letter regarding the lack of theatre and arts coverage in the Bath Chronicle

Dear Rachael

I am writing as both a founder and director of Playing Up Theatre Company as well as a drama teacher in Bath, to protest the removal of regular coverage of the arts from The Bath Chronicle. As someone who was once Features and Supplements Manager at The Chronicle I am well aware of the advertising revenue driven nature of publishing these days.  However, the arts are more than a niche hobby or indeed a relaxing social activity after hours.  The arts, in all their forms, be that theatre, dance, spoken word, music, exhibitions, street performance or whatever, are an essential part of what makes us human.  Our ability to express ourselves and document our history, to educate and also entertain are embedded in the arts.  They are also proven as therapeutic for those with physical and mental health problems.  To step away from regular coverage of these hugely important activities based simply on financial assessments of the content that sells papers, while commercially logical, is deeply sad and, in the opinion of many, contradictory to what a local media outlet should provide.

Heads of Drama, Dance and Music in this country are already fighting a battle to protect their subjects from swingeing cuts to education.  Arts lessons for some students are now fortnightly and in many schools, abandoned.  The government appears to believe that only core subjects and a language are necessary for future generations, who already interact socially in an online world and who frequently lack the skills needed to function successfully in the world at large; working in groups with new people, meeting deadlines, expressing opinions lucidly and articulately, arguing a point successfully and presenting themselves confidently.  Universities and employers bemoan the absence of these abilities in young people and engaging with the arts (and sport) is proven to help.  Your paper does a wonderful job covering sport at all levels and abilities and celebrating the achievements, professional and amateur, of our local sports men, women and children is a regular feature.  Why not the arts?  The popularity, engagement and variety is equal to sports, yet one is celebrated, the other sidelined.

The arts are a multi-billion pound industry in Britain and one of our most successful tourist attractions and exports.  The film, television music and theatre industries are some of our greatest achievements.  Our own city boasts the egg, one of the only purpose built young people's theatres in the country, not to mention the main house where plays are regularly opened before their West End transfer. Counting the purpose built theatres at Kingswood, King Edwards, Royal High, Prior Park and Hayesfield, not to mention the ICIA and the Michael Tippett centre at the universities, the Chapel Arts, Burdall's Yard, Forum, Pavilion, The Rondo and The Mission alongside the Theatre Royal, Ustinov and egg we have sixteen venues offering an eclectic mix of professional and amateur work produced and enjoyed by people of all ages. Bath is also the home to international music and theatre festivals and the world famous Natural Theatre Company. Surely a regular arts feature in The Bath Chronicle won't drive your advertisers running for the hills?

Finally I know there are occasional interviews with the latest visiting 'star' to the main house (this week it's James Bolam and Anne Reid) which counts as a sort of coverage but the Theatre Royal is only one venue and, frankly, doesn't need the publicity.  What I and many other would like to see is similar coverage of the home produced music, dance, theatre and art which is often overlooked.  Please reconsider and remember it's not only reviews that help, but the pre-publicity and general celebration of the arts that counts. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Yours sincerely
Darian Nelson, Director Playing Up Theatre Company

Dear Rachael,

I'm aware that Ann Ellison (The Mission Theatre) has emailed you regarding her, and many others, concerns on the diminishing theatre coverage in the Bath Chronicle. Over the last few years I have been particularly grateful for the coverage that my companies have received and know that this has supported our shows in being well attended. Theatre and the arts is a vital part of Bath's culture and attraction, and it feels only appropriate that the local paper acknowledge, support and raise awareness of the vast creative landscape that we are so fortunate to have on our doorstep.

Kim Johnson, Artistic Director Novato Theatre Company

Dear Rachael,

We were saddened to learn from Ann Ellison about the marginalisation of coverage of theatre life in Bath by the Bath Chronicle.
We particularly support the Next Theatre Group and are Friends at The Mission Theatre in Bath. We also visit other theatres within and outside the City. We believe it to be a really important live form of entertainment, enlightenment and education.
To make a decision to reduce the coverage it has been given in the past, is indeed surprising. Who did you choose in your survey? From market research and surveys I have known in the past, it is easy to sway any survey towards our own advantage, depending on the participants.

Bath is important as a local, national and international place of heritage and culture. To make a decision to severely reduce or to limit the coverage of this facet of the life blood of Bath would be a) a disservice to residents and tourists b) a denial of the importance and long and broad history of theatre life in Bath and c) could even be detrimental to The Chronicle itself.
Firstly, residents and tourists DO want to know what is happening in Bath Theatres.
Secondly, have you ever looked at the long history of theatre in Bath and the interesting backgrounds there are to all our Theatres? Have you promoted this to your readers?  Many of whom would have no knowledge of the existence of having the first Royal Theatre outside London in the City and the part that Sarah Siddons had in its history?
Thirdly, as part of the media that we are all exposed to these days, you have a tremendous responsibility for directing our thoughts, providing information and for leading us towards new and different experiences. A change of words, differences in inferences, a promotion, can make all the difference to survival in the world of business, in politics and in all walks of life.

We would hope you might reconsider your stance about the importance of Theatre in Bath. Please do not hide information about it from those of us that love theatre, the tourists and the prospective theatre audiences.
Theatre is alive and well in Bath because it is fairly well supported and that support makes a difference between the theatres being viable or going out of existence.

Whilst we are aware that you have pressures and that the Chronicle must stay successful, the view or directive to reduce the visibility of theatre in the paper, could potentially seriously affect all theatres in Bath. We would ask you to reconsider your support and coverage. Indeed, the Bath Chronicle could turn the tide and with exciting articles on past theatre history, quizzes, theatre walks and competitions. The Bath Chronicle could lead the way to a resurgence in theatre; an explosion in audience numbers and a reduction in participation in unsociable Internet activities.

Yours sincerely
David and Drusilla Smith

Dear Rachael Sugden,

I am very concerned to hear about the marginalisation of local theatre coverage in the Bath Chronicle, since I am very passionate about the arts in Bath and I feel the local theatres such as The Mission and The Rondo are very important to the community.  

As I am sure you are aware it worries me that if there is not enough theatre coverage, subsequently, the awareness of theatrical events will be reduced. Fewer people will come to those events and hence touring companies will look elsewhere. I know that touring companies are vital to the survival of theatres such as The Mission and The Rondo. We could soon be in a situation where the grassroots local theatre community is no more.
However, I do appreciate the pressure to deliver market driven news. Therefore I am very much in favour of the proposed solutions by Ann Ellison regarding the monthly theatre feature and extra coverage for the new season programmes.

Personally I think that the monthly feature would be successful because people would look forward to reading it each month, it would become part of their routine if you like. I think the new season programmes would act as a springboard for people to decided what they would like to see in that particular season.
I also have a few ideas and suggestions of my own, which I would love you to consider:

You can find about a film review or TV anywhere on the web, but local theatre is different, and you have to find out about it in the local newspaper. We don’t have ‘local’ TV or local film. Perhaps some more space could be made by dropping something else that may be less desirable such as motoring. Motoring and cars are all over the web on specialist sites such as Whatcar and Autotrader. Hence space could be made for theatre without actually compromising TV or film. This potential solution would encourage a holistic approach from the whole newspaper which might be an option.

I realise the market research that you have undertaken suggests that TV and film are more in demand than theatre. However, I wondered many of the older generation would read the online site, where I am presuming the market research was conducted? Certainly in the case of my late Grandma, (who loved going to the theatre every week), she would never have looked on online because she didn’t use a computer bar emailing friends. Seeing as theatre is a lifeline for isolated older people to get involved int eh community perhaps there are more people reading the newspaper articles about theatre than we think?

I understand that newspapers write what they think people want to read, but i just wonder if actually challenging people to read things they wouldn’t normally read and kind of making a big thing of theatre in Bath is more interesting?

I look forward to hearing from you,
Best wishes,
Ben Armstrong

Dear Rachael

I was disappointed about the reduction of space in the Bath Chronicle devoted to live theatre, but I am encouraged by your response, following discussion, to be open to looking at ways of increasing coverage. I admit that I am biased. I enjoy film and television, but I have always found live performance inspiring, and am actively involved in theatre in Bath, both performing and attending. 

I am not a newspaper editor, but I hope that I can appreciate at least some of the constraints under which you work,  including the pressure to produce news of local interest with less resources than you would like at your disposal.  And so much competition for grabbing the public’s attention.

I am struck by how similar this is to local theatre.  Local people trying to draw in an audience, inspiring young as well as older people, competing with so many other ways of being entertained.  But the theatres are also local businesses working to draw in interest from outside of Bath - performers discovering what our great city has to offer, and our population and visitors having access to a variety of performance to entertain, educate and stimulate.

We need our local press to champion this, in the face of all the competition. Every new person who is a convert to local news coverage and theatre is a success story. 

Many thanks for your attention to this.

Best wishes
Caroline Groom

Dear Rachael Sugden,

Why does your paper no longer have proper coverage of the amateur theatre productions in Bath? Something that happened recently made me realise that the Mission Theatre, for example, is worthy of your attention. Walking along Beau Street this week I bumped into a very famous actor, J Murray Abrahams, who portrayed Salieri in the acclaimed film "Amadeus."  I told him a friend of mine also played Salieri in the Mission Theatre many years ago!
I know that local papers are hard pressed to survive in these turbulent times, but please don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

H W Thomas

Dear Rachael Sugden, 

As participants in and supporters of amateur drama in Bath as well as supporting the Theatre Royal and the Ustinov, it is disheartening to feel that, whilst mainstream arts events will still attract audiences, regardless of newspaper coverage, the amateur theatre scene will suffer. Amateur theatre in Bath is eclectic and innovative and deserves bigger audiences, so we hope that The Chronicle will be able to offer as much publicity as possible to enable local companies to thrive and grow. T&M W

Some of the many messages of support we have received from friends, supporters and local theatre practitioners:

“Keep up the good work” - Jackie Chappell

“Many thanks for your email and your action on behalf of local theatre with the Chronicle.” Steve Curtis, Bath Drama

“Thankyou for taking the trouble to do this” LW

"Sounds like you got good points over. Let's hope the page idea is shown to be successful." Councillor Cherry Beath

"Many thanks for keeping us updated with your considerable efforts to secure on-going Chronicle coverage of Bath's vibrant amateur drama and music scene.   The arrangements you have negotiated are potentially an improvement on the position to date as we will have a publication timetable to work to and a dedicated page.  It has always been a little frustrating when submitting production/performance details and not knowing whether they will be included or when. We will all need to make sure we keep a healthy and regular supply of articles and features to justify what appears to be quite a generous deal from the paper.  If we don't then I'm sure the Chronicle will have no qualms in withdrawing it." Nick Lee Bath Gilbert and Sullivan Society

"Very well done on your valiant efforts to ensure a profile for non-mainstream theatre in Bath. We have immensely enjoyed the productions we have seen at The Mission and consider the standard of acting and staging to be second to none. Keep up your marvellous work." M&M J

Artistic Director raises concerns over Arts' coverage with Editor of Bath Chronicle

On Thursday 28th April, Ann Ellison BEM - Artistic Director of Next Stage and The Mission Theatre - attended a meeting arranged by Rachael Sugden - Editor of the Bath Chronicle - to discuss concerns Ann has recently raised regarding the scant coverage of the local theatre and performing arts scene in Bath. The below is an open letter from Ann to anybody and everybody who is involved in, or simply enjoys, locally-produced theatrical events - particularly drama - in Bath:

Dear all,

I know from a variety of conversations and emails in the past few weeks, that many of you are as concerned and puzzled as I am about the marginalisation of local theatre coverage in the Bath Chronicle since the arts’ editor Dan Biggane left in March.

Today, I had a meeting with Rachael Sugden, the editor of the Bath Chronicle, to discuss my concerns. Most of the features in the new-look Weekend Magazine in the paper are used by other media consortiums. Rachael only has a few bespoke pages to cover specific Bath-based news. The fact there is no longer a Theatre page is a direct result of market research which has returned conclusive figures that whilst film and television are popular, there is not sufficient interest in the local performing arts’ scene to justify a Theatre page! Rachael was very honest about the pressures she and her team are under to deliver market-driven news.

I made the point that the Chronicle’s decision to no longer include local theatre articles and images as they had appeared in the previous Guide format, would inevitably result in a self-fulfilling prophecy: the less our local theatres, companies and events are covered, the less Bath audiences will be aware of the variety and scope of the drama on offer in the city and hence the more invisible our work will become. I made an impassioned plea for the current What’s On and Listings’ pages to be compressed to provide enough space for theatre to have its own page, but Rachael has taken an editorial decision that people basically want to just know what is on in the city and that to reduce this content would be a retrograde step. She may very well be right to think this way and so we moved on to discuss alternative solutions to the lack of theatre coverage.

Having heard the constraints under which Rachael has to operate, I made the following suggestions:

1. Would she consider a monthly feature - ideally a page in either the main paper or the magazine - headed Theatre and showcasing theatrical events, specifically drama, being staged in the city’s various venues in the ensuing four weeks. Rachael has agreed to trial such a page (sadly it might be less than a page) starting in the last week of May and featuring upcoming theatre events in Bath in June. The vision for this bespoke page would be that it would carry eye-catching images and possibly one or two in-depth stories drawing on the copy provided by local theatres and drama companies.

2. Would Rachael consider extra newspaper coverage when any of the city’s local theatrical venues produce their new season’s programmes. I explained in the case of The Mission Theatre that would be a twice-yearly feature, The Rondo I believe has a thrice-yearly brochure and of course other venues may also wish to send in season launch details as and when they are announced. Under the old regime, a feature in the paper celebrating the best of forthcoming shows at a venue and the news that its brochure was out in hard copy and available online, was a very useful and popular preview for Bath’s theatre-goers of what was on offer in the coming months.

Whilst considering how to facilitate both of the above suggestions and remaining sympathetic to our cause, Rachael will also try and include news-worthy coverage of unusual/specific/one-off theatre stories in the main paper on a weekly basis. The presentation of local Art Listings, Theatre & Comedy and Film Highlights at the back of the magazine is unlikely to change.

Finally, having sent Rachael a draft of this piece, I am delighted to say she emailed the following:

“I would like to reiterate that while yes, we are going to focus our resources writing content we know the majority of our audience will read, I have no intention of marginalising our coverage of what (as I said to you today) is an incredibly vibrant, grass-roots cultural community in Bath. 

Thank you for passing on our contact details - as you rightly point out it is imperative that the theatre community keep us informed - and we will always endeavour to provide a voice and a platform for the community in our print products.”

So, in order that our vibrant city theatre scene and the excellent range of dramatic offerings available to the public here in Bath does not get overlooked or neglected in the local media, it is of paramount importance that people passionate about the arts let Rachael know their feelings and provide the necessary copy and images to make the monthly Theatre preview feature a success. 

Please email rachael.sugden@localworld.co.uk or write to letters@bathchron.co.uk to express your concern about the current lack of coverage and to endorse any increase that Rachael and her team can achieve.

Please email rachael.sugden@localworld.co.uk and samantha.walker@localworld.co.uk with articles, images and preview material covering forthcoming drama events or any one-off theatrical news items.

With many thanks in anticipation of your support,

Ann Ellison BEM

'London-Paris-Roam!' at The Mission Theatre

Thursday 30th & Friday 31st March 7.30pm

This week we're very excited to welcome the extremely talented Sarah Tullamore to The Mission Theatre as part of her international tour of London-Paris-Roam! 

Having just finished her sold-out run in Cape Town, South Africa to rave reviews, Sarah is heading to Bath. She brings to The Mission her one-woman musical,London-Paris-Roam! which uses innovative music, situational comedy and audience heart-to-hearts to create a moving and entertaining account of her globetrotting life.

But don't just take our word for it that this is a brilliant show, take a look at these audience reactions to get an idea of what's in store...

To see more information, videos and clips of the songs visit Sarah Tullamore's website by clicking here.

Tickets (£15/£12) are available from Bath Box Office (01225 463362) or by emailing sarah.tullamore@gmail.com

See you there!

A feast of fabulous females!

In honour of International Women's Day, The Mission Theatre is celebrating a number of talented female performers who will be taking to the stage in the coming months. Within one week, we are hosting not one, but two, one-woman shows two extremely talented artistes: Sarah Tullamore, and resident company Next Stage's own Kay Francksen.

London-Paris-Roam! presented by Sarah Tullamore

The brilliant Sarah Tullamore will make her debut at The Mission Theatre with her new one-woman musical London-Paris-Roam! from Thursday 30th - Friday 31st at 7.30. In this hilarious, but also moving, production, Tullamore combines situational comedy with innovative music to recount her globetrotting life from feasting in France to jiving in Japan!

We are incredibly excited to welcome Sarah Tullamore to The Mission Theatre as part of her international tour of France, South Africa and England. Having previously performed London-Paris-Roam! at the Edinburgh Fringe to rave reviews, we can promise an entertaining evening of innovative, catchy music and plenty of comedy. In order not to miss this production pick up your tickets from Bath Box Office or by contacting Estelle Productions Box Office by emailing sarah.tullamore@gmail.com or calling 01737 353164.

Shortly after, our resident Next Stage Theatre Company is reviving the very funny, very poignant My Brilliant Divorce as part of this year's Bath Comedy Festival. From Tuesday 4th - Saturday 8th April, catch the talented Kay Francksen (Shirley Valentine, Intimate Exchanges, Sweet Bird of Youth) in a tour de force performance as middle-aged divorcee Angela, as she negotiates the highs and lows of becoming suddenly single. The fabulous script is written by Geraldine Aron, who supported Next Stage's previous production of My Brilliant Divorce in 2007. This is a great chance to see a "wittily observant, achingly funny and heart-wrenchingly real" play within Bath's prestigious Comedy Festival. Tickets are selling fast, so get yours now for any of the six performances (7.30pm evenings, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturday 8th April). Buy tickets here or call 01225 428600

My Brilliant Divorce presented by Next Stage Theatre Company

Next Stage Youth excel in spectacular show at The Mission

Great Expectations:
"a Next Stage Youth landmark"

The talented and highly-acclaimed group of young actors that make up The Mission Theatre's resident Next Stage Youth Theatre Company performed their "tour de force" production of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations to packed audiences all last week. 

The cast had been working on the play since April, using their 90 minute sessions every term-time Sunday to workshop themes and devise the chorus scenes. They worked particularly hard during February to pull together this long and complex show which takes place over several years and in several contrasting locations.

With a minimal set, simple but effective costumes and a beautiful lighting plot, Next Stage Youth wowed audience members and reviewers alike over the six-night run:

"A tour de force. We loved the continual and practiced movement; and clever, polished scene and mood changes. Congratulations!" P&N R

"It was an incredibly tightly organised piece with great ensemble work and outstanding individual performances. Extremely enjoyable" JM

“Wow!! What a brilliantly staged play, wonderfully engineered atmosphere and superb performances by all this talented cast with excellent confidence, delivery, tone, acting, reaction and singing and dancing to boot! Pitch perfect! This really was premier league youth drama!" RL

"Never less than gripping, it’s a thoroughly well told tale, with no weak links in the young cast" Philip Horton reviewing for the Bath Chronicle

The cast and crew had a successful final performance on Saturday evening, and were all sad to say goodbye to what had been an intense, challenging, but extremely enjoyable production. Next Stage Youth are now looking forward to starting work on the next two shows... watch this space for more information coming soon!

Next Stage Youth presents an epic production of 'Great Expectations' Feb 14th - 18th

As January draws to a close, The Mission Theatre is very excited to give you a first look at some of fantastic work going into resident Next Stage Youth Theatre Company's epic production of Great Expectations. The 40-strong group of talented young actors are about to embark on their last two weeks of rehearsals for what is shaping up to be a truly spectacular show. Prepare to be enthralled as Next Stage Youth take their audience on a journey back to 19th Century England with stunning special effects, atmospheric lighting, evocative sound and beautiful costumes to transform The Mission into the dark and gloomy Kentish marshes, the morbid splendour of Satis House and the murky depths of Victorian London.  Be warned, tickets for this show will sell quickly so don't leave it till the last minute to get yours. 

Great Expectations runs from Tuesday 14th - Saturday 18th February at 7.30pm each night, with a 2pm Matinee on Saturday 18th February.

Tickets: £12 (£10 Concessions)  
Available Online HERE
OR CALL 01225 428600 or EMAIL nextstagebath@aol.com
Also available from the Bath Box Office TEL: 01225 463362

Next Stage's December production 'In Praise of Love' receives outstanding reviews

Next Stage's December production of Terence Rattigan's In Praise of Love opened on Tuesday 6th December to an enthusiastic audience. Petra Schofield and Philip Horton (Bath Chronicle) both reviewed the opening performance and praised Next Stage's version of Rattigan's moving, emotional play for it's excellent direction and convincing acting. Tickets for the rest of the week are going fast, so call 01225 428600 now to ensure you don't miss out on this stunning Next Stage show. 

Petra Schofield review:
Next Stage Theatre Company and their trade mark high standards bring this slightly lesser known Rattigan piece to The Mission this week. The play is loosely inspired by the true-life relationship between the Actor Rex Harrison and his actress wife Kay Kendall. In the mid 1950’s she was diagnosed with a terminal illness and Harrison tried to hide this from her whilst nursing her until her death. Here, Rattigan transforms the characters into Lydia and Sebastian Cruttwell. He is a left – wing egotistical literary critic whist she is an Estonian refugee; each trying to protect the other from the painful truth.

Despite a rather slow start this is a gem of a play examining relationships under pressure and the British inability to express emotions alongside the wish to avoid confrontation.Performances are strong and convincing, Bob Constantine (Sebastian Cruttwell) captures the arrogance and brutality of the Marxist critic whilst Caroline Groom (Lydia Cruttwell) shows great wit, perseverance and love above all other costs. The play takes off with the arrival of the excellent Richard Matthews (Mark Walters) and Chris Constantine (Joey Cruttwell) who bring different cultural and generational views on the matter.

Directed by Ann Ellison this is a fine examination of a difficult dilemma. The gradual revelations of truths and their various layers are well handled without sentiment or drama.

A rarely performed piece but another good example of how versatile the company are; the play runs until Saturday and is well worth a visit.


Philip Horton review for the Bath Chronicle:
Rattigan’s penultimate play, first performed in 1973, is loosely based on Rex Harrison and his wife Kay Kendall. 

Insensitive, self-absorbed and Marxist, Sebastian is an acerbic literary critic who many years ago wrote a successful novel; a feat he has not since repeated. He is married to Lydia, an Estonian refugee that he met as war ended and he was in military intelligence. 28 years later he has a twenty year old son, Joey, who remarks that Sebastian “has an unpaid job in a crypto fascist organisation called the Liberal party.”

Lydia has a terminal illness of which Sebastian seems blissfully unaware. Both confide in their visiting American friend, Mark, who arrives basically to support Lydia in her hour of need. “Still murdering literary reputations?” he asks Sebastian.

Son Joey has a half hour play appearing on television and hopes all will gather to watch.
These varied relationships progress, skirting around the central problem of Lydia’s rapidly declining health, thus demonstrating, “The English vice of refusing to admit to our emotions.”

Bob Constantine is utterly believable as bombastic Sebastian, while real life son Chris as Joey, Lydia played by Caroline Groom and the always excellent Richard Matthews, are equally convincing.

It was a pleasure to see a relatively unfamiliar play, particularly such a good one, so well performed. A must for serious theatregoers in Bath.

Resident Next Stage Theatre Company announce 10th Minack production

Ann Ellison, Artistic Director of The Mission Theatre's resident Next Stage Theatre Company, has just announced that the company's 10th production at the open-air Minack Theatre, Cornwall in 2017 will be Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff. Bath audiences will have the chance to see this moving and memorable production at The Mission Theatre from Tuesday 27th June - Saturday 1st July 2017 before the company tours to Cornwall, performing at the Minack Monday 17th July - Friday 21st July 2017.

A strong cast of talented Next Stage actors will tell the story of Stephen Wraysford (Chris Constantine in his Minack debut), a young English Lieutenant battling the horrors of the First World War, and still haunted by his ill-fated, pre-war affair with a married French woman, Isabelle Azaire (Hayley Fitton-Cook, who returns to the Minack stage after last performing there in Next Stage’s highly-acclaimed Amadeus in 2009).

Although the main protagonists of this play are Stephen and Isabelle, many other characters from Faulks’ beautifully-written novel feature in the play. The audience experiences the bravery and sacrifice, as well as the brutality, of WW1 soldiers through kindly Londoner Jack Firebrace (Richard Matthews) and other soldiers played by ex and current members of Next Stage’s Youth company (Ben Armstrong, Philip Davies, Will Greensides, James Head and James Langley). Throughout the play, the story ranges from war-torn battle-grounds and field hospitals (complete with nurses played by Stephanie Barton, Liza Greenhalgh and Ella MacGregor) to life in French towns during the years prior to the German occupation. In one such we meet Isabelle and her family - husband Rene Azaire (Bob Constantine making his first Minack appearance), step-daughter Lisette (Next Stage Youth member Lydia Gibbons), sister Jeanne (Lydia Cook in her fifth Minack show) and family friend Berard (Ren Leming - returning to the Minack after playing Mr Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 2015).

Since 1998, Next Stage Theatre Company has produced nine plays at the magical Minack on the cliffs above the idyllic Porthcurno beach. Ann Ellison (then Ann Garner) counts as one of the highlights of her 23 years as founder and Artistic Director of the company, the moment that she “picked up a phone on a bleak 1996 November morning in a free period I had from teaching that day, calling The Minack Theatre in Cornwall, speaking to Phil Jackson the Theatre Manager, and attempting to convince him that he would not want to wait “five years” to see Next Stage performing at his beautiful theatre on the cliffs at Porthcurno.”

Never a company to do things by halves, Next Stage decided to make its debut on the Minack stage with patron Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s devilishly-clever comedy Sisterly Feelings - a play which can follow one of four different story-lines each night, depending on the toss of a coin and the whim of an actress at the end of each act. The reviewer for The Cornishman said of Next Stage’s production: “Bath-based Next Stage Theatre Company, making its debut here uses the Minack stage well, handling its set pieces so adroitly one quickly forgets the fact that the play was conceived as a piece of indoor, albeit in-the-round, theatre.”

Sisterly Feelings 1998

Sisterly Feelings 1998

After the success of Sisterly Feelings, Next Stage Theatre Company was invited back to the Minack in the summer of 2001 to perform Peter Schaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun. This rarely-performed epic was yet another ambitious staging for company - which had just celebrated its 7th year of producing challenging, stimulating and inspiring theatre in Bath, Bristol and on tour to Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. The Royal Hunt of the Sun consisted of huge pieces of specially-made set, originally-designed costumes and a complicated choreography of large scenes involving the 30-strong cast playing the warring Incas and Spaniards. The production was an enormous success in the Minack’s summer 2001 season, thanks to the stunningly-beautiful set, the strong cast, clever direction and an excellent production team behind the scenes.

Royal Hunt of the Sun 2001

Royal Hunt of the Sun 2001

The acclaim received by The Royal Hunt of the Sun secured Next Stage a returning bi-annual slot henceforward in the Minack’s summer season. In 2003, a stellar cast of Next Stage actors performed Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (adapted from the French novel by Laclos) - a passionate story of love, lust and betrayal amongst the French aristocracy in the 1780's. In true Next Stage fashion, a creative chess game played out on stage mirrored the triumphs and losses of the protagonists. The cast were described by the Minack reviewer as: “In fine form, even the servants do much more than stand and wait, but make the beds with style and speed, help the play's 18 scenes to run smoothly and, as busy cushion carriers, somehow manage to stay within the bounds of becoming comical.”

Les Liasons Dangereuses 2003

Les Liasons Dangereuses 2003

In 2005, Next Stage made its fourth appearance at the Minack with another Ayckbourn: The Champion of Paribanou. A large cast of actors, some old hands at the Minack and some making their debut, some Next Stage veterans and some members of the Youth company, took to the stage in August of that year with an exotic tale of unrequited love and daring deeds, with more than a few typical Ayckbourn twists and turns thrown into the plot! 2005 was an exciting year in the life of Next Stage. The company was now in its twelfth year and it had just successfully opened an independent performing venue in the heart of Bath – The Mission Theatre.

Champion of Paribanou 2005

Champion of Paribanou 2005

One of Ann Ellison’s most ambitious feats as an Artistic Director was Next Stage’s 2007 production of Nicholas Wright’s adaptation of His Dark MaterialsPhilip Pullman’s epic trilogy of novels set in a myriad of magical worlds was adapted for the National Theatre as two full-length plays, which translated beautifully onto the Minack stage, playing alternate performances. It was quite a technical feat to rehearse and tech 2 complete shows in the same length of time - one weekend - that is normally reserved for a single production. However if Next Stage’s reputation at the Minack as a highly-professional amateur company producing top-quality theatre with ambitious sets, effects and casts wasn’t already established, His Dark Materials certainly made the company's name. The production received extremely high praise when reviewed, one critic commenting: “The best amateur companies are doing all that the professionals are doing, and sometimes doing it even better.”

His Dark Materials 2007

His Dark Materials 2007

Taking a break from family-friendly entertainment, in 2009 Ann Ellison decided to bring the world of 18th Century musical intrigue to the Minack by staging Peter Schaffer’s dark and sumptuous play Amadeus. The praise received for this production in reviews needs no elaboration: “the play is staged so skilfully by the Bath-based Next Stage company” “sensational”, "breathtaking”, with “actors of an exceptional calibre” “as appetising and as filling as a Vienna schnitzel, from its crowd scenes, its handsomely costumed royal court – to its more intimate moments, from its slick shifting of furniture and changing of scenes to its actual story-telling, it is as smooth as the sea was on its opening night.”

Amadeus 2009

Amadeus 2009

2011 saw Next Stage return to the Minack at the peak of the theatre’s summer season this time with a tale set much closer to home than any of the company’s Minack productions had been since 1998. The Prime and Miss Jean Brodie featured a largely female cast, many of whom were members of Next Stage Youth. The play tells the story of Jean Brodie, a charismatic teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in 1930’s Edinburgh who follows her own agenda when it comes to what she teaches her impressionable young students. The titular character – made famous by Maggie Smith in the film version - was played by Next Stage actor Caroline Groom, making The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie her fifth play with Next Stage at the Minack. Reviewers praised Caroline’s portrayal of the misguided, misunderstood and magnetic character, as well as the staging of the play: “director Ann Garner and her production team not only struck a sense of the right period, but also smoothly stretched an essentially interior piece so comfortably to fit the wide open spaces of the Minack stage.”

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 2011

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 2011

Returning again to the 18th Century, Next Stage revived a play which had first been performed by the company in 1996: Our Country’s Good. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s story concerns a group of Royal Marines and convicts in a penal colony in New South Wales, in the 1780s, who put on a production of The Recruiting Officer. Set against the backdrop of the ocean and the beautiful Minack stage, Our Country’s Good was a treat for the eyes and ears - not least for those of the playwright’s brother-in-law who happened to be on a walking holiday in Porthcurno when he noticed the production poster and decided to stop and watch our Friday matinee! After the show, he was kind enough to stay around and meet the cast and crew, who were thrilled to hear that he had very much enjoyed their version and that he would pass on a good report to Timberlake herself.

Our Country's Good 2013

Our Country's Good 2013

For the company’s 2015 production at the Minack, Ann Ellison decided to return to what Next Stage are so good at - large cast, family-friendly epics, in this instance Glynn Robbins’ adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The play sold out within weeks of the tickets going on sale, and enthusiastic audiences enjoyed magic, mystery, mirth and a myriad a fantastical creatures from tree nymphs to dwarves, as well as the wicked White Witch and the mighty lion, Aslan. A number of actors from Next Stage Youth were part of the cast playing the four Pevensie children, the White Witch’s entourage and trees, wolves and other creatures. All in all, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a huge success.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 2015

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 2015

For 2017, Next Stage Theatre Company is looking forward to producing the topical and thought-provoking Birdsong - a fitting tribute to all the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives 100 years ago in the Great War.

'THE DRAGON’S DENTIST' IS A TREMENDOUS SUCCESS WITH AUDIENCE AND CRITICS ALIKE

The Dragon’s Dentist by Tom Morris, adapted from the early-reader books by John McLay & Martin Brown wowed audiences at the Mission Theatre from Monday 3rd - Friday 7th October.

The five fast-paced, colourful and hilariously acted performances were enjoyed by audience members from near and far, as old as 80 and as young as 10 months!

The show’s second night was reviewed by Philip Horton for the Bath Chronicle. Praising the talented acting and the excellent direction, he said: “a fast moving hour of fun for the kids, plus plenty of smiles for the grown-ups. A great introduction to theatre for the next generation. They will love it.”

 Audience feedback from the week was excellent and theatre-goers old and new raved about the play, the actors, the special effects and the set: Entirely age-appropriate”; “fantastic first experience for young theatre goers”; “imaginative set; great adaptation; totally convincing, I forgot I was in a theatre”; “wonderful interaction between actors and audience; a play for all the family.”

The play featured members of Next Stage and Next Stage Youth, including Hamish Row and Max Dooley who were outstanding in their respective roles as our hero Harry and his faithful horse Oats.

All adults from the highly-acclaimed Next Stage Theatre Company, from the blustering Sir Dad (George Gent) with Lady Mum (Joanna Bowman) always keeping him in order - to the evil Eric the Wizard (Richard Matthews), the bumbling Wonky Wizard (Brian Howe), and then finally the terrifying Eric the Dragon (Ren Leming) were admirably supported by talented members of Next Stage Youth - Amberley Couchman, Will Greensides, Eleanor Harris, Abi Harvey, Felicity Ingeldew, Issy Jacob, Georgia Langley, Kat Petmezas and Lily Stiles.

Part of the show’s charm was the audience participation it encouraged. As audience members arrived each night, they were greeted in the theatre’s Foyer by members of The Royal Household who showed them to their seats. On entering the auditorium the younger members of the audience were invited to polish up their sword fighting and jousting skills in some impromptu activities before the play officially began.

During the play, there were several key scenes where help was required from audience members. Each night, many excited and eager children (plus some helpful adults!) were invited up onto the stage to take part in a shield cleaning competition and to help pull the dragon’s tooth out.

The creative team behind The Dragon’s Dentist was a large one, consisting of not only Ann Ellison the Director and her stage-crew, but also the author of the books John McLay, who originally commissioned this play to be written and produced. John had joined the company for their last dress rehearsal on Sunday 2nd October and had been completely thrilled by the show.

John next enjoyed the play-version of his stories in the company of his family for the final Friday night performance, and, afterwards, congratulated Ann and the cast on a brilliant representation of his characters and their adventures.

We were also very lucky to welcome talented illustrator Martin Brown to The Mission Theatre for the opening night of The Dragon’s Dentist. Martin is the genius behind the illustrations for the Horrible Histories series, as well as being responsible for bringing all of John McLay’s characters to life.

Throughout the play, Martin’s illustrations from John’s books were projected onto the set to amplify certain scenes, and at the end of the first night, the audience were invited to purchase copies of the books and to take part in an impromptu signing with Martin and the actors - with great success.

The man who created this amazing adaptation, adding bits and pieces from his own inventive imagination along the way, Tom Morris, had followed the play’s rehearsal process from early September, when he attended the first full run of the show. He then watched it with his family in the final week of rehearsals, and came again twice during the show week.

Martin was so pleased with the outcome of his play that he didn’t stop laughing for the entire hour, each time he watched. He and John spent a happy 30 minutes after the final night’s performance signing books for the excited and appreciative audience - and so did ‘Harry’ and ‘Oats’ who did their best Knight-in Waiting and horsey autographs!

This was truly a collaborative project made possible by the efforts of the story-creators, adaptor, director, crew, the extremely talented actors and the enthusiastic audience members we welcomed to The Mission Theatre each night. 

DEAN FRIEDMAN PERFORMS TO PACKED CROWD AT THE MISSION

Last Friday night saw The Mission Theatre's Main Auditorium packed to capacity with fans of legendary American singer/songwriter Dean Friedman. The audience enjoyed hits from throughout Dean's three-decade-long career, including Ariel, Lucky Stars and Lydia, as well as new songs like I Miss Monica and Under the Weather. 

Dean was supported by the talented Michael Armstrong who played a half-hour set before Dean took to the stage. The audience received Michael well, and enjoyed his mix of humorous and wry songs, as well as his talent for story-telling. Especially enjoyable was the tale of Michael's experience at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert - where he ended up on stage with stars including Paul McCartney, Kylie, Stevie Wonder and Elton John, and was introduced to the Queen as a member of the Military Wives Choir!

Dean Friedman played and entertained the crowd for over an hour and a half, finally finishing his set with Lucky Stars - arguably one of his most famous works. The song was originally sung as a duet with Denise Marsa, and Dean asked the audience to sing her part - to great success. It was truly brilliant to listen as at least half the audience sang (word and tune-perfectly) the female part of this beautiful song from 1978.

Dean made sure he met and talked to every member of the audience as they left after a very enjoyable evening at The Mission, and many had pictures taken with him and purchased CDs, books and merchandise which were then signed. 

For more information about the rest of Dean's UK tour, or to find out more about him, visit his excellent website http://www.deanfriedman.com/.

"Well Worth Watching" - Next Stage Theatre Company receives outstanding review for 'The River'

The cast of Next Stage Theatre Company's The River performed last night in front of a preview audience, before the show officially opens on Tuesday 6th. They received an excellent review from Petra Schofield, which can be read below. Make sure you don't miss this 'glorious play', with its 'fine performances' - buy tickets from the Next Stage Box Office by emailing nextstagebath@aol.com or calling 01225 428600.

"This poetic and ethereal piece by Butterworth is a tangle of life, love and the natural world. The ebb and flow of the sunset, river and moon is the framework for a compelling play which snaps and turns as readily as the elusive sea trout at the centre of the story.

Set in a rural location we find The Man (Nicky Wilkins) who waxes lyrical over fish and his girlfriend Woman 1 (Hannah Smyth) a strong, questioning woman; all seems straightforward until the unexpected entrance of Woman 2 (Hayley Fitton-Cook) an altogether different woman who enjoys the fun of the monster munch success bringing home their dinner.

The continuous time line whilst clearly switching between episodes in the man’s life is occasionally hard to follow, the challenge is after all in the chase of the fish and there is much symbolism throughout the piece. There is a clear ritual being played out and the reclusive nature of The Man reflects his solitude and obsession in capturing the jewels of the river. The contrasts of the women and their reflective qualities proves what an unreachable soul he is, whilst the fine lyrical writing creates great images and the intimacy of the space allows a tangible tension.

This is a glorious play, which provokes and challenges; you certainly do not have to be interested in fishing. The fine performances ensure this one act play twists and turns with energy and finesse. Well worth watching."

Petra Schofield

BATH FRINGE FESTIVAL RETURNS TO THE MISSION THEATRE IN 2016

This year, The Mission Theatre is playing host once again to events taking place as part of the Bath Fringe Festival. As a versatile venue within the heart of the city, The Mission Theatre is perfect for all types of performances – big or small, theatrical, musical or comedic. Over the years, the Festival has used The Mission’s Auditoria to stage many exciting shows and events and 2016 is no exception. 

Zenith Youth Theatre Company is performing Joshua Sobol’s Ghetto from June 1st – 5th at 7.30pm, with a Matinee on Sat 4th at 2.30pm. This poignant story is based on diaries written during the darkest days of the Holocaust. Set in the Jewish Ghetto of Vilna, Lithuania in 1942,Ghetto tells the unlikely flourishing of a theatre at the very time the Nazis began their policy of mass-extermination. 

For more information about this talented, award-winning company visitwww.zenithytc.co.uk. Tickets are £10 (£7 concs) for all evening performances and £7 for the Saturday 4th Matinee. You can buy tickets from the Zenith Box Office on 01225 835301 or email tickets@zenithytc.co.uk.

To celebrate what will surely be another fantastic Fringe this year, The Mission is hosting returning company South West Dance Theatre on the last day of the Festival – Sunday 5th June at 7pm. This vibrant local company is performing a new take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.In Lady Macbeth the talented dancers use eloquent dance and dextrous prose to spin a tale of avarice, vice and murderous malcontent.

This is a one-night-only show, so be sure not to miss it – tickets are £10 (£7 concs) and available from Bath Box 01225 463362 or online at www.bathboxoffice.org.uk or from South West Dance Theatre Box Office online at www.southwestdancetheatre.co.uk.

Be sure to keep up to date with all Fringe Festival news and other events happening throughout Bath online at: www.bathfringe.co.uk.