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.