Long term company member, writer and creator Tess Townsend gives The Court Circular a whistle-stop tour of fifty years at the brilliant Barn Theatre Club and what's coming next...
When Peter Deightam proposed renting a run-down hall in Molesey for their new theatre club, little did the club’s founder members Glen Kirton and Mandy Witt imagine they’d still be there, creating wonderful entertaining performances over 50 years later.
“It was a wreck, having been a school annexe, a youth club, and a WW2 Fire Station since 1947!” laughs Mandy.
In 1971 BBC Producer Bill Sellars came on board with actress wife, June Bland, and local chefs Anne Stanton and Pamela Nicholls created a Supper Club. “It was all hands-on deck setting up trestle tables, serving 2-course meals with home-made desserts and then a play!” says Glen, looking through his collection of programmes. “Here’s a menu! I wonder how many can recall these fantastic evenings at the club?”
Ian Latter, another early member, drew up plans to link the two buildings. Sadly, Ian passed away last year but he transformed the old building into a 65-seater boutique theatre. His wife, Maggs, remains on the committee and has just performed some of her clever one-woman shows, which were streamed as lockdown rules meant the theatre had to close to live audiences.
However, no challenge – past or present - seems to stop this intrepid theatre group, as Maggs recalls.
“During the 3-day week we used torchlight and calor gas stoves. The show always went on and Molesey’s theatre lovers still came out to watch! That was the spirit of The Barn.”
Brilliant New Writing at The Barn
The Barn Theatre Club has always supported new playwrights, especially if they are locally based. In 1980, Hersham’s Phil Lewis, wrote and directed “Moone” with a cast of 16 people, to great local acclaim by its discerning Molesey audience. Three years later The Barn originated Phil’s second play, “See No Evil” inspiring other playwrights to begin submitting original scripts for consideration.
The club only received 20 entries, many of which were deemed inappropriate for various reasons...
This led The Barn to run its first Playwright Competition. The club only received 20 entries, many of which were deemed inappropriate for various reasons but when the top 5 were eventually shortlisted, it turned out that 4 of these were plays written by Phil Lewis under various nom de plumes!
West-end playwright and local man, Jimmie Chinn’s launched “Angina Monologues” at the Club and then, after his death, his partner invited Karen Buchanan to rework and direct Jimmie’s hilarious “Close Encounters,” scooping a NODA nomination for the club.
It’s not just original plays, though – music gets a look in too! In July 2014, The Barn originated “Henry, A Tudor Musical”, co-written by me, Tess Townsend, a long-term member. I joined the theatre group aged 15 in 1973.
Despite its small space, the company managed to squeeze 5 musicians and 17 cast members onto its stage, bringing this much-loved story I musical form to life. David Packer, professional tour guide at Hampton Court Palace and historical advisor on the RSC’s production of Wolf Hall/Bring up the Bodies commented “The pace is good and the writers have done a splendid job of cramming the accomplishment of many years into an hour-glass but we never felt dizzied or rushed as wife follows wife and were equally never ever bored.”
Two incredible original shows by Stephanie Manuel were next on the bill. First “Women of Note”, a joyous celebration of famous women; and then “Charlie” – telling the life of Charlie Chaplin. Stephanie not only devised the works, she directed the large casts, too.
Then came “Spectacular,” the dream of local musical director, Charlie Swift. A compilation work with an 8-piece band almost brought the house down with all the glitz and glamour of a West End show.
The Barn is certainly still evolving, growing and looking forward, despite this recent set-back
In March 2020, Alan Bennet’s "The Lady in the Van" was postponed due to Covid-19, but true to its history, The Barn didn’t let lockdown stop them. As well as a host of radio plays and streamed performances, they launched a new writing competition and during April the three winning pieces will be performed on stage and streamed live, giving audiences a real sense of being back in the theatre. Remember – you can say you saw them first at The Barn Theatre!!!
Nothing seems to keep The Barn from its purpose – providing great shows for local people, by local people. The Barn is certainly still evolving, growing and looking forward, despite this recent set-back.
Box Office Open!
Book now for brilliant new writing, live streamed, from The Barn Theatre Club Playwriting Showcase 2021 Prerogative
Saturday 17 April 7.30pm/Sunday 18 April 5pm.
Written by Paul Foster and Directed by Karen Buchanan
Life seems simple enough for Veronica. Widowed but content, she enjoys her life in the quiet village... This quirky comedy has some delightful and unexpected revelations along the way which might cause the audience to re-evaluate village life!
3 x Table
Saturday 24 April 7.30pm, Sunday 25 April 5pm.
Written by William Patterson and Directed by Karen Holley
3 couple at three separate tables. We learn everything (eventually) from their three separate conversations...
The Good, The Bad and The Watsons
Saturday 1 May 7.30pm, Sunday 2 May 5pm
Written by Phil Butcher and Jenny Devaux, Directed by Mandy Witt
A married couple arrive at an unscheduled stop for an interview that wasn't in their diaries and discover there is more to their lives than either of them realised. This ingenious and slightly irreverent comedy is full of surprises and is heaven sent in our current challenging times
Please support your local theatre. It is a gem but it relies on its local audience to keep afloat. New members, writers, directors and backstage crew are always welcome.
Keep an eye on the website for details of what is coming up and how to get involved. www.thebarntheatremolesey.co.uk