Helen’s play Nothing Personal, But... will be the curtain-raiser, followed by Last Tango in Little Grimley by David Tristram, directed by Angie Willsher, and Gosforth’s Fete by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Dennis Harrison.
Helen, who grew up in Singleton as the eldest daughter of children’s author, Ian Serraillier, (The Silver Sword is dedicated to her), said: “Nothing Personal, But... is a play that I wrote when I was living in New Zealand 35 years ago for a competition. I didn’t win the competition, but I came third. But I did have the joy of seeing it performed for a week, and when I left New Zealand I was given a life-long membership of Picton drama society.
“I was teaching in New Zealand and also raising my family. I was there for 25 years and came back 16 years ago.
“The inspiration for the play was three advertisements that I saw in the personal column of a newspaper. People were advertising for a new partner, and they were all extremely amusing. I thought I would write a play around this situation. I used all the advertisements which I found so amusing in Nothing Personal, But..., so they are totally genuine and the only bits not written by me.
“The play concerns a mother and her teenager daughter who is scandalised by what her mother is doing. The third character is the gentleman that the mother meets. Whether it is successful or not, you might find a clue in the title of the piece.
“It is very light-hearted, but it examines the feeling of both the woman in that position and her teenage daughter, and I am thrilled with the actors that are doing it. They are really bringing it to life.
“I am directing it. I wanted to do that. Having never directed before, it seemed sensible to start with a play that involved only three characters. Trying to arrange a rehearsal schedule for more than three might have been difficult, and I thought it might be good to start with something that I knew.”
As for directing: “I am getting more and more out of it and am learning from other more experienced directors. I love seeing the material before me on the page spring into life. We discussed at length whether the play felt dated because obviously now people would do this kind of thing on their mobile phones (rather than in newspapers). I did think possibly it might make it feel a little dated, but we are going to make sure that the daughter has a good old-fashioned chunky mobile phone just to show it was a little while ago. But (what the play) is talking about is still very topical.”
The play hasn’t been seen since its original performance: “I just blew the dust off! I was just glad to be able to find it really, and I am pleased that I am lucky enough to be trusted to do it.
“I was lucky enough to get into the National Youth Theatre as a 15-year-old and that got me my place at Bristol University to read Spanish and drama. Amdram has always been very much part of my life. I will never forget my first day at the National Youth Theatre. I flung open these dusty old doors, and there were two of the scruffiest teenagers I had ever seen doing Pyramus and Thisbe, and they were mesmerising. I was watching Helen Mirren and Derek Jacobi! I never did speak to them they were so marvellous. When they were on the stairs, I used to flatten myself against the walls to let them pass!”
For other stories by Phil, see: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2