Outdoor drama at the Festival of Chichester with New Theatre Productions

The 39th season from New Theatre Productions brings together a rare Priestley and The Rivals at the Pergola Open Air Theatre at West Dean Gardens for this year's Festival of Chichester.

The Rivals
The Rivals

Co-chairman Peter Breskal is delighted at the programme that has come together as they approach next year’s anniversary.

“We are going to make it a really special year for our 40th next year. We have got a few ideas, but nothing firm yet… mostly because we need to concentrate on this year first!

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“We are not doing a Shakespeare for this year, but I think it is very likely we will be doing one for our 40th. When we first started in 1980, we used to do one show for a fortnight, but a few years later we turned it into a mini-rep and we have been doing two shows ever since.

“We always look to do a contrast between a Shakespeare or a classical play and something completely different. We used to always do a Shakespeare, but there are only so many Shakespeares you can do given the resources we have got.”

Choosing the right plays is obviously crucial: “There are always lots of options, but we have to find something that will work at West Dean Gardens which is a very special place to work, but we have also got to find something that the directors really want to direct given that it is such a big commitment we ask of them.

“Our founder John (Hyatt, who always directs one of the two plays) is so experienced in the theatre and has participated in so many different things.

“We need to find something that interests him and we have found that in The Roundabout by J B Priestley. I know that he likes J B Priestley, and I came across this one which was revived in London about two years ago and has subsequently been done in America, but I don’t think it had been done professionally since about 1930. You could really describe it as a lost play.

“Priestley has a certain style and certain themes with his Time Plays, but this is a very different play.

“People will think of plays like An Inspector Calls, but this one is a comedy with very definable characters, interesting characters. It is set in an Edwardian country house, so West Dean is an ideal place for it.

“Basically, it is about the trials and tribulations of Lord Kettlewell. He is losing his investments.

“He has got an estranged daughter who returns from Russia with an interesting companion who is completely opposed to all the values that Lord Kettlewell would understand. His ex-wife turns up, and there is a lot of comedy – a very good play for West Dean.

“The great thing is that people won’t necessarily have seen it, and I think sometimes audiences will pick up on something many, many years after it was first written.

“The Rivals, when it first came out, was not particularly well received, but it is now considered to be a classic of the English theatre.

“So I think these two plays will provide a good contrast – a classic play which we are producing in modern times and a modern play by a classic writer.”

The Rivals, Sheridan’s classic comedy, directed by Carol Hicks, will be performed on Monday, June 25; Wednesday, June 27; Friday, June 29; Tuesday, July 3; Thursday, July 5, Saturday July 7, 7.45pm.

The Roundabout by J B Priestley, directed by John Hyatt, will be performed on Tuesday, June 26; Thursday, June 28; Saturday, June 30; Monday, July 2; Wednesday, July 4; Friday, July 6, 7.45pm.

Picnics welcome. The West Dean Gardens Restaurant is open for pre-theatre supper and/or drinks until 7.30pm on theatre nights (01243 818215). Tickets £10; under-16s £8. Disabled access.

Tickets via the Festival of Chichester box office at the Novium.