Popular West Dean Gardens theatre tradition re-emerges post-pandemic

One of the Chichester area’s finest theatrical traditions will resume after a two-year gap with the return of New Theatre Productions to West Dean Gardens this September.

Peter Breskal
Peter Breskal

In a departure from their usual summer slot, the company will be staging See How They Run by Philip King, directed by Gill Montgomery on Sunday, Sept 5, Wednesday, Sept 8, Friday, Sept 10 and Sunday, Sept 12.

They will also be offering three of the five plays within the Confusions set of five by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Tiffin Jones, with performances on Monday, Sept 6, Tuesday, Sept 7, Thursday, Sept 9 and Saturday, Sept 11.

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New Theatre Productions chairman Peter Breskal is promising the laughs that we all need right now. Both are plays which have been done with great success by the company in the past.

“We had such a wonderful year for our 40th anniversary in 2019 but obviously we had no idea what we would be facing, and obviously after that everything got put on hold. We did have plans. We started thinking about 2020, and we had our initial get-together, but then obviously everything went pear-shaped.

“And I think everybody felt it pretty deeply as time went on and it became clear we were facing more and more restrictions. There were times when hopes were raised and then it all got worse. But looking back, and I know it is not finished yet, I know that it hurt everybody tremendously. The people involved give up a tremendous amount of time and they do it because they love doing it. And we realised just how much we missed doing it as the time went on and on.

“This year I was hoping for the summer slot, but then it was becoming more and more apparent that we weren’t going to be able to do our usual Festival of Chichester slot, and then we were starting to think about the beginning of August. But we wanted to wait until after August 16 (the end of remaining coronavirus rules in England for those fully vaccinated).”

There was never for a moment any thought of abandoning this year altogether: “It is so important for a number of reasons. The people that do it want to continue to do it. They love it and they believe that it is worthwhile. And we know that we have such regular audiences. We see the same faces year after year after year, and obviously we see new faces as well.

“And when you do open-air theatre you are used to obstacles coming up, to things like the weather that you have to deal with, and I think that for open-air theatre people there is a certain steeliness in terms of wanting to make things happen. People don’t want to give in.

“And also we have got such a special place to perform. You can see just how special it is as soon as you drive in. I am not against change, but there are certain traditions that are really worth fighting for, and this is one of them.”

And this year, of all years, it is comedy that is required, Peter feels – in fact, two different kinds of comedy. Both pieces end in farce, but See How They Run offers a more old-fashioned kind of comedy he feels, a more nostalgic sense of humour.

Peter and the team are promising a Covid secure venue. The audience will wear masks at its own discretion; you will be shown to your seat by someone in a mask. Unlike in previous years, seats will be allocated, and, again unlike previous years, no tickets will be sold in advance.

The team are asking you to buy your tickets on the night. You are welcome to picnic before the show, but you are asked to buy your tickets as soon as you arrive on site and before you picnic. Tickets will be £10 (£8 under 16s), and because of the later date (performances are usually June/July), all performances start at 6.30pm. Tickets will be available from 5pm on performance nights.