Rude Mechanicals hit the road across East and West Sussex

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Eastbourne’s Rude Mechanical Theatre Company will be touring East and West Sussex once again this summer as they celebrate 25 years since they were founded.

Pete Talbot, who set them up after a long career as a teacher, is delighted to be back on the road, this year with Miss Popplewell's Garden. It's April 1940 and Jocasta, Daphne and Dotty have to move from their school in idyllic Little Inkling, Sussex, to Buckinghamshire, where they will take refuge from the war. Lessons are suspended and they have two weeks left to have some fun and say goodbye to their friends.

It’s a production that will see the company doing what the company does best – touring our rural venues.

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“It is the 25th year since we founded the company,” Pete says, “and I think there are a couple of key things about how we've survived and I think it is partly the decision to do rural touring. The alternative is to perform in theatres and go on the conventional theatre circuit but if you do that, only a certain number of people that are going come and see you, and if you choose to work with partners like theatres then they are going to want something like 30 per cent which means 30 per cent less money for us. I don't mean to sound selfish but that's the difference between survival and not. Because we're doing brand-new work we are not necessarily commercial. It's not the stuff that brings in the vast majority of people to conventional theatres. Most people want to go to the theatre to see something they have heard of already with famous actors. It's a relatively small proportion of the population that would risk going to see a brand-new play with no one that they know. And so gradually early on I decided that we would stick to rural touring and build up our own audience. We've now got 7,000 to 8,000 followers.

Rude MechanicalsRude Mechanicals
Rude Mechanicals

“But I don't mean to sound purely mercenary because actually I want to perform on the rural circuit. In an ideal world we would do both and for a few years we did in fact do both. We did perform in theatres but to combine indoor and outdoor theatre is very complicated. In the end we were not making any money out of working with the theatres and so we stopped. But that was a long time ago and since then we have concentrated on the rural circuit.”

In more recent years the company has had to contend, of course, with the pandemic: “But we managed to survive. We had one major appeal just before Covid because the Arts Council didn't fund us that year and we raised more than £50,000 from donations from people which itself says that people do care about us. Because of the pandemic we didn't tour for one year. It was as simple as that. We came back the following year and then last year we were affected for the last week of the tour because two of the actors got Covid and that was £10,000 in lost revenue. That has cut deeply into our resources. And this year the Arts Council have failed to give us money again. A lot of more famous companies have not been funded this year but actually although it is tight I'm pretty much on top of the mathematics and I know how much we need to bring in each week. It is scary but we're going to get through. Not much is going to stop us!”

Dates include: Sun, July 2, Alfriston BN26 5UQ, The Tye; Weds, July 5, East Dean, BN20 0DG, The Recreation Ground; Sat, July 8 and Sun, July 9, Lewes, BN7 1TL, Southover Grange Gardens; August 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, King Edward's Parade, Eastbourne, BN20 7XL; Weds, July 12, Hastings, TN34 2LD. Start 7.30pm. Visit or ring 01323 501260. Bring your own chairs or rugs, except in Eastbourne.