New Theatre Productions celebrate 45 years of superb open-air theatre

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New Theatre Productions – an essential part of the Festival of Chichester and of the Chichester Festivities for many years before that – celebrates 45 years this summer.

They are offering, as ever, an enticing duo of plays at the Pergola Open Air Theatre, West Dean Gardens, PO18 0RX. On June 28 and July 2, 4, 6, 10 and 12 at 7.30pm, the show will be Mixed Doubles, an entertainment on the theme of marriage featuring the words of Alan Ayckbourn, George Melly, James Saunders, Harold Pinter, Alun Owen etc. On June 29 and July 3, 5, 9, 11 and 13 at 7.30pm in the same venue they are promising a “ripe, rich, rowdy romp” in the shape of Tom Jones. Tickets allow entry to West Dean Gardens from 5.30pm. Picnics welcome. Tickets £10 from the Festival of Chichester website.

Peter Breskal, who runs the company and will be directing the Tom Jones production, is delighted to mark the anniversary for the company: “It has been a fantastic journey of open-air theatre that was started by our great friend and mentor John Hyatt all those years ago. He is unfortunately no longer with us but his spirit certainly is and we are still producing open-air theatre in this wonderful setting.”

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What makes it so special, Peter feels, is a combination of things: “The vista at West Dean is absolutely wonderful, as is the whole setting. Many people just go there to have a walk around. It's a place of contemplative quiet, a place for reflection on so many things but what we do specifically there is theatre and what we offer takes people out of their normal every-day experience. It is just somewhere that it is actually very pleasurable to be, and really for us as actors we couldn't be luckier than to have this absolutely wonderful setting.

Peter Breskal (contributed pic)Peter Breskal (contributed pic)
Peter Breskal (contributed pic)

“John was a very talented man. He was a professional actor and writer. His life took a different path after a number of years and he came down to this area where he encouraged so many amateur actors from right across the area over many years in so many vibrant and interesting productions, Shakespeare and other. He was very, very talented but he never foisted that on other people. He just wanted to encourage. He had his rules. He was brought up in rep and there were disciplines that you had to follow. But he did realise that people had other things in their lives and that we were an amateur company but what he did was to allow people to achieve the best that they possibly could and there was a great camaraderie about the whole thing.”

John died the autumn before last at the age of 87.

“For this 45th anniversary I really wanted a contrast for people. We wanted to do something that would involve a large number of people that have performed with us and so the whole thing is quite an ambitious project. We are doing Tom Jones which is a period piece which is quite difficult to do in an open-air theatre. You can't build a set to denote the different spaces in which the action is happening. We have got to concentrate on our strengths as being in the open air and to use the beautiful setting – and to find imaginative ways to suggest where we are.”

•The Festival of Chichester welcomes Kenton Budd Estate Agents as its principal sponsor.

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