Theatrebarn at Bretforton

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY PREVIEWS A COMPELLING EVENING AT BRETFORTON



CAREFUL THE TALE YOU TELL
by Christopher Morley
After a few years silent in the darkness, Bretforton's exquisite Theatrebarn is returning to its former glories, launched 40 years ago by the actor James Wellman and the chef David Swift.
Beginning in the attic room at Bretforton Grange near Evesham, with suppers served in the medieval undercroft, Theatrebarn soon moved into the historic tithe barn next door, creating its own kitchen and comfortable dining area, and building a cosy little 180-seater theatre with wonderfully raked seating and an intimate, immediate acoustic.
When old age forced James and David to give up the running of the enterprise there were a few fallow years, but now the charitable trust they founded has successfully reinvigorated the building, and relaunched a programme of professional events at the highest level.
Theatrebarn's renaissance began with "Strictly Come Joking" at the end of July, with Barry Cryer and Colin Sell entertaining an enthusiastic audience before a buffet supper, whose menu looked mouthwatering. Its next presentation is on September 28, when the actors Kevin Whately and his wife Madelaine Newton are joined by their daughter, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately, in a programme of words and music entitled "Careful the tale you tell", a slightly Gothic, occasionally scary anthology of poetry and song.
Kevin tells more how important these presentations are to him and his family.
"The magic for us as a family, apart from the obvious, is that for Kitty, her many solo concerts can be quite lonely (although she has several excellent piano
accompanists) so to have Madelaine and me in support ,punctuating her songs and giving her time to catch her breath, is a nice change for her.

"For us oldies ,we never stop being amazed at Kitty's talent and professionalism. As actors ,we can get away with stumbles and 'off days', but singers have to be on top form at all times , often singing in many different languages and while feeling under the weather. We can sit on stage and watch the audience being bewitched by her performance as we are.

"The concerts are put together by Kitty and Madelaine. Often Kitty has the original booking and decides on the songs to work on, and then Madelaine finds poems and readings which fit with and are relevant to those songs and, we hope, will add to the entertainment of the show."

As a sneak preview for this evening at Bretforton I can reveal that the readings will include extracts from Shakespeare, Shelley, WB Yeats, Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Scottish traditional folk song lyric, Margaret Attwood, Maya Angelou and a generous Stephen Sondheim final section.

"Madelaine did courses in poetry in Oxford with Professor Stephen Regan a few years ago ,so her knowledge is much more extensive than mine. We then all get together to decide on the final content and running order. I know we always think of them as Kitty's gigs with us in support, so I guess she holds the balance of power!

"Madelaine has shelves of poetry books from all ages at home, and our decades of acting experience give us a bank of relevant play-excerpts to draw on too."

During my preparation for this interview I was enjoying listening to Kevin's readings on BBC Radio 4 from Benjamin Myers' excellent new novel, "The Offing". It even kept me company during a long drive down to Dorset for a chamber-music festival in Purbeck a couple of weeks ago, and I thanked Kevin for it. He talks me through the process.

"Thanks for listening to the radio stuff, Chris. Radio performance is deceptively difficult.
Although I don't have to learn the words (which is admittedly like a holiday!) I have to prepare just as assiduously. So, for a Book at Bedtime, for instance, I have to read the book at least three times -- once to get an overall feeling for the piece: again to work out characterisations and voices for each character; and a third time to find variation in pace and emphasis and to 'annotate' the script and decide where to breathe, and so on. Then, reading for six hours a day into a microphone is quite strenuous. It's not coal-mining, but it's not easy!

"As actors, we enjoy adapting to different spaces and acoustics. It's more difficult for Kitty and her accompanists, but we are all looking forward to coming to Bretforton and meeting
a new audience. I last performed in Evesham in 1976 with the Worcester Repertory Company, so it will be nice to be back."

*"Careful the tale you tell" begins with a drinks reception at the TheatreBarn, Bretforton, near Evesham, at 6.30pm on September 28, followed by a post-concert buffet supper. Details on www.theatrebarn.org.

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