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The Wessex Actors Company’s Community Chest programme is a portfolio of ten productions of live professional drama available to small venues throughout the South West at any mutually convenient time and date. Costs are low, the productions can play almost anywhere and any time and are completely self-contained from a technical point of view.

The Wessex Actors Company, which was founded in 1993 to provide a service to all venues and sectors of the community in five counties of the south-west, has pioneered this innovative programme of drama for village halls, community centres, schools, libraries and so on (even living-rooms!). It is a scheme devised with a view to adapting appropriately to the geography and demographics of the south-west.

Quite separately the company carries out traditional touring of productions for theatres and arts centres, and these normally last a few short weeks before they disappear for ever. The Community Chest is much more like a library of productions available on demand.

There is a leaning towards the literary in some of the productions, sometimes with linking narrated sections, which enable a better fidelity to an underlying book. Honouring the Company's commitment to south-west writers, the Community Chest harbours adaptations from the works of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, John Aubrey amongst others - though when it comes to Charles Dickens and Dorothy Parker, we have to admit it is the adaptor who comes from the south-west rather than the author of the original work!

Let's look at some of the productions currently on offer.

Thomas Hardy’s story of young love "The Indiscretion of an Heiress" had a tremendously successful launch last year, culminating in playing to a packed house at the Dorchester Corn Exchange, comprising an international audience who had come together for the biennial International Thomas Hardy Conference.

 Anthony Trollope’s beautifully wrought tale "The Warden" also delighted audiences on its earlier launch in 1997. As the first tale in the famous "Barchester Chronicles", this engrossing drama depicts "one man’s fight between church and conscience – one girl’s romance amidst parsons and power struggles".

Kim Hicks is a talented Bristol actress and two of her one-woman shows are on offer through the Company: "Courtship" is an entertaining whirlwind tour of the equally entertaining and turbulent romances to be found in Austen's works. This show has packed out major theatres in Bristol and Bath as well as playing to capacity audiences in the Edinburgh Festival, but Kim is what we call in the trade an old trouper (not so old, in fact!), and takes great pleasure in playing her shows in tiny halls, even if it does mean taking over the ladies loo as a dressing-room or surviving a plague of flies dying in thousands as they drop from the rafters in the heat of the lights.

Kim's other show is "Couples?" and is a great introduction to the acid wit and writing talents of the great writer, reviewer, and raconteur Dorothy Parker; she who once reviewed a new novel as "this book is not one to be set aside lightly; it should be hurled with great force"!

David Weller has also joined our ranks with his one-man show (dubbed "a tour de force" at the Calne Festival) based on the gleeful and scurrilous gossip of Elizabethan antiquarian John Aubrey, who seems to have known just about everyone. "Man of the Minute" is derived from Aubrey's entertaining diaries "Brief Lives".

David and his wife Vera also present "East Lynne - the Victorian Story", and is an entertaining offering as a follow-up to satisfied customers of "Man of the Minute".

Another popular one-person show is the latest addition to the Community Chest, and that is Jenny Coverack's moving portrayal of Kathleen Scott, wife of Robert Falcon Scott, the Antarctic explorer, and mother to Peter Scott. "A Father for My Son" shows us a remarkable and determined woman leading a full and satisfying life at a time when the social odds were strongly against letting women do any such thing!

Seasonal offerings around the end of the year are often the most popular and the Company has two in the Community Chest: "Dickens at Christmas" being the ultimate feel-good heart-warming evening, and "Christmas Through the Ages" being a delightful pot-pourri of readings, prose and verse and occasional song, looking at Christmas from Mediaeval times through to modern.

There is one Community Chest show available for younger audiences.

"The Snow Queen" is ideal for families with younger children, and it is also aimed at Primary School audiences, frequently travelling to schools during term-time. The play has music and songs and lasts about one and a quarter hours with an interval extra.

It tells a simple but enthralling tale about the value of friendship in the face of adversity, and points up some fundamental values such as steadfastness, courage and loyalty. In accord with the Community Chest travel light, go anywhere philosophy, it is simply staged.

The Company hopes Village Halls, Community Centres, Libraries and Museums will find something of interest for their communities in this portfolio of productions.

Costs are deliberately kept low. A booking normally costs 75% of the box office (ie the tickets sold) with a guarantee that that will at least amount to £175. For school audiences, we accept a straight fee of £175.

Although the Company are sometimes funded directly by District Councils, allowing it to reduce its financial terms, it is also possible for Councils to respond to a direct request from a venue for help with their costs. The Company can advise on whom to approach.

From time to time, the Company's bigger theatre and arts centre tours can be accommodated by many village halls, and certainly schools with their own theatres. Smaller venues will be notified when this is the case.

Bookings for all productions can be made by contacting the Wessex Actors Company directly.

CONTACT: Michael Barry 01278 733100 or mobile 07906 364189 for Community Chest bookings and queries.


Return to home page

Go to Community Chest programme