A fairytale family Christmas show, top comedians, Barry Norman’s Film Quiz Night and an evening with Woman’s Hour presenter Dame Jenni Murray are among the autumn highlights at Stratford-upon-Avon’s newest arts venue.
Now run as a dedicated arts charity, Stratford Artshouse was opened in April after a £1.8million revamp. It was previously known as The Civic Hall.
General manager Clare Allen, who started her new job on July 14 having previously worked as manager of the Mart Theatre in Skipton, Yorkshire, has just programmed its first season of events.
They range from tea dances to family shows and Iranalamadingdong – the latest show by Iranian comedian Omid Djalili, who is back on tour following a sell-out four week West End residency and a sold-out season at the Edinburgh Festival.
She said: “Hopefully there is something for everyone.
“We’ve been listening to what the people of Stratford want and this is what they asked for – family entertainment and more fun.”
Nine comedians will be performing at the venue from September including Jasper Carrott, Jethro, Marcus Brigstocke, Jeremy Hardy, Henning Wehn and Gail Porter.
Due to overwhelming demand for tickets, a second night of Jasper Carrott’s Stand Up and Rock has been booked in December. He will be appearing alongside his musician mates, ELO’s Bev Bevan, Trevor Burton from The Move, Geoff Turton of ‘Rockin Berries and Joy Strachan-Brain from Celtic rock band Quill.
Barry Norman’s Film Quiz on September 12 with his daughter Samantha is the first of three audiences with top media personalities. Dame Jenni Murray will be discussing her long career in broadcasting and her 25 years at the helm of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on October 13; while writer, theatre maker and doctor of medicine Dr Jonathan Miller will be taking questions about his career on November 15.
As co-creator of Beyond the Fringe, Jonathan’s writing helped launch the careers of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett. He has also worked with comedy greats such as Eric Idle, John Cleese, Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey.
The venue’s first family-friendly show is Around the World in 80 days – in which three actors portray a cast of thousands in a madcap adaptation of Jules Verne’s globe trotting Victorian classic.
This brand new production by Oxfordshire Theatre Company and Chipping Norton Theatre, on November 4 will bring to life sea storms, police chases and even elephant rides.
The main Christmas show, from December 16 to 21, is an adaptation of the classic fairy-tale Rumpelstiltskin by acclaimed Olivier-Award winning children’s playwright Mike Kenny, for children aged five and over. Full of physical comedy, in witty rhyming couplets with songs and music, it is aimed at a slightly younger audience than the RSC’s wartime family drama A Christmas Truce, recommended for ages nine and above.
“It is a cheeky and charming show and is selling out wherever it’s on,” says Clare. “There is a First World War-themed play at the RSC this winter so we wanted to offer a completely different family show.
“We are thrilled to have secured the Northumberland Theatre Company which really knows what it is doing.”
There will also be pantomimes and performances by Stratford-upon-Avon amateur dramatic companies the Phoenix Players and Rogues and Vagabonds.
Music will be provided by resident orchestra Orchestra of the Swan plus the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, The Stars of British Jazz, Michael Courtney and jazz artist Jacqui Dankworth.
The modern multi-purpose venue in the centre of Stratford aims to offer “a diverse range of cultural, arts and educational activities”.
It includes a curved 455-seat theatre auditorium, foyer and bar, an airy atrium, flexible meeting rooms, courtyard garden and brand new dressing rooms.
Clare added: “The Artshouse was formerly The Civic Hall and run by Stratford Town Trust. In April 2014 it was handed over to a new charity, Stratford Artshouse Trust, following a £1.8million refurbishment.
“It looks amazing and is completely fit-for-purpose. The auditorium is versatile and has a lovely feeling to it – the maple sprung floor is great for tea dances.”
The regeneration of The Civic Hall was funded and led by Stratford Town Trust.
Earlier this year Helen Munro, chief executive at Stratford Town Trust, explained: “The Town Trust took the decision to set up the new charity and transfer the running of the charity to a new board of trustees to strengthen the business, separating the commercial management of the venue from the core grant-giving business of the Town Trust.
“A new, arts-focussed charity with trustees from arts backgrounds will be able to drive the charity forward and access other funding to rejuvenate the facility and make it a vibrant place to visit.”
The objectives of the new charity, which will continue to be supported by Stratford Town Trust, are to support and enable community-led events while promoting a wide programme of music, comedy, drama, dance and the arts, in a vastly improved new space.
BBC journalist and programme maker Will Hanrahan, owner of the Stratford-based production company First Look TV, is chairman of the new Trust.
A board of trustees has been appointed to work in partnership with other local venues including Chris Hill, marketing director at the RSC.
* Tickets are on sale via the ArtsHouse box office in Rother Street or at www.stratfordartshouse.co.uk