Running from May 28 to August 30 it has a jam-packed programme with something for all ages to enjoy. Eileen Leahy chats to its director Ailsa Molyneux about what’s in store for this year and how it feels to properly return to a full schedule after two years of scaled back events…
Every summer the glorious grounds of Hever Castle come alive courtesy of the stately home’s alfresco theatre which hosts a seasonal programme of comedy, musicals, children’s drama and specialist talks.
Dubbed the ‘West End in the Garden of England’ Hever Festival runs from the last weekend of May right through to the end of August and it’s fair to say there really is something for everyone.
Now in its 39th year, the festival was first launched by Ron Palmer as the Kent Repertory Theatre company. Ron guided it over many decades after it became the Hever Festival Theatre we know and love to this day but after he passed away in 2017 it was time for someone else to take over the reigns.
That person was Ailsa Molyneux who became director in 2018. And despite having two years of scaled back programmes due to the pandemic she has ensured the festival’s continued ongoing success thanks to her clever and interesting curation of the annual programme.
“It’s fair to say Hever Festival Theatre is a combination of world-class performances, a picture-book Tudor castle in beautiful gardens with delicious food and stunning views,” Ailsa explained when she took over the role in 2018.
“Each of our performances is a celebration of all these qualities. No wonder we never want to be anywhere else during the summer months!”
This year the programme kicks off on May 28 with a musical double bill of both the Tina Turner story and that of Aretha Franklin. The following evening historian Alison Weir talks about her book Elizabeth of York which charts the ground-breaking and fascinating story of the eldest daughter of the royal House of York who unexpectedly became Queen and changed the course of history (May 29).
“Hever Festival Theatre is a combination of world-class performances, a picture-book Tudor castle in beautiful gardens with delicious food and stunning views”
The programme for 2022 also includes a special Proms night to celebrate the Jubilee (June 4), The Hug Puppet show by the Long Nose Puppets (July 22), the Grinstock Comedy Club (July 28), La Traviata opera (August 14), Just Floyd tribute act (August 25) and Illyria theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (August 30).
But as well as welcoming national rep companies to its famous outdoor stage, Hever Festival Theatre is hugely passionate about championing the talent we have on our doorstep too.
“We are hugely proud to be working with several local theatre companies, supporting the local talent from Trinity Youth Theatre, Edenbridge based Another Way Theatre, Night Owl Shows from Sevenoaks and the award winning Grinstock Comedy Club from East Grinstead,” states Ailsa.
“But we all need to have a good laugh too so we’ve booked some comedy treats – some a bit more diverse in terms of format with interactive screenings of classic episodes from Father Ted and Murder She Wrote.”
And to mark the 500th anniversary since Anne Boleyn made her glittering debut at the court of King Henry VIII in 1522, Ailsa reveals she and her team have been working with Hever Castle, St Peter’s Church and numerous artists on a variety of events across this summer’s season.
“We begin with a talk in St Peter’s Church on June 25 by Dr Lauren Mackay. Lauren will spend the evening delving into Thomas Boleyn’s life and career, moving beyond the myths and stereotypes to establish his place in Tudor history. Thomas is buried in the 900 year-old church and this event forms part of St Peter’s birthday celebrations.”
Ailsa then adds that First Knight Theatre will be returning with Howard Brenton’s award- winning play Anne Boleyn from August 18-20.
“This is the perfect piece for Hever Castle, Anne’s childhood home. The troupe’s story questions the traditionally held views about a tragic, historical heroine,” says Ailsa.
She adds that another hugely popular fixture on the Hever Festival Theatre programme is the Last Night of the Hever Proms, this year taking place on August 28.
“This is a true highlight of the festival calendar and so we thought what better way to start as well as finish the season – and celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee of course – than also starting with a Prom featuring all British composers. Guildhall Strings are a musically stunning ensemble who despite playing together for over 30 years rarely perform so this is a huge thrill for us.” They will take to the stage on Saturday June 4.
Chris West from Guildhall Strings says he and his colleagues are equally ‘thrilled’ to be performing: “The Guildhall Strings are thrilled to be reuniting for our concert at Hever Castle, which promises to be a very special occasion. We are delighted to be celebrating the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen with some of the best-loved British string music, including pieces written for royalty, about royalty and even by royalty.”
In other exciting news, Trinity Youth Theatre will be making its Hever debut this month, performing Dracula The Bloody Truth on Monday May 30.
Director Jason Lower says he is very happy ahead of their inaugural performance: “We are thrilled to be performing at such a beautiful location and to be part of such an exciting programme. We hope it is the first of many Trinity Youth Theatre / Hever collaborations to come.”
For more information on events being held at the Hever Festival Theatre or to make a booking, see https://heverfestival.co.uk/