Taking centre stage at Hever’s summer festival

Hever Castle

Hever Castle’s summer festival theatre celebrates its 35th anniversary with a new director in charge after three decades – Ailsa Molyneux. As the seasonal programme begins, Eileen Leahy talks to her about taking on the challenge of ensuring its continued success

To start with, can you please give us a brief history of the Hever Festival Theatre?
It began as the Kent Repertory Theatre Company and was founded by Ron Palmer 34 years ago. Sadly, Ron died last year, but over the years he and his team presented theatre companies from far and wide to bring the magic of live entertainment to Hever’s audiences. Their passion for theatre and their love of Hever Castle has created a magical festival like no other.

What is your involvement with the festival?
This is my first year as Festival Director, so I have been busy programming, working on the operational side, and getting to grips with all aspects of putting on the festival – including marketing it!

Has it been daunting to take over from someone who was in charge for over 30 years?
Ron and his family leave big shoes to fill, but we believe we have created a festival they would be proud of – with perhaps a little new sparkle.

What is your professional background?
I first fell in love with Hever 15 years ago, working with Ron as the stage manager with Kent Rep.�Most recently, I have been the theatre director at the EM Forster Theatre at Tonbridge School. Before then I worked for The Royal College of Music and produced the Chelsea Festival in London for several years.

What have you enjoyed most about curating this year’s festival line-up?
I’m like a child in a sweet shop! Programming the season has to be my favourite thing about the job. Trying to see through the eyes of our audience isn’t always easy, but it’s great fun booking shows we can all get excited about.

Is there something on the programme for everyone?
There’s certainly a show in our season for�everyone. Our programme is packed with events ranging from An Audience with David Starkey discussing Brexit and Henry VIII to The Magic of Motown, the much-loved children’s tale The Snail and the Whale, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and a comic version of the thriller The 39 Steps.

Do people come from far and wide?
Our audience is very loyal – there are many people who put the festival dates in their diary as soon as they are confirmed. They call us before the programme is announced, checking they haven’t missed anything!

Are there any particular show highlights, or is there anything really different this year?
New shows for 2018 include comedian Tom Allen, hot from his presenting stint on Bake Off The�Professionals, appearing with his ‘Absolutely’ tour this Friday [June 1], then multi-award-winning singer Claire Martin, OBE, and old friend saxophonist Ray Gelato performing It’s A Swingin’ Affair! – songs from The American Songbook – this Saturday [June 2].

Later in the season, we also have a musical adaptation of HG Wells’ The Time Machine and an extended family programme with Peter Pan and comedian Jay Foreman’s Disgusting Songs for Revolting Children.

What are the key things you have to consider when putting a festival together?
Capturing the imagination of our audience is key to their loyalty, and the beautiful castle gardens play a pretty substantial role, too! It’s a truly stunning mix

What do you hope audiences enjoy most about coming to see live outdoor performances?
Hever Festival Theatre is a combination of world-class performances, a picture-book Tudor castle in beautiful gardens with delicious food and stunning views. Each of our performances is a celebration of all these qualities. No wonder we�don’t want to be anywhere else this summer!


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