‘We’re so thrilled to be directing this unique piece of theatrical history’

BEHIND THE LINES: Rehearsals for Oh! What a Lovely War

Hemsted Park, Benenden School’s impressive new arts venue, opened at the end of last year with a successful season that included the likes of the BBC Big Band, jazz legends Ronnie Scott’s All Stars and TV quizzer-turned-comedian Paul Sinha all performing there. The new season starts this Saturday (September 30) so Eileen Leahy looks at the bill, which includes Oh! What a Lovely War


Last September the prestigious independent girls’ school Benenden revealed its new Centenary Buildings development, which was designed by the multi-award-winning Kent-based Guy Hollaway Architects, and is now able to host touring theatre companies and external events.

“The Centenary Buildings are an outstanding addition to one of the most beautiful areas of the school grounds,” a spokesperson for the school told us at the time of their completion.

They comprise a light and airy atrium, smaller recital room, a Music School and the main Centenary Hall – an 800-seater multi-purpose space that has established itself as one of the foremost concert halls in the South East.

“The space offers state-of-the-art acoustics and gives audiences a truly impressive performance experience,” the spokesperson added.

The new theatre is called Hemsted Park and since it opened its doors late last year it has welcomed the likes of TV quizzer-turned-comedian Paul Sinha, jazz singer Claire Martin, the BBC Big Band and the English National Opera.

Its second season starts this coming Saturday on September 30 with a special screening of A Little Life, which was on at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London earlier this year. Based on the 2015 novel by American writer Hanya Yanagihara and starring Happy Valley’s James Norton and Bridgerton’s Luke Thompson, it’s been one of the most talked-about West End performances in years. You can go along on Saturday if you want to find out why…

The next performance will be a touring production of Oh! What A Lovely War on October 7, which is coming to Hemsted Park as part of its 60th-anniversary tour courtesy of Blackeyed Theatre.

This cornerstone of modern musical theatre – and one of the very greatest stage satires was conceived and developed by Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop in 1963.

Years later it still remains a classic of modern theatre with a fusion of timeless songs – including ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ and ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ – as well as razor-sharp satire and high jinks, offering a satirical account of the First World War as seen through the eyes of the common soldier.

Visually stunning, and deeply moving, the show’s cast includes Christopher Arkeston, Tom Crabtree, Harry Curley and Alice E Mayer. The production is directed by Nicky Allpress with musical direction by Ellie Verkerk and movement direction by Adam Haigh.

Director Nicky Allpress comments: “I’m so thrilled to be directing this unique piece of theatrical history, having followed Blackeyed Theatre and their extraordinary work for many years.

“One of the most exciting things about Oh! What a Lovely War is how universal, timeless, and ever-relevant it is, and a testament to the brilliance of the work is how it can bear endless reinterpretation. Our concept will explore the idea of war as a circus, with an incredibly talented company of actor-musicians bringing Joan Littlewood’s ground-breaking classic to life with music, comedy, and stories.”

This production is appropriate for those aged 11 years old and upwards and there will be a matinee performance at 2.30pm as well as an evening show at 7.30pm.

See our breakout on the other shows you can see at Hemsted Park this season, which include comedian Gary Delaney’s Gary in Punderland, the Trio Bohemo, Sleeping Beauty, the Jazz Sapiens and Christmas with the Len Phillips Swing Orchestra.


Upcoming events at Hemsted Park


A Little Life

Cinema Screening – The Benenden Theatre, Saturday September 30, 2.30pm & 7.30pm. Tickets £13-£15


Oh, What a Lovely War

The Benenden Theatre, Saturday October 7, 2.30pm & 7.30pm. Tickets £17-£20


Kidenza – Pieces of Eight

Centenary Hall, Sunday October 15, 4pm. Tickets £10-£15


The Great Think Pink Show

The Benenden Theatre, Friday October 20, 7.30pm. Tickets £12.50



Centenary Hall, Monday and Tuesday October 23 and 24, multiple timeslots. Tickets £15


The Sleeping Beauty

The Benenden Theatre. Friday October 27, 1pm. Tickets £10-£15


Gary Delaney – Gary in Punderland

The Benenden Theatre. Saturday October 28, 7.30pm. Tickets £21


A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

The Benenden Theatre. Friday November 3, 7pm. Tickets £15


Trio Bohemo

Centenary Hall, Thursday November 16, 7.30pm. Tickets £17-£22


Angela Hewitt – Piano Recital

Centenary Hall, Sunday November 19, 5pm. Tickets £25-£33


Swinging at the Cotton Club

Centenary Hall. Saturday  November 25, 7.30pm. Tickets £21-£25


The Jazz Sapiens

Centenary Hall. Friday  December 8, 7pm. Tickets £22- £24


Christmas with the Len Phillips Swing Orchestra

Centenary Hall, Friday December 15, 7.30pm. Tickets £21-£27


For details, visit: hemstedpark.com

Box office: boxoffice@hemstedpark.com

Tel: 01580 236699

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