Trinity Theatre isn’t just putting on one festive production this year, it’s doing three – yes three – shows. Eileen Leahy caught up with the venue’s Artistic Director Sean Turner, his co-writers, production team and cast to discover more about this exciting trio of Trinity performances which kick off on December 14 and guarantee a good time for all…
Trinity Theatre, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, has always offered its audiences an alternative to the traditional Christmas panto but for 2022 the team there are doing something very ambitious by putting on three different shows.
As well as two original productions: The New Musketeers and The Aliens Who Saved Christmas, the much-loved venue is also performing the festive classic Miracle on 34th Street.
But before we drill down and find out all about these shows – the first two of which have been penned by some of the writer/performer cast members – I want to find out why the theatre’s Artistic Director Sean Turner decided to take on the task of doing three productions when he could have easily settled for just one – and an easy life!
“I think that as we are a community and cultural space it’s our duty to offer something for everyone,” says Sean when we sit down to chat at the troupe’s rehearsal space at the bottom of The Pantiles.
“Some people might come with their toddlers to see The Aliens Who Saved Christmas and have such a great time they’ll think ‘let’s go and see The New Musketeers’. Younger ones might miss a few nuances with the characters but essentially there will be crossover. And that’s the same with our third show Miracle on 34th Street: we believe it will appeal to all ages as it’s such a classic Christmas tale.”
“Given that we’re currently experiencing a cost-of-living crisis and that Christmas is the only time many people will set foot inside a theatre, it’s all about delivering the very best you can”
But as well as providing something for everyone, Sean, who took over at the theatre in July 2021 and is best known for his work as Associate Director on The Play That Goes Wrong in the West End and No Villain, wants to deliver the very best of playhouse theatre right to our doorstep.
“We want our audiences to realise just how professional these productions are and that’s what we are about at Trinity. We want to deliver the best we can and for people to come back and enjoy more of what we have to offer. For me and my team it has to be world class. These are the production values we have. Okay, so we may not have the budgets of West End shows but I’m absolutely determined to give the best we can.”
Sean’s fellow colleagues collectively nod in agreement with this artistic statement and it’s been clear since meeting them all at our photo call at the theatre earlier that day that the cast – which is made up of talented writers, musicians and performers – are all just as committed to giving the best performances to the audiences who will start to file through Trinity’s doors from December 14.
Having witnessed a sneak peek of their rehearsals ahead of our interview I can testify that whatever performance you might be going to see – if not all three – then you’re in for a treat!
From Irfan Damani and Hollie-Anne Price’s impressive sword fighting displays (which they tell me they only began rehearsing the day before) to Dannie Harris jumping on the rehearsal room’s piano to accompany Max Kinder’s guitar playing and Will Taylor’s brilliant razor sharp humour, this crew is not only multi-talented but wholly invested in giving their all to their multiple roles.
“I think we play around 52 different roles between us,” says Hollie-Anne who also plays the saxophone and reveals that this is her first professional acting role. “We started rehearsals at the beginning of November and although I’m pretty tired, every time I get my train home I see our Trinity posters at the station and think ‘Wow! It’s an exciting feeling!’”
“You’re certainly getting value for money with these shows,” adds Dannie Harris who starred in BBC1’s Marriage with Sean Bean and written the songs for The New Musketeers in which she also stars alongside Jack Stacey and Jesse Ashby.
“I’m determined to deliver the people of Tunbridge Wells a playhouse that puts on world class theatre”
Between the three productions the cast are doing everything from singing carols and swishing capes to playing live, dancing, creating sound effects and generally causing chaos so there’s definitely variety for everyone involved…
“It reminds me of traditional rep theatre,” says Jack, who has worked with Sean on The Play That Goes Wrong, BBC1’s Poldark and has also co-written The New Musketeers with Sean, Dannie Harris and Matthew Howell.
If you’re not familiar with rep theatre then essentially it’s when a resident acting company has a repertory of plays which they perform in quick and rolling succession. It’s certainly a challenge as actors are usually performing a whole host of parts – usually over a short period of time – but as Jack reveals it’s a brilliant way for any performer to gain experience and skills.
“There’s never a moment when you are on stage alone. There are always others there and you know you have their support. Rep is very much a collaborative endeavour – as are these three different shows. And I think that’s what separates us from others. When you come and see us perform it’s new, exciting and hopefully hilarious, which is what we set out to do.”
Matthew Howell tells me how amazing it is to see The New Musketeers brought to life after three years of the group writing it together.
“Just to hear those words on a page being spoken out loud – we still get a buzz from that,” he confides. Matthew is also performing too – and rumour has it his turn as Cardinal Richelieu and as a sound effects artist – or foley – on Miracle are not to be missed!
So what do the writers of The New Musketeers hope to achieve with their reimagining of the original Alexandre Dumas creation?
“I think we can actually be quite spectacular with our play,” states Matthew.
“Usually when you are writing something and it’s being put on by others there is compromise but we haven’t had to do that. We’re not having to make sacrifices so we can afford to go really big with this. We’ve got a great set, lots of props and cool costumes. So now it’s time to show the audiences what we’ve got and impress them!”
Sean adds that although there are some similarities with the original Three Musketeers tales, their swashbuckling version is very different…
“It’s set in the world of the three Musketeers – sort of!” he laughs. “There’s a shipwreck on a routine mission across the Channel and the Musketeers’ servants find their uniforms and decide to don them – and their swords. They go on a fun mission around London, meeting lots of characters. Some of them you’ll recognise from the original book like King James and Cardinal Richelieu but it’s a million miles away from anything you’ve seen before!”
“We want people to have a laugh,” says Jack. “Our aim from the work we’ve put in over the last three years is to make the play as funny as possible.”
The second original production for audiences to enjoy at Trinity this Christmas is The Aliens Who Saved Christmas which was written by and stars Winnie Southgate alongside actor Irfan Damani.
“I’m also directing so I guess you could say I’m indulging!” laughs Winnie. “Seriously though, as a writer you have to trust the process and then try to make it better than you could have predicted. It’s a moving experience watching something you have created being brought to life.”
Winnie reveals that the show, which is set in space and features alien characters Splat and Sniff trying to help Santa’s elves make all his toys in time, has been nothing short of brilliant fun to work on.
“The show sees lots of action – including Irfan and I wearing silver foil tubes! So you’ll just have to come along with your little ones and see what it’s all about!”
“There’s no hiding on this one,” Irfan says. “It’s just the two of us which can be daunting as I have a lot of lines but it will be fun! Winnie’s writing is amazing – it’s genius.”
Aliens also has some fun tunes in it too which will appeal to the little ones watching Sean tells me.
“Music is definitely a through line in each production. In Miracle on 34th Street you have all these hopeful and joyful Christmas carols all played live and then in Musketeers pretty much everyone sings or plays an instrument.
“It’s great to be able to perform live,” confirms Stephen Hynde the show’s Musical Director who has co-ordinated all the songs and numbers across each of the three shows.
“I think that as we are a community and cultural space it’s our duty at Trinity to offer something for everyone”
Matthew says that the thing he likes about Lance Arthur Smith’s Miracle on 34th Street is that there’s so much positivity. It also stars a local Trinity Youth Theatre talent, who Sean describes as the ‘incredible’ 11-year-old Ellie Canning, in the role of the young child Susan Walker.
“There’s this wonderful hope running through the spirit of it which I personally really appreciate as it has been a very difficult few years for everyone,” he explains. “To have this wonderful play that brings us all together with hope and joy when we are usually quite separate entities is just fantastic. This play shows us we can look out for each other and it also represents that we have much more hope together than we might realise,” adds Matthew.
Miracle on 34th Street which is a live music ‘radio play’ and a traditional festive tale is set in New York’s Macy’s Department Store. It follows the charming and heart-warming story of a young girl, her mother and a lawyer trying to ensure the store’s Santa Claus – AKA Kris Kringle isn’t locked up for being mad and that he is indeed the real deal!
“It’s a lovely one as there are so many familiar Christmas carols,” says Matthew.
All three shows’ choreography is done by Sam Blackden, the action direction is by Marcello Marascalchi, set design is by Tony Award winner Nigel Hook and costumes are by the West End’s Nicky Bunch. Again, more proof of the professionalism involved at Trinity.
“I’m determined to deliver the people of Tunbridge Wells a playhouse that puts on world class theatre. That’s the only reason I’m here and if I can’t deliver that then I’ll go!” Sean declares. “These shows are going to raise the bar. There will be lots of surprises and lots of laughs. Comedy is about being one step head – the last laugh hasn’t even come in and the next one is already being set up. We want people to roar with laughter!”
“We want them to hyperventilate,” giggles Jesse Ashby who plays the mute Musketeer Grimault and also Kris Kringle.
Given that we’re currently experiencing a cost-of-living crisis and that Christmas is the only time many people will set foot inside a theatre, I guess it’s all about delivering the very best you can I say to Sean.
“Yes, I’m very aware of the situation we’re in. When I was a kid my family couldn’t afford to go regularly to the theatre but it’s memories of shows that always brings a tear to my eye so if I can do that for just one kid then that’s it for me. That feeling is something that is always a constant when I am making work.”
“It’s got to be a giggle and it’s got to have that Christmas Eve magic about it that’s also what we’re aiming for,” says Max who plays Buckingham in The New Musketeers and Fred in Miracle on 34th Street.
“It’s going to be a fast turnaround and a bit daunting as the schedule is crazy,” says Millie Swinchin Rew, the show’s stage manager, “But it’s going to be an awful lot of fun!”
The stage is set for a holy trinity of great festive shows
The New Musketeers:
On from December 14 – January 2
Written by Dannie Harris, Matthew Howell, Jack Stacey, and Sean Turner (with original songs by Dannie Harris)
“It’s a family comedy based on the tale of the Three Musketeers – sort of! After losing their masters, the original musketeers – the servants – must become the New Musketeers as they must complete their mission and fool the King. The New Musketeers features fantastic music, hilarious jokes and stunning designs by Tony Award winning set designer Nigel Hook.
‘These guys are hilarious. If you’re looking for a chuckle with the family this Christmas, look no further than this show.’ – Jonathan Sayer, Artistic Director of Mischief Theatre and star of The Goes Wrong Show, BBC.
The Aliens Who Saved Christmas:
On from December 16 – December 30
Written by Winnie Southgate
“Aliens from a faraway world receive a radio message that Santa’s elves are calling for help to get the presents delivered to all the children in the world. Winnie Southgate’s new play is full of silly fun and magic to entertain the youngest ones. The show is suitable for those ages 2 – 7 but older children will still enjoy the show. With only seven performances this Christmas, book your tickets soon to make sure your little ones get to enjoy the out-of-this-world show.
‘Zany, interactive and downright joyous.’ – Sean Turner, Trinity’s Artistic Director
Miracle on 34th Street:
On from December 20 – December 29
From the 1947 Lux Radio Broadcast by Lance Arthur Smith With original songs by Jon Lorenz
“Lance Arthur Smith’s classic Christmas tale Miracle on 34th Street is reimagined as a live radio performance with original music, Christmas carols with a four-part harmony and a live piano backing. When Santa Claus at Macy’s department store in New York City claims to be the real thing, no one believes him except for one little girl and a lawyer who must make everyone believe and prove he is telling the truth. With seven actors performing every character, the greatest Christmas tale comes alive as you are immersed into the story.”
For tickets and timings visit www.trinitytheatre.net