The popular Hever Festival Theater returns for a long summer of outdoor performances this weekend.
From May 28 to August 30, it offers a packed schedule with something for all ages. Eileen Leahy chats with her manager Ailsa Molyneux about what lies ahead this year and what it feels like to properly return to a full program after two years of reduced events…
Each summer, the magnificent grounds of Hever Castle come alive thanks to the stately home’s open-air theater which hosts a seasonal program of comedies, musicals, children’s dramas and specialist lectures.
Dubbed the ‘West End in the Garden of England’, the Hever Festival runs from the last weekend of May until 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 Theater company. Ron guided it for many decades after it became the Hever Festival Theater we know and love to this day, but after his passing in 2017 it was time someone else took the reins.
That person was Ailsa Molyneux who became director in 2018. And despite two years of reduced programs due to the pandemic, she ensured the continued success of the festival through her intelligent and interesting curation of the annual program.
“It’s fair to say that Hever Festival Theater is a combination of world-class performance, 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 wanted to be anywhere else during the summer months!”
This year, the program kicks off on May 28 with a double musical program of the story of Tina Turner and that of Aretha Franklin. The following evening, historian Alison Weir talks about her book Elizabeth of York which traces the groundbreaking 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 Theater is a combination of world class performances, a picture book Tudor castle in beautiful gardens with delicious food and stunning views”
The program for 2022 also includes a special Proms evening to celebrate the Jubilee (June 4), the show The Hug Puppet by the Long Nose Puppets (July 22), the Grinstock Comedy Club (July 28), the opera La Traviata (August 14 ), Just Floyd tribute act (August 25) and Illyria Theater’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (August 30).
But in addition to welcoming national performing companies to its famous outdoor stage, the Hever Festival Theater is also extremely passionate about championing the talent we have on our doorstep.
“We are extremely proud to work with several local theater companies, supporting local talent from Trinity Youth Theatre, Edenbridge-based Another Way Theatre, Sevenoaks Night Owl Shows and East Grinstead’s award-winning Grinstock Comedy Club,” says Ailsa.
“But we all need a good laugh too, so we’ve reserved comedic treats – some a bit more diverse in format with interactive screenings of classic episodes of Father Ted and Murder She Wrote.”
And to mark the 500th anniversary since Anne Boleyn made her brilliant debut at the court of King Henry VIII in 1522, Ailsa reveals that she and her team have worked with Hever Castle, St. many artists on a variety of events this summer. season.
“We begin with a lecture at St Peter’s Church on June 25 by Dr Lauren Mackay. Lauren will spend the evening delving into the life and career of Thomas Boleyn, pushing past myths and stereotypes to establish his place in Tudor history. Thomas is buried in the 900 year old church and this event is part of St. Peter’s birthday celebrations.
Ailsa then adds that the First Knight Theater will be back with Howard Brenton’s award-winning play Anne Boleyn from August 18-20.
“It’s the perfect piece for Hever Castle, Anne’s childhood home. The troupe’s story challenges traditional views of a tragic and historic heroine,” says Ailsa.
She adds that another hugely popular fixture on the Hever Festival Theater schedule is the Last Night of the Hever Proms, which will take place on August 28 this year.
“It’s a real highlight of the festival calendar and so we thought what better way to start and end the season – and celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee of course – than to also start with a ball featuring feature all British composers. Guildhall Strings are a musically stunning ensemble who, despite having played together for over 30 years, rarely perform, so it’s a huge thrill for us.” They will take the stage on Saturday June 4th.
Chris West of Guildhall Strings says he and his colleagues are equally “delighted” to perform: “The Guildhall Strings are delighted to come together for our concert at Hever Castle, which promises to be a very special occasion. We are delighted to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with some of Britain’s most beloved string music, including pieces written for royalty, about royalty and even by royalty.
In other exciting news, Trinity Youth Theater will make its Hever debut this month, performing Dracula The Bloody Truth on Monday, May 30.
Director Jason Lower said he was very happy ahead of their inaugural performance: “We are thrilled to be performing in such a beautiful location and to be part of such an exciting program. We hope this will be the first of many collaborations between Trinity Youth Theater and Hever to come.
For more information on events at the Hever Festival Theater or to make a reservation, see https://heverfestival.co.uk/