Celebrating its 40th birthday this year, New Theatre Productions was launched out of a love of Shakespeare.
But as Peter Breskal, who runs the company with Ken Strudwick, says, it has continued down the decades out of a love of theatre much more generally.
And it is that love of theatre – as much from the audience as from the actors on stage – that has made the company such an enduring story of success: fine productions in the finest possible setting, West Dean Gardens.
For the anniversary year, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare will be directed by company founder John Hyatt. It will alternate for the first couple of weeks of July with Tons of Money by Will Evans + Valentine, adapted by Alan Ayckbourn and directed by Barbara MacWhirter.
Peter said: ““It is a privilege to be able to produce plays in such beautiful surroundings for people’s enjoyment. It all just rubber-stamps our love of what we are doing. Most people that manage to get involved with New Theatre Productions are just through the enjoyment of being at West Dean.
“They don’t take a lot of persuading even though it is a big commitment. We do have difficulties simply because life happens and people become unavailable for some reason, but everyone pulls together.
“And there is a magic about it every year when we get together for the start of the new season. There are always people that have been with us before and there are always people that are new to us, but within a matter of minutes, it is as if we have been together all year. There is an instant understanding and an awful lot of camaraderie.
“We have always been very, very well supported by the authorities at West Dean, particularly over the last few years.
“And for the last three years they have opened up their restaurant, though people are also very welcome to bring their own picnics.”
The whole process, from planning through to production, is a huge demand, but brings even bigger rewards.
“It takes a long time to come up with the two plays each year. I have to put a lot of thought into it. I am au fait with the different actors and actresses that we have got, but the most important thing is to find something that will entertain two different audiences, but two different plays where people might actually want to come along and see both.
“But also we have to find plays where we can match up to the people that we have got available. There is no point picking a play that we can’t actually cast or a play that is wrong for the people that we have got.
“It is a balancing act, and I think that over the last few years we have been very well received.”
Peter is certainly pleased with the choice of plays this year.
“This year we have found Tons of Money, which was the first of the Aldwych farces. It was first performed in 1922 and it presents quite a lot of challenges to the director. Farces often rely on lots of opening doors, but that’s not practical in the open air, but Barbara has come up with lots of innovative ideas to make it work outside.
“It was written by Valentine and Evans, but it was revived and updated by Alan Ayckbourn in 1986 and it played at the National.
“It is not a typical Ayckbourn play, but he revised it very cleverly so that it was appropriate for modern-day audiences.”
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare runs on July 1, July 3, July 5, July 7, July 9, July 11, July 13, 7.45pm; Tons of Money plays on July 2, July 4, July 6, July 8, July 10 July 12. 7.45pm. Tickets £10; children under 16 £8. Disabled access. Picnics welcome.
The West Dean Gardens Restaurant is open for pre-theatre supper and/or drinks until 7.30pm on theatre nights; tel 01243 818215.