They were welcomed by the President, Tom Williams, who told them that the Chesil is one of the oldest companies in the country, also performing in one of the oldest buildings used as a theatre, parts of which date back to the 12th Century.
Flavia Bateson, Chesil Theatre Archivist, outlined some of the momentous events since 1863 including the first performance in St John's Rooms of Macbeth, the pantomimes in the Guildhall and the opportunity in 1960 to take over the dilapidated building. Much of the work to create an auditorium and essential areas had been done by the members themselves. Since then the Society had offered Winchester theatregoers six shows a year covering every genre of drama. In addition the Chesil has two youth groups and is able to welcome small scale professional companies.
In 2008 the Chesil hosted the first 10x10 Festival of New Writing which has become a biennial event. Deborah Edgington, the Producer related how it has grown from the work of 10 novice playwrights, to a competition attracting entries from across the UK and even countries as far away as Brazil. Details for the next 10x10 will be announced shortly and the plays put on in October 2016.
Peter Liddiard, Building Manager, outlined plans for the development scheme where a new build annexe will provide full disabled access, a multi-purpose space for foyer, bar, rehearsals, community room/studio, storage and a dedicated wardrobe area. At present hundreds of beautiful costumes are kept in the church tower, only accessible via precipitous ladder-like stairs. The development will take place in conjunction with the adjoining land owners and discussions continue as they finalise their plans.
After questions delegates were given a tour of the theatre, some of them even daring to climb up the tower. The overall impression was one of fascination, with comments that the Chesil was a cross between Pandora’s box and the Tardis.
"We are all looking forward to 2016 and another year of bringing high quality live theatre to Winchester." said Flavia, who is directing the next production The 39 Steps. "This was fully booked weeks before the opening night. Our last show, When we are Married also sold out early. The message is to book early on line for Juno and the Paycock in March."
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