Crime, comedy … and Ben Hur!

SIDMOUTH is once again getting ready for its unique summer programme of entertainment – the beautiful south Devon town’s Manor Pavilion theatre hosts the country’s only surviving summer rep season, from 24th June to 21st September.

This year audiences for the three-month series of plays will be treated not only to the familiar mix of crime and comedy, but also to some newer and more adventurous plays and a brand-new epic comedy-thriller by the creator of the brilliant four-person adaptation of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps.

The season opens with a traditional Francis Durbridge thriller, House Guest, from 24th to 29th June. Robert and Stella learn that their son has been kidnapped – not for ransom, but to force them to allow one of the kidnappers to remain in their house. When two police officers arrive, it is revealed that one of the kidnappers has been murdered. However, it is clear that these two are far from what they seem.

This is followed by one of the greatest comedies of the 20th century, Noel Coward’s timeless portrait of an artistic and dysfunctional family, Hay Fever, from 1st to 6th July. The third play is back to crime, with the off-Broadway hit, Warren Manzi’s Perfect Crime, from 8th to 13th July.

There is then a run of four comedies – the endlessly beloved Yes, Prime Minister, for the week starting 15th July, Richard Harris’ Party Piece, set in the back gardens of feuding neighbours, for the week from 22nd July, Yazmina Reza’s zeitgeist comedy God of Carnage, in which two couples expose all their prejudices and insecurities after one couple’s son hits the other’s, from 29th July, and another comedy that is utterly of its time, Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh’s satire of 1970s suburban social-climbers, from 12th August.

Later in the season, there is Peter James’ police thriller Looking Good Dead, Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular, Terence Rattigan’s wartime drawing room comedy, While the Sun Shines and Ira Levin’s Deathtrap.

The season ends with an absolute epic as Sidmouth stages one of the greatest stories ever to grace the wide screen – Ben Hur. Apart from the Charlton Heston epic film, Lew Wallace story set at the time of Jesus Christ and the occupation of Judaea by the Romans, was famously staged in late 19th and early 20th century theatres, particularly in the American south west, often with real chariot races (with horses!) This version by Patrick Barlow features just four actors, but we are promised the chariot race – and a sea battle (with actual water)! It runs from 16th to 21st September.