‘Thriving Witney should have a rival to Oxford’s theatres’

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Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Witney and West Oxfordshire. Call me on 01865 425483

A SCREENWRITER for children’s TV programmes is hoping to fill a cultural void by setting up a professional theatre company in Witney.

Adrian Hewitt, 51, has launched the Witney Theatre Company because he felt the town was missing out.

The first production, an adult performance of August Strindberg’s classic play Miss Julie, will be staged at Cogges Manor Farm Museum at the end of the month.

Mr Hewitt, who moved to the town from Somerset in June last year, said: “When I came here I thought there should be a theatre.

“Everyone goes to Oxford but why not Witney? It’s a thriving and growing town.

“The aim is to sustain a permanent presence like in Oxford and to have four productions a year.

“I believe Witney has been missing out.”

Dad-of-four Mr Hewitt is a stage actor and has written scripts for CBBC programmes such as MI High and The Mysti Show, as well as former ITV show My Parents are Aliens.

He is currently writing a feature film called Horse Juice with BAFTA Children’s Award winner John Roberts.

Miss Julie, written in 1888 about a relationship between a young woman and a senior servant, will be performed at the museum’s barn from Wednesday, September 24, to Friday, September 26.

There are three actors, Lucy Green, Ewan Alman and Tracey Rimell, who have rehearsed at The Plough Inn in Witney’s High Street.

It has been made on a £100 budget as the not-for-profit company has no funding, but Mr Hewitt hopes in time to receive support from local businesses.

He wants to tour his productions in community centres and village halls in West Oxfordshire.

Mr Hewitt said he was inspired by Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry, who converted The Gate Theatre in London from a small fringe theatre into a stage for international talent in the 1990s.

He said: “The quality of his work was superb and that’s the model I’m working on.

“This is very much a theatre for the community – we will start small and grow. We can’t afford to spend thousands of pounds on sets so we’re doing it on a shoestring budget. It can be sustainable if people support it.”

Last year, former opera singer and director Robin Martin-Oliver set up Witney Arts and has held two professional productions, but said the lack of a permanent venue had caused problems.

He had hoped to take over a West Oxfordshire District Council-owned building in Station Lane but it was rented to a business instead.

He said: “We think there’s a demand but the biggest challenge has been getting the council on side to fund a building for the arts.”

The play starts at 7.30pm and tickets cost £12.50 for adults and £10 for concessions. See cogges.org.uk/whats

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