Thirty years of footlights and theatre

Angelus at Cardinal Newman College in 2009
Angelus at Cardinal Newman College in 2009
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Thirty years of theatre making at a Preston sixth form will be celebrated at the Guild Hall next month when Uneasy Theatre stage their latest work.

It was in January 1987 when it was decided to re-launch drama at the city’s Cardinal Newman College.

Joe Brandim-Howson takes a leap in Once Upon a Preston Guild,  in 2010

Joe Brandim-Howson takes a leap in Once Upon a Preston Guild, in 2010

In fact, Preston was not a city at that time, Newman did not have its ‘Cardinal’ in its name and was just eight and a half years old, having been formed in September 1978 from three Catholic grammar schools: Preston Catholic College, Winckley Square Convent School, and Lark Hill House School.

All three institutions had a drama tradition but performances had dried up and there was no structure in place to generate anything new.

Pete Hartley, who had run Fulwood Drama Workshop evening classes, and two spin-off groups - Spare Parts Theatre Company and Unstable Productions - were invited to get drama going again.

The college’s Limelights theatre company was established, firstly as a recreational drama activity then as an umbrella structure for productions arising from performance courses of theatre studies, dance, and performing arts.

Julie Atherton (centre) in Oedipus at Cardinal Newman College, in 1995

Julie Atherton (centre) in Oedipus at Cardinal Newman College, in 1995

Candlepower was the first production after the full unification of the three former colleges on to one site at Lark Hill.

This was followed by a Christmas show inspired by Prokofiev’s music for the film version of Yuri Tyanov’s story Lieutenant Kije which is the farcical tale of a soldier who does not exist. Also in those early years the college was highly commended in a National Theatre youth festival for their biography of Marilyn Monroe: Marilyn and Me.

Thirty years on, the college has turned out more than 300 productions. Uneasy Theatre was formed just three years later and has always drawn its personnel from students, staff and alumni of the college, scores of whom moved on to work in performance and creative capacities in this country and abroad.

The company has presented some twenty-three productions mostly at the smaller venues scattered around the Preston area.

Kelly Keeley and Neil Gornall in Antony and Cleopatra in 1993

Kelly Keeley and Neil Gornall in Antony and Cleopatra in 1993

More than 2,000 students have studied on one of the performance courses at Cardinal Newman College in the intervening years and while many went on to pursue unrelated professions, a significant number have trained as performance professionals both on and off stage and others have become teachers of performance.

Some notable examples include Julie Atherton who left in 1997 and has spent nearly 20 years in musical theatre, including lead roles in West End hits (Mama Mia and Avenue Q) and several national tours, while in recent years Andy Rush and Hannah Britland have been featured in prominent television roles.

More recently Amy Llewellyn (pictured, inset), who also appeared with Uneasy Theatre, toured nationally and internationally on the stage with Chapterhouse Theatre. Meanwhile, others such as Victoria Glover and Michelle Livesey have become successful in factual broadcast media.

It was Victoria who created the memorable role of Myra Hindley in what has probably been Uneasy Theatre’s most successful show Making Myra, alongside Amy Llwellyn in 2011.

Carl McGarrigle and Jane Lambert in The Guild Machine in 1991 with Mayor of Preston Albert Richardson

Carl McGarrigle and Jane Lambert in The Guild Machine in 1991 with Mayor of Preston Albert Richardson

To celebrate the 30-year anniversary, the cast of Tempest Tossed is comprised of four current members of staff from Newman along with Faye Sheffield who is a former drama student of the college, and last year completed her professional teacher training as part of the Cardinal Newman Schools’ Direct postgrad programme.

Faye is now working as a drama teacher at Carr Hill in Kirkham. Meanwhile, upholding uneasy theatre’s philosophy of supporting aspiring professionals, Aniqah Rawat who left Newman last June, is the assistant director on the show.

In charge of all things technical is Andrew Brindley who has worked offstage and front of house at many venues including the Guild Hall in Preston, and who was a founder member of the Limelights Company at Newman way back in January 1987.

Cardinal Newman is staging Tempest Tossed, a 60 minute, mostly modern language, radical reimagining of what is generally regarded as Shakespeare’s last solo-scripted play, on February 14-15 at Lancaster Suite, Guild Hall, Preston PR1 4HT. Tickets £9 from www.prestonguildhall.co.uk or telephone 01772 80 44 44.