Stuart’s shorts at the Arundel Festival!

Stuart by Rosey Purchase
Stuart by Rosey Purchase

Stuart Smithers continues his tradition of an annual short play for the Arundel Festival with a look at the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt this year.

Short Cuts at The Priory enters its fourth year for 2015.

“I wrote a play called Poor Visibility which was the first one we did, with Rosey Purchase. At the time, I put it to the Arundel Players committee that it might be nice to do a short play in the morning, quite separate from Bill Brennan’s effort (with the Arundel Festival Theatre Trail which offers eight short plays every day). It was just a one-off to start with, but it has gone on to become quite a regular thing. The problem at first was differentiating it from the Theatre Trail, but now we are in our fourth year, people are getting to know what it is. Over the years, it has generated more and more business.”

The challenge is that the play, by Stuart each year, has to fit a format: “It has to be short. It has to have a small cast, and it has to have minimal set requirements because we are putting it on the same stage as the main play (from the Arundel Players, this year A Man For All Seasons).

Running at 11am each day from August 24 to 29 at the Priory Playhouse Theatre, London Road, Arundel, this year’s 40-minute offering is Quand Meme.

The setting is a TV chat show interview with an older Sarah Bernhardt, featuring excerpts from her repertoire performed by her younger self.

“I wanted the chat show to be in the Graham Norton style. The idea is that he is having a series of great entertainers of yesterday and he is bringing them back from the dead. We have got the older Sarah Bernhardt (played by Stuart’s wife Dawn) and also her younger self (played by Tracy Clayton). She comes in periodically to produce one of Sarah Bernhardt’s great speeches.

“The chat show host is played by Steve Wallace. I said to him just as a guide that I was thinking Graham Norton, but I didn’t want anyone to do an imitation of Graham Norton. I just wanted a chat show host that was a bit camp. Steve has come back and said ‘How about a host who is a sort of Alan Bennett/Russell Harty type of interviewer?’ And I think that works very well.”

As for Bernhardt: “There is not a lot that people know about her. It is very difficult to find out what made her tick, but I think it was above all determination. She would have been the Madonna of her time. She pushed herself and made herself into this multinational star at the turn of the century which is an amazing achievement bearing in mind there was none of the mass media we have got now. She was self-promoting and she was quite ruthless. She had a huge ego. She takes herself very seriously. In the interchange between her and the chat show host, there is a certain element where he is taking the mickey out of her. He is looking a little bit for a laugh,”

Tickets £5. Doors 10.30am.

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