A delightfully dramatic secret

Hidden in the rolling Norfolk countryside, Westacre Theatre provides a wide variety of captivating performances that inspire, intrigue and entertain

The beautiful setting of this unique venue offers a fantastic outdoor performance space as well as an intimate auditorium within a converted chapel. Stretching lawns, mature trees and a sparkling lake provide a natural backdrop for many al fresco shows during warmer months, often playfully integrated into performances.

“We are fundamentally an arts venue with theatre at its heart,” says Manager and Director Sadie Grist. “We work hard to put on high quality in-house performances and present the best touring companies we can possibly get.  We also host music events, screenings, book clubs and picnic events as well as classes and workshops for all ages.”

The theatre is one-of-a-kind in rural West Norfolk and Sadie sees their work as essential in enriching local lives. “Theatre originated around the campfire. This old-fashioned storytelling is where we all came from as a way of sharing messages and learning,” she says. “Live theatre is so important because it’s real people and it’s right there in front of you. It’s a magical experience that everyone should have.”

Westacre Theatre celebrates its roots in the open air with the summer picnic ethos it continues to offer today. Audiences are encouraged to bring their own delicious spreads to enjoy on a blanket during the interval or before a performance begins. 

Drama is so important for society, it encourages us to empathise in a really human way and make connections with others

“Around 30 years ago, a fabulous group of people decided they wanted to perform open-air Shakespeare in a garden overlooking Castle Acre’s ruined abbey,” Sadie explains. “They then grew into the abandoned chapel we call home today which made a wonderful rehearsal space on colder days.”

Over the years, funding from The National Lottery and the Arts Council together with money raised locally has allowed the venue to develop a foyer, bar, gallery, studio and offices. “It has taken a huge amount of time and dedicated people for the theatre to grow and survive,” Sadie says. “Today we get less and less external support so it’s a constant challenge to run a venue like this. Our overheads go up and up, but we want to make theatre as accessible as we can, so we don’t want to raise ticket prices.”

The standard of in-house performances available for the ticket price is exceptional. Production casts are largely volunteers, but the theatre always employs a professional director and adds professional actors in when budgets allow. “We have high aspirations in all we do,” Sadie says. “Our production ethic is to lift everything to as near to professional standard as we can.”

The next in-house production running during March is Betrayal by Harrold Pinter, a dramatic and moving play tracing a seven-year affair with sharp and witty dialogue. May will see the running of the ‘Westacre Mystery Play’, a title chosen in indecision. “There are about six plays we want to do and we can’t yet decide!” Sadie admits. “You will not believe how many tickets we’ve already sold. When people are happy to buy tickets for a play before they even know what it is, it shows how much they must trust us, so we are absolutely thrilled.”

During ‘Roaring June’, Sadie has a month of touring companies lined up, all bringing great theatre to Norfolk. “Our good friends The Pantaloons always do a bonkers take on a classic. They are coming with The Importance of Being Ernest and are absolutely brilliant. We have wildlife whiz Ajay Tegala taking a voyage around the zodiac and exploring folklore and seasonal nature with Zoe Howe in Witching the Wild Year. And then the very local fEast Theatre Company are also coming to do a very Norfolk thriller called Elephant.” 

Beyond the stage, Westacre Theatre offer drama classes for children aged from 4 years in Saturday workshops and holiday clubs. With summer bursaries on offer each year, many students have worked up through the system to cross into the theatre company and join public performances. Some have also gone on to train and work in the industry professionally.

“The personal development children get from theatre workshops is almost immeasurable,” Sadie says. “As a little human, making yourself heard and finding your own voice is so important. If you’re happy or sad or troubled or worried, you should be able to voice it.”

From sorting costumes to running the bar, Westacre Theatre relies on the support of 50+ volunteers alongside a dedicated small team of freelance and part-time staff to function. New volunteers are always welcomed and open auditions are held regularly for a spot on stage. 

“Drama is so important for society,” Sadie finishes. “It encourages us to empathise in a really human way and make connections with others. I urge everyone to come to a performance; if it’s your first time we will do everything we can to make sure you come back.”

Visit www.westacretheatre.com for more information. 

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