The Winchelsea Players

Committed to producing high-quality drama and galvanising local talent

The Winchelsea Players was founded in May 2006. Its prime objective is to produce a wide variety of quality plays that are long-established favourites. The Company’s inaugural production was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in July 2006 which enjoyed rave reviews and sell-out performances.

teatersWhere funds permit, the Company will support Winchelsea-based causes that enhance and promote the town and its community. The Company’s founder – Monica Janssens – studied literature and drama at university and is a muralist and a writer. She comes from a theatrical family. Her mother – who also resides in Winchelsea and is a professional artist – was a film actress and broadcaster at the BBC for over 20 years.

Earlier this year the Players performed ‘A Murder is Announced’, adapted for the stage from Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name and later this month will be performing Noël Coward’s comedy classic Blithe Spirit on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 August at The New Hall, Rectory Lane in Winchelsea. The play will be preceded by a confection of Noël Coward songs performed by local musician Elizabeth Norden at the start of the evening, and theatergoers will be able to sip champagne and enjoy a picnic in the adjacent fields whilst taking in the delightful scenery.

Local resident, experienced actress and producer Monica Janssens, set up The Winchelsea Players in the summer of 2006. Determined to put on Oscar Wilde’s comedy hit The Importance of Being Earnest, and frustrated by a lack of enthusiasm for the project from surrounding theatrical groups, she resolved to go it alone. The play performed to packed houses and universal acclaim.

Monica Janssens
Monica Janssens

Monica cut her acting teeth with the prestigious Hurlingham Players in London, and has played lead roles in a number of classic plays by writers such as Coward, Shakespeare, Molière, Aykbourn, Wilde, Priestley and Shaw. She has written, produced and performed in a number of revues and comes from a classical theatrical background.

Her director/actor grandfather Aziz Eid was, in 1923, the first person to introduce the legitimate theatre to Egypt, having studied at the Sorbonne and the Comedie Française in Paris. His wife Fatma Rushdi starred in her husband’s troupe and was trained by Aziz to be a classical actress. Before long Rushdi became the most famous Egyptian stage and film actress of her generation pioneering roles made famous by Sarah Bernhardt; and soon she became known as the Sarah Bernhardt of The Orient. Monica’s mother Aziza was practically brought up in her parents’ theatre, and has performed a number of acting roles throughout the course of her career. She was a broadcaster at the BBC for over twenty years taking part in plays and cultural programmes. Aziza is a professional artist; for over ten years she ran a highly successful art gallery in London. Aziza is responsible for all the art work produced by The Winchelsea Players. The Winchelsea Players are backed by some impressive Rye stalwarts. First, seasoned singer and actress – the glamorous and highly vivacious Pam Peters – does a mean line in eccentric old biddies including Miss Marple, Miss Prism, Madame Arcati and – next Spring – Sheridan’s comic masterpiece, Mrs Malaprop. Here she is as Miss Prism in the Players’ inaugural production The Importance of Being Earnest alongside talented Rye actor Peter Challans, as the Reverend Dr. Chasuble. Former Thomas Peacocke head Ray Fouks – whose amazing range of facial expressions has to be seen to be believed – will be playing skeptical Dr Bradman. Here is an example of Ray’s facial dexterity.

Ray Fookes
Ray Fookes

Others involved in Blithe Spirit include Sandra Mackenzie Smith, whose theatrical experience includes working with the ex-pat community in Egypt. Sandra doubles up as Mistress of The Robes and is extremely adept at running up complicated costumes for every event from the most unlikely materials. She is an invaluable support. Dan Treger, who acts with the Stables and the Ellen Barn Theatre at Small Hythe. Local nurse Alison Davies. And last but not least newcomer 12-year-old Jade Hart Jones, a pupil at Buckswood School. Gym regulars will be sorry that gifted Rye actress Anna Graham will not be putting in an appearance this time. Don’t worry: Anna is still highly committed to the Players and will be busy running the Box Office.

The Winchelsea Players are always interested in recruiting new members. Subscriptions are just £10 a year and acting experience is not essential – just a willingness to be committed and enjoy working as part of a friendly, highly professional team.The Players have set themselves some ambitious chalenges. This Winter the group tackles Shakespeare’s Henry V, joining forces with local schools in the area to make this truly a play for all ages from 12 to 75. Next Spring it will perform Sheridan’s comedy of manners The Rivals, followed by productions of Coward’s Private Lives in the Summer of 2008, and Agatha Christie’s spell-binding Witness for the Prosecution – made famous by Marlene Dietrich in the Hitchcock film of the same name – next Winter.

“Rye’s Own” August 2007

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