Sewell Barn Theatre

Coordinates: 52°38′53″N 1°17′55″E / 52.648128°N 1.298707°E / 52.648128; 1.298707

Sewell Barn Theatre is located in the grounds of Sewell Park College (formerly the Blyth school, later the Blyth-Jex school) on Constitution Hill in Norwich, England. It is home to a popular amateur theatre company, with close historical links to the authoress Anna Sewell who wrote Black Beauty.

The auditorium

The auditorium features raked seating on three sides of an open acting space. This unusual staging helps to draw the audience deeply into the performance. (Ground level spaces can be provided for audience members with limited mobility.)

The auditorium also provides an unusal and convenient space for presentations, meetings and other private hire uses.

History

Originally the barn belonged to Clare House which was owned by Philip Sewell, a local benefactor, from 1864 to 1906.

Anna Sewell, author of the children’s story "Black Beauty", was Philip’s sister and lived in the White House, Spixworth Road, Spixworth. Philip owned a mare called Black Bess which used to draw his carriage along Spixworth Road and it might be supposed that Bess was the original inspiration for Black Beauty, and the barn a prototype for Black Beauty’s stable. The book was published by Jarrolds in 1877.

Philip Sewell died in 1906 and left his house and estate to the City of Norwich. Clare House became an Open Air School for city children suffering from respiratory complaints and the barn became their washroom, restroom and handicraft centre.

Since then the old hay barn has seen many uses. During the First World War it was used as a theatre when Catton residents put on a concert for troops billeted in the area. It was used for storage and also as a bicycle shed for girls of the Blyth School (which was constructed in 1929 in the grounds of Clare House). Clare House was demolished in 1970 and out of the rubble rose the foundations of part of the new Blyth Jex school. The barn later housed the very first school minibus.

During a visit to the school in 1974 it was suggested by Norfolk County Councillors that the barn might make an admirable small theatre. At the time the barn was a dirty, leaky building stacked with broken school furniture and other accumulated rubbish. It took several years for this building to be turned into a fully functioning small theatre.

The Sewell Barn Theatre Company

In 1980, the Sewell Barn Theatre Company was formed. Their first public production The Norfolk Furies was written and directed by the late Henry Burke (the first Artistic Director), and staged at the barn.

The company stages a number of productions every year, ranging from Shakespeare to Alan Ayckbourn. In February 2008 the company presented its 200th production The Winter's Tale.

Today

Membership of the Sewell Barn company is open to everyone, and workshops are open to non-members. Actor Nigel Havers the theatre's patron, provides a message of encouragement on the programmes. The audience route into the auditorium offers visitors a chance to see pictures relating to the Black Beauty story. Jarrolds, although no longer a publishing company, now provides the Box Office for the Sewell Barn Theatre.

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator
  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference and added a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com