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Henfield Theatre Company


4,5,6 January 2018

The following is the text of correspondence received from Martha Harron, to our Director Lesley Barnes (7 January 2018).

Martha is the daughter of Don Harron who created the musical version of Anne of Green Gables. She travelled from London with her daughter Zoe especially to see our show...

I can't thank you and your splendid team enough for the performance my daughter Zoe and I saw on Saturday, all the more amazing for the many constraints you must have been dealing with. Enormous amounts of work went into it, most of it unpaid but all of it much appreciated. I felt like a fraud to be treated so kindly by everyone at Henfield Hall, having done LESS than nothing to create this wonderful musical: when my father retrieved the family's hardbound copy of Anne of Green Gables to write the original script for the show, he discovered that his eldest daughter Martha had carved out the interior to hide her cigarettes in.

This is the report I wrote to my sisters Mary and Kelley last night:

The people around us must have wondered why these two weird women were crying throughout the performance of a feel-good family musical, but perhaps our Canadian accents gave them a hint. The following report will be in no particular order, just as things occur to me.

Speaking of Canadian accents, to get a minor point out of the way, I think the Anne and the Matthew could have survived a few rounds of Canadians playing Spot the Foreigner - very impressive! One sounded Australian and a few just sounded 100% British, but none of them sounded American and most sounded at least vaguely Canadian, so all in all well done on the accent front. This is the first time I have been able to see Anne performed in a small venue and it was exhilarating. I'll bet that's part of the reason Papa was willing to travel long distances to see small town and school productions. We've always had good seats in a large venue, so the performances we witnessed in close-up also had to play to the long-distant back row.

On Friday the girl playing Anne developed a nose bleed. There were no understudies so panic ensued, but the young woman playing the store clerk, Lucilla, who had auditioned for the part of Anne, had been to every rehearsal and already knew the part. A shuffle of smaller parts ensued and they managed to pull it off. The main Anne was back the next day so we didn't see the replacement as Anne but we can attest from her performance as Lucilla that she really can sing. I made a point of congratulating her when we went backstage.

The main Anne, Ellie Rayward, did look like an orphan so Papa would have approved, and she was truly impressive - excellent acting and beautiful singing – and only 14! I'm sure there is no shortage of Canadian girls who could play the part, but I wouldn't hesitate to put this girl on stage in Charlottetown.

The Matthew was adorable, could really sing and, as mentioned, even sounded Canadian. I would have wept buckets when he died anyway, but he deserved my tears. I really enjoyed Miss Stacey singing Learn Everything: her enthusiasm for knowledge seemed genuine.

The small orchestra sounded great and Zoe, who does have a teaching certificate in piano after all, particularly commended the flautist. Those songs really hold up! We both loved the costumes, including the school pageant outfits. Matthew was in cords, which suited him, and the boys were all in overalls.

On arrival, Zoe and I had been asked to introduce ourselves to the front of house, which we did, and were promptly handed tickets for closer seats and asked to come backstage at the interval. They asked what drink we would like during intermission and Zoe had the inspiration to ask whether they had Papa's drink of choice, ginger ale - which they managed to come up with! They asked us to pose for photographs backstage with the cast, which we agreed to do, while of course protesting that we hadn't contributed a thing and didn't deserve to be fêted in any way.

I'm so glad we went.


Report  by Dee Sharpe - NODA Regional Representative

What a wonderful and surprising evening I had when I went to see Anne of Green Gables at Henfield Hall.  Not having done my homework (although I know the classic novel) I did not realise it was a musical, so it was an unexpected treat especially with the wonderful orchestra providing the accompaniment to songs such as ‘Ice Cream’, ‘Wondrin’’ and ‘Humble Pie’ – my particular favourites.

Enchanting, energetic, charming and uplifting are all words that describe this performance, and this list is not exhaustive. This fabulous show was clearly the result of the outstanding teamwork and professionalism of this gifted group.

The large cast included adults of all ages and children; and each actor played their part wholeheartedly creating a real feel-good factor.

I have to mention the immense detail and work that went into the set design and changes. An image such as the railway station, the Cuthbert’s cottage, or schoolhouse were projected onto a curtain.  In front of this a small scene occurred while the set behind the curtain was transformed. Anne’s upstairs bedroom was a lovely touch with the ladder leading outside where she joined Matthew for ‘Humble Pie.’

The musical is based on the classic Canadian novel and tells the story of Anne Shirley, who has left her orphanage to live with Marilla and her brother Matthew in Avonlea a small town on Prince Edward Island. However they are expecting a boy to help on the farm not a fiery-tempered, imaginative chatterbox like Anne (with an ‘e’). The tale unfolds to show how, despite various scrapes, Anne wins the hearts of Matthew and Marilla and the entire town. 

Mentioning some names unfortunately means excluding others, due to such a large cast; so before I do, I must reiterate that every actor played their part to perfection and the entire ensemble worked as one to produce an exceptional performance. 

Ellie Rayward brought to life the whimsical, harum-scarum, firecracker Anne Shirley that I imagined years ago when I read the book – thank you. She is also a skilled vocalist with a clear sweet strong voice and an engaging delivery. 

I have to mention here, that on the previous night, Ellie was taken ill at the last minute which meant that Phoebe Ralph had to stand in while director Lesley Barnes took Phoebe’s role of Lucilla. Although I did not see the performance I have heard many accounts of what a wonderful performance she gave, so well done Phoebe, for a fantastic job in saving the show.

Nicky Haines as practical, brusque but gold-hearted Marilla, perplexed by Anne’s wild enthusiasms and uncontrolled furies and Martin Love as the soft, kind-hearted doting father figure Matthew, glad to guide and champion her were perfectly cast. The interplay between the three was convincing, generating empathy for each and I particularly loved Matthew and Anne’s ‘Humble pie’ duet.

Ewan Fairchild mixed vulnerability, boyish charm and bolshiness to create a perfect lovelorn Gilbert Blythe while Isabelle Lucy-Fernandez sparkled, as loyal, funny best friend Diana. Anne Stern played a cracking Mrs Lynde while Charlie Hoddell bustled beautifully as Diana’s protective Mama Mrs Barry,  Isabelle Cryer played progressive school mistress Miss Stacy with gusto, humour and a fabulous voice.

The choreography of the picnic races with the amount of cast on stage, the standard of singing in ensemble, duet and solo performances, and the acting skills of the group as well as the costumes and set made my guest (my sister) ask how much everyone got paid. She was stunned to discover it was an amateur production so huge credit goes to director Lesley Barnes.

This story could easily be overly treacly and sentimental but because Anne is clearly not perfect, with a wild imagination, a furious temper and runaway tongue.  Marilla, brusque but clearly good-hearted and every character had human and humorous traits it was pure wholesome entertainment; and a joy to watch this singing and dancing delight.

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