The world's a stage in... Brentwood
PUBLISHED: 15:53 10 October 2014 | UPDATED: 15:53 10 October 2014
Carmel Jane Photography
Brentwood, formerly known as Burnt Wood, began as a small Saxon settlement cleared by fire in dense forest. Since then, it has seen a peasants' revolt and a martyr burnt at the stake and more recently the arrival of camera crews. Petra Hornsby takes a look at the Brentwood of today
In many ways, Brentwood is a fairly typical Essex town located within the London commuter belt. It has an attractive town centre with a mix of shops, restaurants, pubs and buildings of interest, including the Chapel of Thomas Becket and the modern Roman Catholic Cathedral.
The town and its residential developments are surrounded by lovely countryside and woodland. Thorndon Country Park is a great green space for the community to enjoy and its Gruffalo trail is a great hit with young families.
Brentwood is now largely recognised by the younger generation as being something of a working set for the TV series The Only Way is Essex, where cast members can often be spotted enjoying the night life and shops. There is even a TOWIE Trail for visitors to pay homage to their favourite stars, many of whom have boutiques or beauty salons here.
Maybe the drama that plays out in TOWIE is wholly appropriate, as Brentwood is a town that seems to enjoy its performing arts with more than 70 arts groups and societies listed locally.
These include dance, theatre, singing and classical music and Brentwood even has its own Arts Council and an annual Arts Festival.
The council works to promote all the artistic organisations and their activities and also acts as a co-ordinator between them. As well as the performing arts, there is also a strong interest in the visual arts, with an Arts Trail taking place annually, where local artists can showcase their work in venues across the town.
One venue that is essential to Brentwood’s busy thespians, musicians, dancers and singers is Brentwood ➤ Theatre. The theatre opened in 1993 after 15 years of fundraising by a small and enthusiastic group of theatre lovers who recognised that a town of Brentwood’s size really deserved a theatrical home.
Their aim was to provide the community with a variety of productions to suit all tastes and to bring the experience of theatre to the local audiences.
With the town being so rich in performing arts groups it is fortunate that there is a theatre available where productions can be staged. Currently, more than 40 such groups regularly use the venue for their shows.
One such group is the Brentwood Operatic Society (BOS) whose next production, Godspell, runs from November 4 to 8 at the theatre. BOS has been going for more than 100 years and is supported by both the Brentwood Arts Council and Brentwood Borough Council.
Administrator Mark Reed explains: ‘The theatre has been going for 21 years and was originally built for the Amateur Dramatic Society. Now we host dance shows, opera, concerts and we also have a craft fair in the pipeline – there’s something for everyone. It is particularly pleasing to see youngsters being able to perform here, where they can be inspired by the professional standards that the theatre can offer. Families and friends clearly enjoy it too.’
Mark, also a borough councillor, clearly has a huge enthusiasm and energy for the theatre and has been involved for the past 13 years. The theatre has a small number of employees but the theatre also relies on the hard work of volunteers.
‘We are fortunate to have lots of support and volunteers. In fact, it’s a full-time job organising them! Our volunteers bring invaluable talent and skills which benefit us all.’
Brentwood Theatre is owned and maintained by a registered charity, Brentwood Theatre Trust, and is also very well supported by Essex County Council and Brentwood Borough Council. It still relies on other donations, though, including some via the Friends Scheme.
One such friend is home-grown talent and past star of the Brentwood Theatre stage, Stephen Moyer, now a star of the hit series True Blood.
‘Stephen is a great supporter of ours and has brought in substantial income to help fund the project and running costs,’ adds Mark. ‘The whole town, but particularly the theatre, is very proud of his success.’
So what lies ahead for the theatre in the immediate and longer term future?
‘This autumn we have a full programme packed with more than 100 shows with something to suit all tastes. In December we will begin a run of our festive play, Danny the Champion of the World, performed by the Brentwood Theatre Company.’
Mark also has plans to extend the theatre’s links into the community.
‘We are looking at employing an education outreach officer, taking a bit of what we do into schools in order to engage young people with the performing arts. I really hope this project takes off and we can reach the youngsters who are gifted and talented, but who perhaps haven’t yet had a chance to discover their talents.’
So next time you plan a visit to Brentwood for a shopping trip, or perhaps to spot a reality TV star, take a good look around you. With all the singing, dancing and acting going on, you might just be looking at the future stars of screen or stage.