Big show double at Sterts to pull in Plymouth performers and audiences
THE moor is alive with The Sound of Music.
They can't match the thousand-year record of the songs sung around the Austrian Alps – there's been a 13-year gap since the Sterts performers last pulled on the wimples to try to solve a problem like Maria.
"The tunes are great," says director Steve Jefferies, explaining the appeal of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show, 54 years after the Broadway premiere. "It's a great story, too."
For those only familiar with the sugary 1965 film with Julie Andrews as Maria, the stage show is a surprise. "It is much more of an adventure, with more on the Nazis' takeover of Austria and the Von Trapps getting out.
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"There is more tension than the film, and less about the romance between Maria and the Baron."
The result is the same: wonderful escapism. That includes the director himself. Busy Steve's proper job is as a GP in Liskeard, and when he isn't dealing with patients or directing the cast, he's treading the stage himself.
He plays the Reverend John Hale in The Crucible. Arthur Miller's story based on the 17th-century Salem witch trials is another of the Sterts Theatre Company's other big productions this summer.
"I don't find doing both difficult," he says. "Switching between directing and acting is enjoyable. Going on stage and losing myself in a character is a release, not having responsibility for anybody else."
He is not alone: four of The Sound Of Music actors are also in The Crucible.
While Sound of Music was applauded by most critics from the start, the Crucible did not enjoy a good opening on Broadway in 1953. Reviews of the political work – an allegory of the anti-communist purges led by US Senator Joseph McCarthy – were predominantly hostile.
Nor was Miller himself too happy with that opening production, which he felt was stilted.
Still, the new work picked up the 1953 Tony Award for best play and is now regarded as one of the great works of US theatre.
The Sound of Music is more of a landmark for director Steve. "I've been doing shows since I was 16 at school and this is my 50th production," he says.
The busy summer for the moorland theatre, which also has home-made productions of Calendar Girls and a youth version of Les Miserables, is not over-demanding, he adds.
"We are lucky to have such a huge pool of talented performers, 150 to 200, for the in-house shows. They come from all over east Cornwall and Plymouth.
"They like the atmosphere at Sterts. Newcomers never feel intimidated. It is very inclusive."
The moorland venue has a special place in the affections of audiences, too, Steve says.
"They are very loyal. There is a large catchment. Between the Hall for Cornwall in Truro and the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, there is only us."
With the Plymouth theatre closed this summer for redevelopment, and a limited programme at TR2 in Cattedown, Sterts is exerting a larger-than-usual pull across the Tamar.
In fact the canopied outdoor auditorium has an appeal way beyond Devon.
Steve says: "We get a lot of holidaymakers who love the shows and we get a lot of return visitors who look to see what is on at Sterts before they book their holiday dates." Sterts is at Upton Cross, near Liskeard.
The Sound of Music opens tonight and returns on Saturday next week and on occasions until August 31. The Crucible runs on Thursday and Friday next week, and on and off to September 5.