The English Theatre in Utrecht. Part 1

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I recently had the pleasure of conducting an online interview with Esther van der Werf, who is the 26 years old joint founder of the English Theatre in Utrecht. They wanted to connect people of different nationalities in the city through a shared passion for theatre. Their aim is that everyone should be able to experience theatre in the beautiful city of Utrecht.

Esther is from Groningen originally. She has moved a couple of times but Utrecht definitely was the first place where she genuinely felt at home like in Groningen.

Esther van der Werf

She feels like many of us do that Utrecht offers the intimacy of a small village but is at the same time able to offer the cultural experience and diverse community of a big city. She feels it has such a nice and friendly community, and that there are many fun things to do with a lot of great restaurants, bars and cultural venues and the beautiful buildings, small streets and canals with bridges still amaze her every day.

I asked Esther to tell us about the history of the English Theatre in Utrecht. She explained that over a year ago, in February 2017, she and some friends were having drinks at the bar at Cultuurcentrum Parnassos where they had just finished a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream. They were an international cast and had enjoyed working with each other and getting to know each others cultures so much. She knew there were not many possibilities for internationals to get involved in theatre in Utrecht, because most groups only offer Dutch language productions. So she, together with Marly Terwisscha van Scheltinga, Anneloes Vermeer and Alexandra Elroy decided to go for it and set up an English language theatre group.

Their bold mission statement was to connect internationals and locals in Utrecht through an English language theatre.

Right from the start she realised that it was a challenging project, but they were so incredibly proud that so many people signed up and attended the auditions for their very first production, Pride and Prejudice. Even better was that the tickets were sold out within a week and it proved to them that Utrecht wanted an English theatre!

This week and next they have auditions for their next production; Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. It will be playing in the theatre on 8, 9 and 10 February next year.

I was interested to know about Esther’s work at the theatre. She is the chairwoman and producer of English Theatre Utrecht. She is responsible for the general management of the theatre group and productions, she has to find the financial resources that they need to put the shows on and she handles all the external relationships and PR.

Volunteers are critical to the English Theatre. At the moment, they have a board consisting of three volunteers Anneloes Vermeer, treasurer, Marly Terwisscha van Scheltinga, stage manager and Esther. There are also many people who are always willing to assist with things. During the performance of Pride and Prejudice, they had 3 volunteers each day to help with things like welcoming the audience and bar services. All of the actors are volunteers as well and they all go the extra kilometre by helping with things like finding or creating costumes and props as well as preparing the stage for the performances.

For the next production, they are going to work with a voluntary production team consisting of around 3 – 5 people. Esther says

“It’s a great feeling that people care about our organisation and mission, and that they are so willing to support us with our work.”

Being the English Theatre in Utrecht, all of the plays are in English.

“For our first year, we wanted to bring a story to the stage that many people know and is close to their hearts. We love feelgood theatre, theatre that makes people leave the theatre with a smile. And stories that touch people and that will make them laugh.”

Furthermore, Esther thinks that it is important to choose a play with many interesting characters, so all of the actors will be challenged during the production.

“Our director Alexandra Elroy came up with Pride and Prejudice and of course I was enthusiastic right away; who does not know this story with its fantastic characters. Alexandra made a great adaptation with which she remained close to the original, gave all the characters the spotlight they deserve, captured many different feelings like romance, frustration, hatred, sadness and joy, and turned it something that would fit the great intimate atmosphere of the theatre we played at Theaterhuis De Berenkuil. “

I have just spent the weekend watching Pride and Prejudice on TV. My wife watched all 6 episodes back to back from the BBC version with Colin Firth as Darcy. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. You in Utrecht have missed a treat if you didn’t go, even if it was even half as good! I expect the actors were falling over themselves to be named Darcy or Lizzie!

This years production seems to be completely different just as they wanted.

“Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express had just been playing in the cinema and was a great success. We started researching detectives and loved Death on the Nile, because of its interesting and funny characters (including detective Hercule Poirot) and the really cool plot twist at the end of the story. No, we won’t give it away. Come check it out!”

Now that is an invitation you can’t turn down! We will continue this interview at a later date.

Pride & Prejudice photographs courtesy of photographer Leonard Schmal.

Esther van der Werf gives permission for her photograph to be shown.

Will you be visiting the new production next year?

What English language performances would you like to see?

Would you like to be involved? Contact the Theatre via their Facebook page

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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