A touring theatre company which has newly moved to Swanage hopes to play its part in helping to put the town on the map for national shows.
Kate Ashmead and Martin Parsons run Honalee Media together, which stages family entertainment theatre for children aged two to eight years old, and more adult fare under the umbrella of the Crime and Comedy Theatre Company.
The Mowlem, at the heart of entertainment in Swanage
Sharing a love of live theatre with the town
Having moved to Swanage a year ago, the couple reached out to The Mowlem wanting to share their love of live theatre with the town and especially to give young children their first taste of the stage.
As a result their interactive adventure show Sally’s Spooky Holiday will play at The Mowlem for three dates in August 2023.
There will also be showings of their seasonal production Santa’s Christmas Wish in December and a murder mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles starring former Doctor Who Colin Baker in spring 2024.
A production of Ground Rules, the last comedy written by creator of TV classics Rising Damp, Duty Free and Only When I Laugh, Eric Chappell, may also be able to incorporate Swanage in its national tour.
Another string to Honalee’s bow, interactive evenings on stage with stars as diverse as classic Blue Peter host Peter Purves, All Creatures Great and Small vet Peter Davison and Emmerdale actress Louise Jameson, could also be an ideal fit for The Mowlem.
While Kate and Martin will continue to spend three months of their year touring the length and breadth of Britain with their various shows, they hope to spend more time in Swanage playing their part in building up the town’s theatrical name.
Martin Parsons and Kate Ashmead in their office in Swanage
Easy to add The Mowlem to a tour schedule
Kate, whose acting work included everything from Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit to playing Jake in the BBC children’s hit Tweenies, said:
“We are genuinely so happy, having made our move to Swanage, that the more we can work locally, the better, and we would absolutely love to develop the relationship we have with The Mowlem.
“It has had its summer reps in the past and we would love to work collaboratively with The Mowlem at some point in the future, to utilise our skills and benefit the community.
“If we can bring some shows with known actors to The Mowlem, then it might also appear on the radar of other theatre companies that could have overlooked it in the past.
“National tours generally take companies from Southampton to Bournemouth to Poole, then on to Weymouth and Exeter, but it would be very easy to add The Mowlem into a tour schedule. It’s an exciting challenge, to make more people want to come to The Mowlem.”
Colin Baker (Doctor Who) and Terry Molloy (The Archers) rehearse Hound of the Baskervilles
“I can’t imagine watching a play on my mobile”
Martin, an experienced writer, director, actor and presenter who has appeared in EastEnders and recorded audio adventures for Doctor Who, said:
“It is so important to engage with live theatre. TVs are so massive these days, it’s a different world where you can stream whatever entertainment you want, whenever you want.
“But I can’t imagine watching a play on my phone or laptop, whereas sitting in the same room as 200 other people having the same reaction to live events on stage, sharing the experience and emotions as an audience – that’s what makes live theatre so special.
“The Mowlem is such a vital space in Swanage, if it wasn’t here the town would have a very different flavour. It’s a wonderful theatre and communal space, and the more we can shout about it the better.
“I’m really pleased to see that The Mowlem is widening its agenda, bringing stand-up comedians down to Swanage and adding children’s shows to its repertoire.
“The auditorium is really lovely, they have a fantastic bar there and it is wonderful that it wants to be at the heart of the community and involve the whole town as much as it can.”
The team is always busy at work on the Santa show over Easter
Work on Santa show is finished by May
The couple has spent spring preparing their Santa Show for 2023 and by May the show has been written, the sets made, the costumes bought, the wigs sorted and the actors cast, so now they can turn their attention to future projects.
In 2024, they have the first licence to perform The Lion and the Unicorn by Robin Hawdon, an imagining of what happened at a dinner party between Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain and their wives six weeks after World War II had started.
To balance that, there is the light sitcom style comedy Ground Rules, which is already booked to play at 20 theatres from Weymouth to Northumberland in autumn 2023, part of the touring lifestyle which sees Kate and Martin cover thousands of miles every year.
Both spent most of their careers as jobbing actors until about 10 years ago when they set up their own company with a children’s theatre show called Marty McDonald’s Farm which they took on the road.
Its success led to a dozen different children’s shows, all of which toured nationally, before they set up another branch of their business called the Crime and Comedy Company – commercial repertoire theatre more targeted towards adults.
Kate and Martin (centre back) next to producer Louise Jameson with the touring cast of Revenge
Touring life is exciting but tiring
“We spend about three months of the year away from home, though not all in one stretch. We have established a good relationship with many theatres, but every time we go into a new one it will have its own challenges and quirks.
“It is exciting though also tiring being on the road a lot, but we love it and it’s our world. Also, because we do it together it’s like having your home with you as your partner is with you, and it’s also good to be able to see so many different lovely places in the UK.”
For both of them, the privilege to introduce children to their first taste of theatre – and hopefully the start of a lifelong love of the stage – is what makes their lifestyle so special.
Sally the Scarecrow shares the stage with a ghostly intruder
“Daft but vital ways to explore the world”
“We love seeing tots on their first theatre visit – we are not so far removed from them because they are used to playing like we do, imagining things and making up things and dressing up, all these daft but vital ways they have to explore their world.
“We write the plays like they are adventures in a way which empowers children – they feel they are one step ahead of the adults on stage and are working out solutions to their problems. The children don’t follow the story, they lead it.
“We don’t do passive shows where the children are expected to sit down and be quiet, we encourage them to shout and sing, join in with actions, and it’s lovely to have that interaction and engagement with the children.
“With all of our children’s shows we also do a meet and greet after the 45-minute show so they can have their photos taken with the characters and puppets.
“Some people would say it’s a luxury to take children to the theatre, but we think it’s an educational extension of their play, a fun, creative, imaginative thing where they become part of an experience.”
Sally’s Spooky Holiday plays at The Mowlem on Monday 7th, 14th and 21st August 2023 at 2 pm and Santa’s Christmas Wish will be in Swanage on Tuesday 19th December 2023.
- Keep up to date with further projects from Kate and Martin at their Crime and Comedy Theatre Company website
- All events at The Mowlem are listed on its website