D-Day 75: Portsmouth's New Theatre Royal steps back to 1944 for a night of variety entertainment

British troops embarking at Southsea to take part in D-Day. Picture by AFP/Getty Images
British troops embarking at Southsea to take part in D-Day. Picture by AFP/Getty Images

Singers, actors and performers from both sides of the English Channel are coming together in a special one-off show to celebrate and commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Packed with stirring stories, powerful performances and laughter, this show will step back in time for a side-ways look at the bravery and spirited nature of those involved in those historic events.

The evening actually had its genesis at last summer’s Victorious Festival when New Theatre Royal had its tent opposite Portsmouth Twinning Association.

Artistic director Scott Ramsay says: ‘I got chatting to Andrew Starr, and it got me thinking. We got chatting about how we’ve got strong connections to Caen in Normandy and Duisburg in Germany, but with D-Day coming up this year, I wondered if there was something we could do.

‘He was saying there was this fantastic choir from Normandy called Veni Vidi Canto and they were looking to come over anyway.’

From there Scott suggested having them over and creating an evening around the D-Day anniversary, and to mark the venue's armed forces heritage.

‘This was the theatre of the army – all of the theatres were supported by the services, but I was intrigued that we’d quite quickly forgotten the history of the city with the number of garrisons here, and army personnel based here.

‘I thought we should be celebrating D-Day, not just from a “Hurrah, job well done!” perspective, but also the perspective of Portsmouth and this theatre, and that the people of Portsmouth went through all of that, and rebuilt it to become the city we are now.’

The show will be made up of two contrasting acts.

‘The first act is very much about what happened in the war and up to D-Day, but done from the perspective of Portsmouth and looking at it from a tangent – through personal stories, people who lived here, letters, and themes that capture their mood. It’s quite moving, it’s quite evocative, and then in act two we start celebrating that peace has been achieved and that Portsmouth can rebuild, and not just that – people coming back to the city.

‘It’s very much celebrating us as a theatre and the kind of acts we would have had on at the time - that variety-style theatre that was big at the time. We also wanted to have a bit of fun. In act one we wanted to pay homage to all of the efforts, we also want the evening to be entertaining as well and we want people to go away uplifted.’

The cast will be led by Portsmouth favourite Tom Swift, who is joined by Veni Vidi Canto, Portsmouth’s own Becki Short, Red Sauce Theatre in a specially-commissioned piece, Fine Voice Chorus, Sian Goddard Academy of Dance, and more.

Scott adds: ‘I didn’t want it to be two hours of just remembering people we’d lost, I also wanted it to be an uplifting celebration of what we had achieved, and I wanted it to be something different to what’s on offer elsewhere.’

For a fully immersive experience staff will be dressed in period uniforms and the audience are also invited to wear vintage outfits.

‘This is a venue that’s 160 years old and has been through all of those wars. When you walk into the venue you do feel like you’re going back in time.’

Plus there’s good news for veterans: ‘Anyone who’s ex-services, and their families, and it doesn’t matter what generation, can come for free – we very much want to tap into that connection we’ve had historically.’

D-DAY 75: A CELEBRATORY CONCERT

New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

Sunday, June 9

newtheatreroyal.com