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Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells hosts English Touring Opera with a former Skinners School pupil producer


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The arts suffered badly during the pandemic, but for English Touring Opera - as their name suggests - things had to come to a complete halt. That is, until now.

The company will bring their very first touring production since the pandemic started to Tunbridge Wells next week - and it will be a particularly special moment for producer Matthew Turbett.

English Touring Opera rehearsing Amadigi, which will be performed at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells Picture: Bruno Miles
English Touring Opera rehearsing Amadigi, which will be performed at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells Picture: Bruno Miles

A former Skinners School pupil, Matthew and the company are bringing a lesser known Handel opera to the Assembly Hall Theatre on Tuesday, November 9.

But the entire tour is a breathe of fresh air for a company made to be out on the road, who weren't able to for 18 months.

He said: "Yes, it’s been quite a challenging 18 months for everyone. When Covid first hit we were only one week into our major spring tour. Looking back, it seems ludicrous that we thought this might have only lasted for six weeks."

But, as closures began to bite, and the chance to perform was missing, the company, like many, diversified.

"In the autumn of 2020, we produced a set of shows that comprised of one singer, one dancer and one pianist. We rehearsed and managed to perform in Snape Maltings and Tunbridge Wells, but the November lockdown kicked in just as we were about to open at the Hackney Empire in London. But in place of live performances, we filmed the shows at Hackney and they were broadcast on Marquee TV."

Matthew Turbett, producer with English Touring Opera
Matthew Turbett, producer with English Touring Opera
English Touring Opera in rehearsal Picture: Bruno Miles
English Touring Opera in rehearsal Picture: Bruno Miles
Amadigi by the English Touring Opera Picture: English Touring Opera
Amadigi by the English Touring Opera Picture: English Touring Opera

Amadigi, which they bring to the Tunbridge Wells theatre, is a tale of the nauseous highs and savage lows of love, following a group of young adults as they’re enchanted by a sorceress. And its lesser-known status was a conscious choice.

"Typically, ETO presents at least two different operas during a tour," he said. "Because of Covid, we decided that in our return to live performance we should focus on the one opera, so we’re touring a relatively under-performed opera."

"It’s been such a long time since we’ve been able to perform in front of audiences. Not to say that we didn’t enjoy performing to cameras and making digital work, but this is what we do best and it’s great to be back."

Matthew's family still live in the area, in Uckfield, so he will be able to combine the tour date with seeing family.

However, his time at Skinners didn't cement his artistic ambitions, as he was not certain of what he wanted to do then.

Picture: English Touring Opera
Picture: English Touring Opera

"At Skinners I always loved music and drama, as well as the sciences. It was a great environment that nurtured those passions, but I don’t think I ever really knew how to ‘get into’ theatre producing."

The show also features another local, Christopher Walker, who plays the small but important role of the boy, Orgando. The role is performed by a young local singer at each venue, selected through an open audition.

To book tickets at £22.50 for the show, click here.

For more Stage news across Kent click here.

Read more: All the latest news across Tunbridge Wells

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