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1986: Curtain comes down on celebrated Ansty Barn Theatre as James Forsyth bids sad farewell

Action on stage at the Ansty Barn Theatre

Scottish playwright James Forsyth, was born on March 3, 1913 in Glasgow and received his training at the Glasgow School of Art. He was the first playwright-in-residence at the Old Vic, where he became the protégé of Guthrie, Richardson, Olivier and Michael St. Denis. His long and prolific career included 16 plays about historical figures such as Tolstoy and Napoleon as well as fictional characters such as "Trog". During his impressive career he wrote ten more plays for television and 18 for BBC Radio. Among his greatest international successes are The Other Heart, Heloise and Emmanuel. In latter years he returned to poetry and painting for his creative outlet. He died on 16 February 2005 in West Sussex, England.

THE LEADER week ending August 30th 1986

The Barn’s final curtain call

Sad farewell for and Ansty’s playwright and author

An era ends at the old place, Ansty, this month when the final curtain falls on the Ansty Barn Theatre.

Owner and playwright James Forsyth 73, will say goodbye to 10 years of theatrical history as he leaves the 17th century barn in the hands of his good friends Michael and Jackie Dykes from Cuckfield.

Theatre came to the barn on December 9th 1972 when James and his wife, Louise, decided to put on a play for a few friends.

James Forsyth at The Barn Theatre

Said James: "it was all about old Sussex rituals and a celebration of the new life I hoped we had found.

“We bought the barn the year before and I was determined to put it to a good use. It was a natural theatre although it took a lot of hard work from us and our friends and neighbours to make it so.

“The first play was so successful we just carried on. I don't think we so much turned the barn into a theatre as that it turned us back into the real theatre - a magical place where all sorts of things could happen.

Invitation to the First production at the Barn in 1972

“For the opening I had the stage completely blacked out with two doves on the platform. Suddenly we switched on a Spotlight and the two dogs flew into it.

“It was very impressive and the audience loved it. I couldn't have had a better opening scene. It was very symbolic.

The Barn is very special to me. Each time I go in I remember the plays we performed.

And as James’ reputation grew so he and his wife found themselves playing host to London critics and American visitors as well as devoted theatregoers of mid Sussex.

I think they liked the sheer naturalness of everything," said James. "There were wooden beams, old bench seats and some draughts but the audience kept coming”.

Most of the plays were written by James and many of them were taken up in London and New York and some were broadcast by the BBC.

“Of course my successes were marvellous, but nothing was so exciting as a first night in my very own theatre when all my friends were there.

“It isn't easy to leave but one must always move on. I shall always have pleasant memories of the place. It has been a tremendous 10 years.”

In 1986 James Forsyth wrote a book about his theatre years called Back to the Barn and published by Grainloft books, Ansty, Haywards Heath.

James Forsyth with his book 'Back to the Barn'

Note: For some Cuckfield residents James Forsyth will be chiefly remembered for his 'romantic' paintings of the town which decorate several rooms in the Queen's Hall.

FORSYTH, James (Law). British, b. 1913. Genres: Plays/Screenplays, Poetry, Biography. Career: Dramatist-in-residence, Old Vic Co., London, 1946-48, and Howard University, Washington, D.C., 1961-62, and Florida State University, 1964; Director, Tufts University Program in London, 1967-71; Artistic Director, Forsyths' Barn Theatre, Ansty, Sussex, 1972-83. Publications: Emmanuel: A Nativity Play, 1952; Three Plays: The Other Heart, Heloise, Adelaise, 1957; The Road to Emmaus: A Play for Eastertide, 1958; Joshua, 1959; (adaptor) Brand, by Ibsen, 1960; Dear Wormwood, 1961, as Screwtape, 1973; (adaptor) Cyrano de Bergerac, by E. Rostand, 1968; The Last Journey, 1972; Defiant Island, 1975; Tyrone Guthrie: A Biography, 1976; Back to the Barn: The Story of a Country Theatre; On Such a Day as This (poetry), 1989; From Time to Time (poetry), 1990; also radio and TV plays: If My Wings Heal (play), 1968; A Woman There Will Be (poetry), 1991; The Clearing Where the Cuckoo Came (poetry), 1992. Address: Grainloft, Ansty, Near Haywards Heath, Sussex RH17 5AG, England.

Photos: Action on stage at the Ansty Barn Theatre by Cuckfield's Sealed Knot rehearsing for a London Hotel cabaret scene c1973; The Barn in Ansty 1986; James Forsyth with his book in 1986

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