The Arches Theatre is preparing for its last performance of the season – and this one’s all for charity.
The quirky venue, underneath real-life railway arches in Clifton Reynes near Olney, is putting on ‘More Ripping Yarns’, an adaption of the popular 1970s BBC TV comedy series. All money raised from the production will go to the National Brain Appeal, a charity close to the heart of owner David Pibworth, whose late father Ivor Pibworth and uncle, Jim Parkin, suffered from Dementia.
‘Ripping Yarns’ writer Michael Palin lost his writing partner Terry Jones to it too so together they are raising money for the cause.
The 1st-3rd September production completes a packed programme of shows throughout August which includes an Abba tribute night, an evening with musician Richard Digance, and the dramas Pygmalion and Dracula.
The Arches has to get its schedule of events completed during August because the site of the venue – on the other side of the river from the Victorian bathing steps on the Recreation Ground – is liable to flooding during the winter months.
“If it gets bad, the water can be up to your knees,” says David. “And the approach road can get very muddy too, even if it’s not flooded, so we just stick to the summer for our shows.”
The venue has proved a popular go-to place for theatre lovers due mainly to its laid back approach, easy feel, and close proximity to the stage and actors. There’s not always a bar available but customers can bring their own picnic and drinks and many people make a full night of it, enjoying the scenery and warm weather, as well as the shows themselves.
“Most production companies playing here take my advice and don’t offer a bar, although ETC with ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ do. For me it’s more about ‘bring what you want’; that means your own chairs, your picnic and your icebox of beer and wine. That’s one of our great selling points.”
The venue’s history is another draw too. The old arches formed part of the Northampton – Olney – Bedford railway in the early part of last century and it proved a popular and well-used line until it was closed in 1962.
In the 1950s there was even a spectacular train derailment which left an engine lying down the side of one bank (pictured above right).
The bridge went across agricultural land that became part of David’s father’s farm. The family still farm the land today.
“When we were kids we used to walk across the bridge and play under it,” says David. “We knew that it was once used by trains and it was quite exciting. Later on I remember looking at the arches and remembering the trains, and I released I wanted to clear it out and turn it into something – such as a small theatre.
“I thought we probably needed a few chainsaws to clear it out but I was wrong – we needed tractors and mechanical diggers. We brought a lot of earth and foliage out but the result is the wonderful outdoor theatre you see today.
“I have stood on the top and looked north and south and tried to imagine the trains going past. It wasn’t all that long ago that steam trains were rushing through here and you know, sometimes, when it’s quiet and there’s nobody around, I can almost hear them coming along the track.”
That sounds like the premise for a good stage play…
Abba Sensation appear at The Arches on Friday 12th August, Richard Digance is Saturday 13th, Pygmalion is Sunday 21st, Dracula is Saturday and Sunday 27th-28th, and Ripping Yarns is Thursday to Saturday 1st-3rd September.