CAVALCADE - A BACKSTAGE STORY – 35 YEARS ON

Special showing of the BBC documentary

TINDLE STUDIO, FARNHAM MALTINGS, SUNDAY OCTOBER 30th 3.00pm

Tickets £10.00 Box Office 01252 745444

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            


In 1979 the Royal Shakespeare Company were in financial trouble and could only afford one major new production in their London season instead of the five it had planned to add to the Shakespeare plays in repertory.

Trevor Nunn was in serious need of an epic piece which would 

tick this box. He knew the rights to Noel Coward’s Cavalcade 

were coming up and was seriously considering it as his “production of the decade”.

However, he had always harboured a guilt for having neglected the “wonderful and so dramatizable” works of Charles Dickens 

on stage. It was timely therefore that he found himself visiting the Gorky Theatre in Leningrad and felt disgraced that they were presenting The Pickwick Papers to such critical acclaim.

After much deliberation with co-director John Caird the merits of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby became increasingly apparent as a glorious tale to tell.

At exactly the same time in the REDGRAVE theatre in Farnham David Horlock was agonising over the best way to adapt a stage version of Nicholas Nickleby.

When the RSC production came to the Aldwych I went with David and sat enthralled through its eight and a half hours of magic 

and then went back and saw it a second time.

This theatrical tour-de-force was to force David into giving up his idea of staging this particular Dickens but, undaunted, he was determined to discover an alternative epic with which to involve the community.

The timing was perfect, the rights to Noel Coward’s Cavalcade were up for grabs and the Coward Estate granted permission 

for its first staging to this small Surrey Theatre.

The extraordinary coincidence and connection between these 

two entirely different pieces only came to light after the first production of Cavalcade, Trevor Nunn confessed his first intention was to stage Cavalcade and similarly David confessed to Trevor Nunn that his first thought for a large cast play was to adapt Nicholas Nickleby!

And so thirty-five years ago the Redgrave theatre under the inspirational David Horlock, broke a number of theatrical records by obtaining permission to stage the first Cavalcade production ever seen since 1931. A cast of 12 professional actors and 300 extra performers gripped Farnham and its environs in a Cavalcade fever which reached epidemic proportions. Everybody who saw it or was involved in it found it a memorable and moving experience.



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Cavalcade – seaside scene with the late  JOHN HUGHES as Uncle George

Photo: Tony Grant


Stars and VIPs flocked to visit the Redgrave and its 362 seats were

full to the rafters, night after night.

For example I remember one memorable matinee when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh turned up without booking, (it was their dress rehearsal of Cats and they had escaped for the afternoon). They ended up being accommodated on one of the Red Cross’ seats in the aisle and the lighting box. 

News of the success of this epic reached the media who jumped on the bandwagon by immediately planning a two-part documentary of the making and execution of this extraordinary and courageous event which required military precision, skill and total dedication from its production team. The first six- week run had come to an end but it was clear a second run would have to be planned later in the year.

The showing of Cavalcade - A Backstage Story – 35 Years On has a triple purpose. It is a public re- showing of a documentary which was shot on film and which, itself, won the Queen’s Award for Industry. This documentary beautifully illustrates and defines what can be achieved in a repertory theatre in a Surrey town. It reminds us that this great collaborative artistic endeavour was conceived in a building which is now no longer available to the community.

Secondly, this film also serves as a lasting tribute to the memory and vision of David Horlock, an extraordinarily inspirational regional theatre director whose life was tragically cut short by a motor accident ten years later.

Thirdly this event will serve as a fundraiser for Farnham Rep who exist to produce professional theatre in venues in and around Farnham. Two of its current trustees are original members of the 1981 Cavalcade production team

After the documentary there will be a questions and answers session with original cast and production team members in order to share memories and anecdotes.


Brenda Longman
Artistic Director, Farnham Rep 

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