All about The Changeling Theatre

Rob Forknall reads from his great-great grandmother's Complete Words of Shakespeare

Rob Forknall reads from his great-great grandmother's Complete Words of Shakespeare - Credit: Archant

Kent touring company The Changeling Theatre is staging Alls’ Well and She Stoops to Conquer in some of the county’s loveliest venues this summer

The two plays being performed this year

The two plays being performed this year - Credit: Archant

There is something of the changeling child about Rob Forknall, artistic director of the theatre company that bears that name – the fairy child left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies. He’s certainly very different from his Chart Sutton dairy farming family and laughs “God knows where I came from!”

A clue might be in the much-treasured copy of The Complete Words of Shakespeare Maidstone-born Rob has with him, a legacy of his great-great grandmother, who must have loved the Bard as much as her future relative.

And despite our photoshoot consisting of just this one actor, Rob has also brought along a wardrobe-full of costumes and is happy to pose all over Great Comp, one of the 30 venues where The Changeling Theatre is performing its open-air tour of Kent this summer.

Stopping Rob posturing for our camera is another matter altogether, but I eventually manage to coax him from ruffles and brocade into 21st-century garb and the warmth of the potting shed, kindly loaned by the Great Comp gardeners who use it as a staff room.

“We were originally called The Querk, then in 1997 we became a charity and a registered company and somebody else had already got the name,” says Rob. “I wanted to call us Beautiful Freak, after the song by the Eels, because that’s what we actors are, but our marketing lady Jill said we should go for ‘changeling’, the child from Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

This year sees the company undertaking seven weeks of touring (in 2012 it was just four), after getting to September last year and realising there were no dates left. “People want our shows more and more, so we must be doing something right,” says Rob, adding that they’ve even had a request via Facebook to perform in Bedford.

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“We get proper fan love; people get together in groups, many always start at Boughton Monchelsea Place, where we open, then choose another venue, others are fiercely loyal to the same venue. We started doing two plays in 2015, and the venues and audiences loved it – they even get to vote for which plays we’ll do each year.”

There is a core of seven fully-paid actors, other performers being gleaned from the Rookie Scheme for young drama school graduates and the Apprentice Scheme, aimed at 17-year-olds from Kent (details opposite).

Four “very passionate” Trustees manage the business side and include the Chairman of Gullands Solicitors, Blair Gulland, who introduced Rob to renowned actor Dame Jane Suzman; the two got on famously and she is now The Changeling’s patron.

Dame Janet memorably came to a rehearsal of Two Gentlemen of Verona and immediately started directing. “We were in awe; that face, that voice – such authority. We really hope she will be at the opening night,” says Rob.

Changeling Theatre

Changeling Theatre was founded in 1997 and is committed to serving local, diverse audiences across the region. The company has also toured to venues beyond Kent, including three years at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Best known for its annual Summer Shakespeare tour, the Changeling players have staged As You Like It, Merry Wives of Windsor, Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and, this year, All’s Well That Ends Well.

The aim is to take theatre beyond the stage; past locations have included Chatham Historic Dockyard, The Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone, Rochester Cathedral and Aylesford Priory. But they are equally at home performing in parks, private homes and gardens and community centres.

Young talent from all backgrounds is nurtured, offering the rare chance to work alongside theatre professionals and help launch the careers of future writers, technicians and performers.

2016 Tour

The two plays chosen for the 2016 tour have been inspired by 2016 being a Leap Year which, according to legend dating back to the time of St Patrick, means women can take charge of their romantic intentions.

And that’s exactly what the women do in The Changeling’s choice of plays this year. In Alls’ Well that Ends Well, Helena pursues and eventually wins her Bertram against the odds and by rising above her class and status.

In She Stoops to Conquer, Kate’s deception of Marlowe by pretending to be of lower ranks in order to win his heart causes no end of mistaken identity.

In each play the class and gender roles are reversed, but watch out: the woman definitely gets her man.

Choose your 2016 venue at:

Changeling Apprentice scheme

The company is looking for 17-year old girl from Kent to be the 2016 Changeling Apprentice, someone who has aspirations to be an actor and would benefit from working alongside a professional cast and crew.

The successful apprentice will perform in both plays and must be prepared to travel to rehearsals in London and to venues across the South East.

Rehearsals start 31 May, with the tour finishing on 14 August. Auditions will take place on Shakespeare’s birthday, 23 April, at The Brook Theatre in Chatham.

A previous Changeling Apprentice, Ellie Kendrick, has performed in Game of Thrones and Being Human.

If you or someone you know fits the bill, email with a photo, their age, address, acting experience, whether they play a musical instrument and why they’d like to audition.

Deadline: 1 April 2016

Find out more

Great Comp, Comp Lane, Platt, Borough Green, Nr Sevenoaks TN15 8QS

Dyson’s Nurseries at Great Comp, open daily 25 Mar-31 Oct, 11am to 5pm

01732 885094 or