The Barn Theatre, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

Joan Wilson

Joan participated in 75 productions at the Barn.

We have heard of the recent death of Joan Wilson at her retirement home in the Isle of Wight, where she had moved to be near her daughter’s family.

Joan and her whole family were very quickly involved in the activities at the Barn from the word go. She did box office for our very first production Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be in October 1969, and two months later played Andrée in Gigi. From then until her final role as Production Secretary on The Wind in the Willows in December 2012, her name regularly appears playing roles, and just as often as one or other of box office, Production Secretary, Stage Manager and Prompter in most seasons.

She played animals: Nana in Peter Pan (1988) and the Cat in The Owl and the Pussycat (1974); witches: in The Wizard of Oz (1975) and Dark of the Moon in that same year; as well as more ‘realistic’ roles in other plays such as Dad’s Army (2008) and Stepping Out (1989).

The whole family were Barn regulars. Her late husband Clyde was Chairman and a noted set builder, her son Stephen was Treasurer, and her daughter Julia an actor and director. Apart from drama Joan was enthusiastically involved in the social side of events at the Club.

We offer our condolences to Julia and Steve, and Joan’s friends and family.

From Yvanna Reeves

The skies were low and the wind icy on Saturday 22nd January. But that didn’t matter: the ferry from Portsmouth’s Gunwharf terminal to Fishbourne, Isle of Wight, was on time and warm inside. As the boat pulled out onto a flat, grey sea I tried make out where key sights were on the mainland, to get my bearings along the West Sussex coast, where I came to live nearly four months ago. When you’re trying to establish connections in a new place, familiar feels good.

I know the coast to the west of the port better, around Lymington and Christchurch, as well as the New Forest as that was where my dad lived for a dozen years. I was ridiculously pleased to pick out the familiar shape of the Tudor fort of Hurst Castle, near to Keyhaven marshes, one of the places I loved to go and watch sea birds and waders in the early morning before coming back to have breakfast with my ageing dad.

Memories of the Barn flooded in as I focused on my purpose for the day, going to say farewell to a special friend, someone who had smoothed my way into the Barn community when I first arrived in 2002, wanting to act and direct.

Pictures of the diminutive Joan Wilson, always smartly dressed, always busy, with a ready smile and usually offering a glass of wine and nibbles, or coffee and biscuits, when visiting her home, crowded into my mind. She was one of the ‘great and good’ at the Barn, running the box office, helping with many shows as prompt or on props or admin, and loving to act, with clear diction and looking classy in her costumes – or in her younger days scrumptious in a bikini, I’m told! Her whole family had been involved over the years and her beloved husband, Clyde, had been a constant presence as a set designer and constructor, before becoming Chairman. Her son Steve carried on the set design tradition, his complex set for a play I directed in 2007, Safari Party, which needed to transform from a smart dining room/conservatory to a junk-filled bothy, gaining much praise from the local theatre critic. Her daughter Julia directed and son-in-law Keith Bridgeman both acted and directed before they made their home on the Isle of Wight, where Keith could indulge his other love, sailing.

When you come to a theatre club new to the ‘ropes’, the culture and the people, it can be difficult to find a way to contribute. Joan was one of those people at the Barn determined that you should love it as much as she did. She offered to be my production secretary on the very first one-act play I was given to direct, Dock Brief, testing my skills (and to see if I was up to the Barn’s exacting standards!). With her own brand of no-nonsense intelligence and practical wisdom, she went on to be production manager on five of ‘my’ shows and helped me put together excellent backstage crews. She would have been pleased to know that one of my stage managers, Trevor Watkins, would turn out to be my partner in West Sussex.

Joan’s family did so much to support her as she began to show signs of memory loss. Her vascular dementia meant she could no longer lead an independent life. The family home was sold and Joan was moved over to a care home on the Isle of Wight, close by Julia and Keith and their family. Joan would lose her ability to communicate but her personality stayed calm and cheerful. Julia was diligent at sending out regular updates and photos of Joan so that her friends could keep in touch. The latest news about people and events at the Barn were always welcomed.

The boat touched onto the dock at Fishbourne and I drove off through the busy little town of Newport and eventually on to Freshwater Bay, arriving in comfortable time to Join the family on their short walk to the little Edwardian thatched church of St Agnes.

Inside, peace descended, as the family and friends scattered through the wooden settles, ready for the service of farewell to Joan, who everyone there recognised as ‘an all-round Special Person’. An organist led the music, and hymn solos were sung by a tenor, leaving us less musical folk the pleasure of joining in the chorus of Guide Me O thou Great Redeemer, which any rugby fan would know well. Julia had organised such a touching service. I smiled, thinking ‘Of course – she’s a Barn director. She would know how’. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren brought long-stemmed roses to represent each of their lives and placed them by Joan’s ashes and photographs of her life. Three family members read poems, their young voices bringing home the importance of family and love in everyone’s life. The Rev Leisa, who led the service, seemed to understand the essence of Joan, giving us time for tears and reflection as she read key passages from the Christian scriptures, the faith that Joan followed so sincerely.

I was immensely glad to be there, feeling my connection to Joan just as I had done for all the years I’d known her.

Back to the home of Julia and Keith, all of three minutes’ walk away, where we were all welcome. Then the other part of honouring Joan’s life began: reminiscing and laughing at the good times. I enjoyed sharing my memories and catching up on family history among the clusters of people. Joan always loved her family, was involved with each of their lives, immensely proud of their achievements, right through the generations. When I think of that now and of her, I’m so pleased to have known her, so very respectful of her talents, glad of shared moments, some theatrical but others touched and changed by her wisdom.

Keith Thompson
Keith Thompson



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Part 1, 18th Jan 8pm

Part 2, 19th Jan 8pm

Parts 1+2 20th Jan 2.30pm

Part 1, 23rd Jan 8pm

Part 2, 24th Jan 8pm

Part 1, 25th Jan 8pm

Part 2, 26th Jan 8pm

Part 1, 27th Jan 2.30pm

Part 2,  27th Jan 8pm