The Barn Theatre, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

Sylvia Pepper

Sylvia participated in 73 productions at the Barn.

It is with great sadness that we report the death on 9th July of Sylvia Pepper, after a long and courageous battle against cancer. Sylvia first appeared on the Barn stage as Blanche in Widowers’ Houses in January 1973; she both acted and worked back- stage in several other productions in the early seventies, but then found herself in constant demand as Production Secretary, where she soon gained a reputation as one of the most reliable and effective people that the Barn had ever used in that vital function.

Although that role didn’t really stretch her considerable theatrical abilities, it was not until 1990 that she eventually plucked up the courage to direct a play, Random Moments In a May Garden, by James Saunders. Leaving aside productions in which she was either Co-Director or Assistant Director, at the Barn she directed twelve in all; the last one was The History Boys, by Alan Bennett, which was performed in July 2010. John Davies said at her funeral on 21st July:

“That was undoubtedly the most enjoyable production I’ve ever acted in, and I’m pretty sure that view is shared by every one else involved in it. She took the job very seriously, and worked as hard at it as we had come to expect, but she also regarded it as great fun, and that attitude communicated itself to the rest of us.”

Keith Thompson also remembers her as a director – he writes:

“Her production of Stoppard’s Arcadia was a master- class in untangling and presenting a wonderful script, and her direction was enjoyed with admiration and fascination by all involved. She also assisted me in my first venture into Sondheim, in Assassins, where her opinions were of great value to us all.”

The greatest contribution she made to the success of the Barn was, however, in the selection of plays and directors for the forthcoming season; first as Chair of the Play Selection Committee, then later as Artistic Director. That’s the most difficult job in any theatre, and she filled it for many years with enormous success. She showed exceptionally reliable judgement, not just of the artistic value of a play but also of its likely box office success, and of its suitability for whichever Director it was that wanted to do it. She brought that judgement to bear when she spent a year as a lay member of the Olivier Award panel, when she could get tickets at short notice for any West End production, and would share this bounty with her Barn friends accompanying her.

For the many friends who visited her during her three-and-a-half-year struggle against malignant melanoma, the most enduring memory will surely be of the quite extraordinary courage she dis-played in the face of an illness that she knew from the start was going to be fatal. She resolved to make the most of what life remained to her, volunteered to take part in several trials of new drugs, and continued her duties as a GCSE examiner long after most people would have given up.

To all her friends, and to David, Barry, Tom and Anna, we extend our deepest sympathy.



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Parts 1+2 20th Jan 2.30pm

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