Blue Apple Theatre

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Blue Apple Theatre's logo

Blue Apple Theatre is an award-winning inclusive theatre company based in Winchester, England. It was founded in 2005 by Jane Jessop to pioneer the inclusion of actors with intellectual disabilities on mainstream stages.[1] In May 2012, six Blue Apple actors made history by touring a ground-breaking re-imagining of William Shakespeare's Hamlet around the South of England.[2] They were the first actors with Down syndrome to perform the play professionally.[3]in 2016 the company made history again with 5 performers, four of whom have Down's syndrome performing scenes from Shakespeare on stage in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London..

In June 2012, Blue Apple Theatre was named as the 1000th winner of the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service[4] in recognition of the great efforts of its voluntary staff.


Blue Apple was founded in 2005 by Jane Jessop to provide opportunities for people with a wide range of learning difficulties to participate in high quality theatre and dance opportunities. Her aim was to enable them to discover and explore their talents on and off stage and to challenge expectations, with no ceiling on the opportunities given to them or on our expectations of them. She was inspired by the experience of her son Tommy Jessop who was acting with the BBC. Over 50 people came to each of the pilot workshops and Blue Apple has had a waiting list ever since.

Jane Jessop led the company for over ten years during which time Blue Apple won several awards, gained Arts Council funding, developed a film programme and broke through many barriers, enabling Blue Apple's performers to work in a professional environment, bring celebrated performances to mainstream theatres, and attract audiences of several thousand to touring productions. Jane's final project was a tenth birthday performance event on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

Blue Apple now delivers over 400 drama and dance workshops a year for over 70 members, in addition to two professional theatre shows and one touring production each year. the company attracts audiences from all over England and has become respected as a leading producer of theatre and dance by performers who have disabilities.

The company's first show was a basic Variety show called "Born to be Blue". This was such a success it was followed by a fully costumed pantomime "Cinderella and the Wolf" written with the cast by the playwright and film maker William Jessop. The company has created two full-scale productions a year ever since and launched a touring programme.

In 2008 the Apple Core auditioned theatre training group was established, Blue Apple launched its dance programme, made its first film and had a membership of around 50 people with learning disabilities. Blue Apple actors and dancers performed to a standing ovation in London, and in Brighton, Birmingham and around London. Blue Apple won its first award for changing the way people see and understand learning disability in spring 2009.

In Autumn 2009, Blue Apple appointed their first arts consultant Peter Clerke, who in 2012 became the company's first Artistic Director.[5] Peter Clerke worked with the playwright William Jessop [6] to create various productions including promenade performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream to mark Blue Apple's fifth anniversary in June 2010,[7] an original play called "Captain Miserable and the Book Guardian" for Christmas 2010, a lively comic adaptation of Gogol's The Government Inspector for Summer 2011, a groundbreaking touring adaptation of Hamlet for 2012, an adaptation of Feydeau The Hotel du Paradis for full company performance in 2013 and adaptations of Much Ado About Nothing for both the touring and main company productions in 2014.

Volunteer support has always been vital to the success of the company. The crucial support of nearly 200 volunteers who have supported Blue Apple since its foundation was recognised by the Queen when in 2012 Blue Apple became the 1,000th winner of the Queen’s Award for volunteering.

Apple Cores[edit]

The Apple Core Actors

In 2008, Blue Apple Theatre introduced an intensive theatre training scheme for auditioned actors and dancers which has evolved into Blue Apple's touring company. The "Apple Core" began by creating various theatre and dance productions for performance at local and national events such as the Winchester Hat Fair, Mencap conferences, medical schools and universities and two of the actors performed scenes from Hamlet in the cabinet office as part of the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

In Autumn 2011, the six Apple Core actors (Four of the six have Downs syndrome) created the company's first major touring production, the hard hitting "Living Without Fear", which addressed the difficult subject of disability hate crime as perpetrated towards people with learning disabilities.Living Without Fear toured nationally and was performed to over 4,000 people including MPs and ministers in Parliament and over 600 school children and 800 police personnel. The Hampshire Chronicle described the play as 'the most powerful production seen in Winchester for many years'.[8] "Living Without Fear" had its second tour in March and April 2013.[9] In March 2012, Blue Apple Theatre received funding from the Home Office for the filmmaker William Jessop to create a film adaptation of the play for and with Hampshire Constabulary.[10]

In May 2012, the Apple Core actors created a radical new touring production of Hamlet and in 2014 toured Much Ado About Nothing to theatres across the south of England and at RADA.


The Cast of Blue Apple's Hamlet Tour

In 2012, Blue Apple received Arts Council England funding[11] for its Core actors to tour a groundbreaking production of Hamlet to theatres across the South of England, playing at illustrious venues like the Minack Theatre in Cornwall and the Rose Theatre, Kingston. The production received positive reviews in The Stage[12] and the Hampshire Chronicle. Blue Apple's Hamlet was performed to over 3,500 people in all and scenes were performed by Tommy Jessop, and Lawrie Morris in the cabinet office in 2012 and by Tommy Jessop, and Katy Francis on stage at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre's Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in 2016..

The role of Hamlet was played by the Down Syndrome TV actor Tommy Jessop, who starred in Coming Down the Mountain and has appeared in Holby City, Casualty, Monroe and Doctors. The other actors were Anna Brisbane, Ros Davies, James Elsworthy, Katy Francis and Lawrie Morris.

At the end of June 2012, the Core actors returned to the main company for three performances of "Hamlet" at the Theatre Royal, Winchester.

The story of Blue Apple's Hamlet is the subject of William Jessop's emmy nominated BBC 3 feature documentary, "Growing Up Down's" [13][14] The Times reviewed it as "William Jessop's fabulous documentary... a triumph for the cast, for BBC Three, and for everyone involved in this life-enhancing project." However, a book chapter by University of York academic, Dr Sarah Olive, argues that there is scope for the documentary to give greater opportunity for self-advocacy to the actors with learning disabilities featured.[15]

Other work[edit]

As well as producing plays, Blue Apple runs an award-winning dance programme and makes films.

"Perils of Penelope " is a short film made in 2008 by the whole company in the style of early silent movies.

"Freddie's Story" is a 40-minute training DVD starring Tommy Jessop, which tackles diagnostic overshadowing, gaining consent from someone with a learning disability, communication and care in hospital through dramatized scenes and face to face training by people who have learning disabilities and a hospital consultant. "Freddie's Story" is being used for training medical staff by the National Health Service in hospitals across Britain.[16]

"Paul's story" is a short training film commissioned by the police and funded by the Home Office. "Paul's Story" stars James Elsworthy and tackles difficult issues around hate crime aimed at people with learning disabilities.


  1. ^ Abigail Lewis (2012-05-10). "Spotlight On: Blue Apple Theatre". A Younger Theatre. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  2. ^ "The Ouch! Blog: Actors with learning disabilities perform Shakespeare's Hamlet". BBC. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  3. ^ "Down's actor tackles Hamlet". This is Cornwall. 2012-05-03. Archived from the original on 2013-04-11. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  4. ^ Volunteers honoured in Queen's Award for Voluntary Service : Directgov - Newsroom Archived May 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Scottish Arts Council - Archive - Profile: Peter Clerke". 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  6. ^ "William Jessop". Ink Pellet. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  7. ^ "Blue Apple tackles the Bard (From Hampshire Chronicle)". 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  8. ^ Curtis, Joseph (9/6/2011). "Living Without Fear". The Hampshire Chronicle. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. ^ "Living Without Fear to tour". Entertainment Focus. 2013-03-02. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  10. ^ Home Office (2012-03-29). "Community action against crime: innovation fund successful applicants - Publications". GOV.UK. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  11. ^ "To Be or Not to Be: Blue Apple Theatre's Hamlet Goes on Tour". Arts Council. 2012-05-01. Archived from the original on 2013-07-08. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  12. ^ Francesca Morrison (2012-05-15). "The Stage / Reviews / Hamlet". Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  13. ^ "The DFG Pitch - Winner Announced". DFG. 2011-06-13. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  14. ^ "BBC Three Growing Up Down's". BBC Three. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  15. ^ Olive, Sarah (Forthcoming). Dunn, Leslie; Heetderks, Angela, eds. Performing Disability in Early Modern England. London: Palgrave. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. ^ "Blue Apple Theatre's latest success (From Hampshire Chronicle)". 2011-10-17. Retrieved 2013-08-07.

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