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Suffolk's summer theatre continues as new producer emerges from the wings

PUBLISHED: 19:57 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:32 29 April 2019

Theatre on the Coast is coming to Southwold  (L-R): technical director David Hermon, producer Matthew Townshend and general manager Liz Cook. Photo: Alex Hermon

Theatre on the Coast is coming to Southwold (L-R): technical director David Hermon, producer Matthew Townshend and general manager Liz Cook. Photo: Alex Hermon

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Suffolk's new-look summer theatre will offer quirky plays with a local flavour along with timeless classics. We speak to independent theatre producer Matthew Townshend about his plans to make theatre part of the coastal community

Theatre on the Coast is coming to Southwold  A scene from Hobson's Choice which is in the opening season of the new company Matthew Townshend Productions  Photo: Peter ClarkTheatre on the Coast is coming to Southwold A scene from Hobson's Choice which is in the opening season of the new company Matthew Townshend Productions Photo: Peter Clark

Summer theatre is something of a Suffolk institution with Southwold and Aldeburgh having enjoyed classic productions by Jill Freud's company for more than 30 years.

Tradition and innovation go hand-in-hand, so when Suffolk Summer Theatres, who inherited the Jill Freud company mantle, decided to call it a day at the end of last year, local theatre producer Matthew Townshend, who had gained experienced at Frinton Summer Theatre, was poised in the wings to ensure that summer theatre stayed on the Suffolk coast.

Matthew says that he has grand plans in mind for the future but is fully aware that he must 'walk before he can run' and promises 'evolution rather than revolution'.

“We are taking over what was Suffolk Summer Theatre but we are re-naming it, calling it 'Theatre on the Coast' so it will have its own identity. There's a real demand for live theatre in Southwold all year round not just during the tourist season and we will be looking at developing things as we settle into the town.”

Theatre on the Coast is coming to Southwold Enjoy some Shakespeare by The Sea Photo: Peter ClarkTheatre on the Coast is coming to Southwold Enjoy some Shakespeare by The Sea Photo: Peter Clark

This summer, Theatre on the Coast, staged by Matthew Townshend productions, will present four shows, each playing for a fortnight, opening on Wednesday July 10, at Southwold Arts Centre, formerly St Edmunds Hall, and running until August 31.

He says that he was very aware of the history of theatre in Southwold and wished to see it carry on into a new era. “From 1953, several repertory theatre groups performed at the St Edmunds Hall before the Summer Theatre was taken over by Jill Freud in 1984.Since then theatre on the Suffolk coast has enjoyed more than 30 years of success, providing professional theatre in repertory for both residents and holidaymakers of Southwold and Aldeburgh. We aim to keep that tradition alive, re-branding it and refreshing the offer as part of our new ownership.”

Having had experience of staging summer theatre at Frinton and had many years creating touring shows which have travelled throughout the UK he says one of his priorities was to give the local people a sense of ownership of the theatre.

“Our aim is to bring a fresh new look to the repertoire, whilst making sure that we honour the great tradition of entertainment on the coast. I'm very excited to rebuild the sense of ownership held by local people. We want to make feel that it's their own theatre.”

Theatre on the Coast producer Matthew Townshend who is looking to carry on the traditions of Southwold Summer Theatre while quietly making it relevant to the 21st century. Photo: Henry TebbuttTheatre on the Coast producer Matthew Townshend who is looking to carry on the traditions of Southwold Summer Theatre while quietly making it relevant to the 21st century. Photo: Henry Tebbutt

He says that although the dynamics of theatre has changed over the past half century there was still room for a professional repertory theatre in places like Southwold and they would be able to contribute something back into the industry. Traditional 'rep' has almost disappeared in the UK now but summer theatre can still provide work and training for performers, directors, designers and technicians and quality entertainment for its audiences.”

Alongside the season of plays, Matthew Townshend Productions is also planning a series of associated events, including a music night with upcoming young Ipswich musicians The Ben Goble Trio, and local rock'n'roll heroes J S and the Lockerbillies, who've appeared over the last two years at Glastonbury and Latitude.

There will also be a meet the playwrights event and starting August 5 there will be two days of drama workshops, full of magic, mystery, shipwrecks and fun, for younger people in Aldeburgh with actors from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. There will also be opportunities to work with a musician and a costume and property maker. Open to youngsters from ages eight to 18 years, The idea is to create your own performance, inspired by travelling players and the historic Tudor Moot Hall in Aldeburgh.

Tickets can be bought in person, by telephone (01502 722572 ) or via Ticketsource website (booking fees apply).

The Plays:

The End of the Line, by Patrick Marlowe, from July 10-20

The play revolves around two beach huts and two very different couples. They're about to meet for the first time. Their lives, and their precious huts, will never be the same again.

Patrick Marlowe is an East Anglian writer and actor who has appeared at the National Theatre and closer to home with Eastern Angles. He has written many plays for Frinton Summer Theatre, which is where The End of The Line was first produced in 2011.

A Bunch of Amateurs, by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, from July 23-August 3

Fading Hollywood action hero, Jefferson Steele touches down in the UK to take on the role of a lifetime – Shakespeare's tragic King Lear. Only this isn't Stratford upon Avon, but Stratford St John in the middle of Suffolk, and his co-stars are not the famous names he expected but local amateurs who are fighting to save their beloved theatre from closure.

Ian Hislop (editor of Private Eye, star of BBC's 'Have I got News for You') and cartoonist Nick Newman first wrote A bunch of Amateurs as a film. The stage play is a little more recent and premiered at the Watermill, Newbury in 2014. Their other plays The Wipers Times and Trial By Laughter have been staged by the New Wolsey Theatre.

The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband, by Debbie Isitt, from August 6-17

Debbie Isitt is now well known for her hit comedy films Nativity and Confetti. In this play from the 1990's she paints a hilarious and gruesome picture of a deserted wife's revenge on her ex-husband. When Hillary invites Keith to dinner, together with his new girlfriend Lauren, her guests are not prepared for what she will serve up as the main course.

Hobson's Choice, by Harold Brighouse, from August 20-31

To end the season, Theatre on the Coast, will revive one of the great classics of the British stage. Hobson's Choice, a timeless Lancashire comedy will star John D Collins, who gained stardom after appearing as a regular in the BBC sitcom 'Allo! 'Allo! This new production has already earned four-star reviews as a Matthew Townshend touring production and will tour again following its Suffolk revival.

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