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Southwold’s Theatre on the Coast becomes theatre on demand

PUBLISHED: 17:57 02 September 2020

All 4 One from Theatre on the Virtual Coast 2020. Left to right, Front: Michael Brown as HRH Prince William, Hilary Greatorex as HM The Queen, Paul Ansdell as HRH Prince Charles, James Thorne as HRH Prince Harry
Photo:Dave Hermon

All 4 One from Theatre on the Virtual Coast 2020. Left to right, Front: Michael Brown as HRH Prince William, Hilary Greatorex as HM The Queen, Paul Ansdell as HRH Prince Charles, James Thorne as HRH Prince Harry Photo:Dave Hermon

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Summer theatre has long been an important institution in Suffolk but this year it has been leading the fight to put performing arts back in front of its audience

Hilary Greatorex as HM The Queen in All 4 One. Credit David HermonHilary Greatorex as HM The Queen in All 4 One. Credit David Hermon

This year has forced British theatre to meet the biggest challenge in its history. The Covid pandemic has plunged every theatre into darkness – entire seasons have been postponed and pantomimes cancelled.

Staff have been laid off and several venues have had to lock the doors for good. But, one Suffolk company is bucking the trend and harnessing digital technology to ensure that the spotlights are kept on..

Matthew Townshend Productions, the team responsible for Southwold’s summer season, armed with a season of premieres and star guests, refused to be beaten by an invisible enemy and have been beavering away behind the scenes to make sure that theatre history is being made on the Suffolk coast.

Using innovative streaming technology they are doing everything they can to keep theatre alive during the coronavirus pandemic. They perform live to an invited, socially distanced audience to provide atmosphere – when there’s a joke you want to hear real laughter, says producer/director Matthew Townshend – but the performance is relayed to what would have been their paying audience via an internet streaming service.

Kitty Dunham in Attagirls! which receives its premiere at this year's Theatre on the Coast Photo- TFS Photo WoodbridgeKitty Dunham in Attagirls! which receives its premiere at this year's Theatre on the Coast Photo- TFS Photo Woodbridge

Theatre is live and thriving in Southwold and its audience is a virtual one. “Our audiences can sit back and enjoy a performance in the comfort of their own home,” says Matthew.

“Coronavirus has had a devastating and hugely detrimental impact on the entertainment business – but, theatres are determined to get the industry back up and running.

“By moving Theatre on the Coast to online, regular audience members will still be able to watch but anyone, anywhere in the world, can also log on so we’re hoping to draw in a new crowd.”

Over the course of four weekends, six performances will be livestreamed from Southwold Arts Centre on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Liz Cook, Sally Owen, Matthew Townshend, Sam Culwick, David Hermon - Theatre on the Coast in Southwold  Photo: Theatre on the CoastLiz Cook, Sally Owen, Matthew Townshend, Sam Culwick, David Hermon - Theatre on the Coast in Southwold Photo: Theatre on the Coast

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He added: “It is vital we support and continue producing live theatre, especially at such an uncertain time.

“We are hopeful that this will not only provide some much-needed entertainment for theatre-lovers, but also to inspire people to support live theatre.

“While major theatres, opera houses and ballet companies were able to pull together resources to provide streaming options from their archives during lockdown, many smaller producers and venues were at a loss.

Theatre on the Coast producer Matthew Townshend who has turned Theatre on the Coast into Theatre on Demand   Photo: Henry TebbuttTheatre on the Coast producer Matthew Townshend who has turned Theatre on the Coast into Theatre on Demand Photo: Henry Tebbutt

“We are turning a time of crisis into an opportunity to keep theatre alive, help boost the local economy, enrich the lives of audiences and stimulate a refocus away from the metropolis.”

The virtual season of Theatre on the Coast kicked off with a newly commissioned comedy by Jan Etherington and Gavin Petrie on August 22. In All 4 One, a grandmother summons her son and grandsons for a crisis meeting and, since she is Queen of England, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Astrid King and A Funny Woman present The Peg Lynch Players on September 5, a tribute to Astrid’s mother Peg Lynch, a pioneer in TV and Radio.

Robert Powell will be performing his one man show, Charles Dickens, A Celebration on September 11, as well as joining Denis King and Sarah Redmond on the final night for Optimistic People, an evening of entertainment full of songs and stories from a life in theatre, music and film on September 12.

The season has also played host to new productions of three short plays first seen at the INK festival, making the summer theatre a platform for new writers. Dog on a Beach by John R Goodman, Bus Stop by Daniel Allum and Invisible Irene by Jackie Carreira were performed on August 28.

Another new commission Attagirls! premiered on August 29. This new play, from noted historian and writer Stewart Ross, tells the stories of three young women from very different backgrounds who choose to come to Britain during the Second World War and ferry every imaginable type of aeroplane across the country to keep the RAF front line supplied with machines.

Even though those premieres have gone, the beauty of Southwold’s virtual theatre is that audiences can buy tickets to any of this summer’s productions at any time from now until the end of September.

Subscription to the season is £44 and gives viewers access to all six shows in the 2020 programme. Subscribers can watch the September performances on the night or catch up with the August premieres on demand. For more information, including booking details, please visit www.totc.co.uk


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