CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to EADT Suffolk today CLICK HERE

Arts for everyone at the Fisher Theatre in Bungay

PUBLISHED: 15:27 03 October 2016 | UPDATED: 09:46 04 October 2016

Bungay Fisher Theatre manager Laila France.

Pic for EADT Suffolk Magazine

PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Bungay Fisher Theatre manager Laila France. Pic for EADT Suffolk Magazine PHOTO: Nick Butcher

©archant2016

Who can afford a West End theatre ticket these days? Who cares, when there are great regional theatres, like the Fisher in Bungay, to go to. David Green talks to its manager Laila France

Bungay Fisher Theatre manager Laila France.



Pic for EADT Suffolk Magazine



PHOTO: Nick ButcherBungay Fisher Theatre manager Laila France. Pic for EADT Suffolk Magazine PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Laila France is a female in what had, until recently, been a totally male world. She is the first woman to manage the Fisher Theatre at Bungay since it was established in the town in 1828, when the first play performed was The Belle’s Stratagem.

The theatre, which retains its Georgian splendour, is now celebrating the tenth anniversary of its re-opening. Laila, who revelled in an artistic upbringing, follows in the footsteps of seven men who, one after another, have been manager in those years.

Bungay Fisher Theatre manager Laila France.

Pic for EADT Suffolk Magazine

PHOTO: Nick ButcherBungay Fisher Theatre manager Laila France. Pic for EADT Suffolk Magazine PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Born in London, she grew up at Somerleyton after her father, a ballet dancer in his early career, performed at Snape Maltings and fell in love with Suffolk. The family later moved to Gillingham, near Beccles, where Laila was a pupil at the village school before attending Worlingham Middle School and then All Hallows convent school at Ditchingham and, finally, Norwich High School.

“Ever since I was little I was interested in music. I was the youngest member of Beccles church choir at the age of five and I also did ballet classes.

“I had a very artistic upbringing because my dad has always been interested in music, dance and theatre. We didn’t have a TV for years and just used to listen to music. My brother and I used to devise our own plays.

Bungay Fisher Theatre manager Laila France.

Pic for EADT Suffolk Magazine

PHOTO: Nick ButcherBungay Fisher Theatre manager Laila France. Pic for EADT Suffolk Magazine PHOTO: Nick Butcher

“My first leading role was at the age of seven when I played Hans, the shoemaker, in the school production of The Elves and the Shoemaker. I learned the whole play and used to tell everyone what their lines were.”

At the University of York, where Laila studied for an English degree, she was a member of the drama society and took roles in productions, which included Dr Faustus, Jesus Christ Superstar, Oh What a Lovely War, Look Back in Anger and Blood Wedding. After university, she got her first opportunity in TV and the media, working as a runner and researcher on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast. Then she entered the world of TV and film production before returning to Suffolk to work at the Aldeburgh Festival as programme editor and concert manager’s assistant.

“I was meeting all the performers, making sure everything was as they wanted it to be, and then running the event. It was good experience.” She later worked at the Britten-Pears Library at Aldeburgh, then returned to London to work for the Saatchi advertising and PR firm, handling clients which included the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet.

“But life in London was all about who you were, what was your status, how much you were being paid and where you lived. It wore me down,” Laila says. After three years she returned to Suffolk.

“I think I’d had enough of London. It had become a grind. I don’t really buy in to a materialistic lifestyle and there was always real pressure to be climbing the ladder.” Until becoming Fisher Theatre manager in the spring of this year, she worked as a support co-ordinator for people with severe and acute mental health problems.

“I had suffered for some time with depression and I wanted to help others. Also, living in Suffolk I find nature and just being here much more helpful. Being out of the London rat race feels good.” She met her husband, Darren, when they were both acting in a play called Our Country’s Good, staged at The Cut arts centre at Halesworth. The couple have been involved for many years with running the Fisher Youth Theatre group and Laila recently took 16 local teenagers to perform at a drama festival in Belgium.

Apart from the full-time job of running the Fisher Theatre, with assistant Cory Minns, Laila is studying part-time for an MA degree in applied theatre. She is one of only three paid members of staff. The Fisher receives no operational funding and relies on a team of enthusiastic volunteers to survive. Laila’s very keen to increase the theatre’s income from donations, and one idea is to invite a discretionary £1 donation with each ticket sold, rather than increase ticket prices.

“If people were also able to gift aid it, it would make a real difference to the future of the Fisher,” Laila says. Her other aim is to increase the Fisher’s educational output and to revive its own adult theatre company.

“I’d like to build a connection between the theatre and every part of the local community, to encourage people of every background to be part of the arts and have the opportunity to express themselves.”

Changing fortunes

The Fisher Theatre at Bungay was one of 13 in East Anglia designed and built in the early 19th century by David Fisher, whose Norfolk and Suffolk Company of Comedians involved several members of his own family.

The common people sat on rough benches while the most spacious seats were provided for the gentry, in two tiers of private boxes. While local townsfolk queued eagerly down the side of the building, ready to squash into the pit or the gallery, the gentry would enter through the big front doors, personally welcomed by David Fisher.

Touring theatres were badly affected by the coming of the railways and, in 1844, the Bungay theatre was sold. For most of the 19th century it was the town’s Corn Hall and a venue for meetings. Later it became a cinema and was used for a variety of entertainments and commercial enterprises, including a steam laundry for many years. It ended the 20th century as a textile warehouse.

The resurrection of this ‘house of entertainment’ was started in 1995 with the formation of the Bungay Arts and Theatre Society (BATS) by five local residents convinced that the town needed an arts centre. Attention was quickly focused on the old Georgian theatre building, and after much fundraising it was bought for the town in 2001.

BATS, now a charity, began the daunting task of raising sufficient funds to transform a very dilapidated historic shell into a high-tech centre for all arts. An army of volunteers, a large board of trustees, loyal audiences clutching blankets and hot water bottles, hard won grants, generous donations and huge helpings of stubborn determination led to the re-opening of the theatre’s big blue doors in 2006 as a registered not-for-profit charity receiving no on-going revenue funding.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other EADT Suffolk Magazine visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by EADT Suffolk Magazine staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique EADT Suffolk Magazine account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Friday, December 7, 2018

A typical part of the Suffolk village scene is the village sign, standing tall in a prominent part of the area and succinctly giving you an insight into the area’s history. Here are 15 Suffolk town or village signs and what they mean

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

If you’re looking for someone to enjoy a few days in Suffolk this festive period then look no further than these 6 gorgeous locations

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Christmas is a wonderful time to spend with loved ones and there’s no better place to do that than Suffolk, with its outstanding natural beauty, charming villages and festive foodie delights

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

From Waveney and the Suffolk coast to Dedham Vale, these 19 pictures are guaranteed to get you exploring the beautiful towns and countryside of Suffolk this winter

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Suffolk in winter time is a magical place to be. There are Christmas markets, chilly walks, and days by the blustery seaside to be had. These 17 nostalgic pictures will definitely bring out that unique festive feeling.

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Invitation to View tours reveal the surprising wartime roles of East Anglia’s historic town and country properties | Words & Photos: Lindsay Want

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Are you searching for places to go this winter? Suffolk has some truly magical places simply perfect for a day out with the family that are sure to get you feeling festive. Here are 9 locations you have to visit over the Christmas holiday

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

As the season of parties approaches, hotel and restaurateur Milsoms is itself celebrating a milestone for one of its popular venues | Words: Ross Bentley

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Lindsay Want wanders the pilgrims’ paths and concrete runways around Horham, Denham and Redlingfield

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Not many people know it but a lot of your favourite films have been made in Suffolk. From blockbusters to independent, here are 21 films made in Suffolk.

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

EADT Suffolk Magazine weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search