6 Suffolk theatre shows to watch online this summer

PUBLISHED: 15:45 04 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:38 08 July 2020

Kitty Dunham in Attagirls! by Stewart Ross in this year's programme for Southwold's Theatre on the Coast tells the story of women pilots of the Air Transport Association during the Second World War. Photo: TFS Photo Woodbridge

Kitty Dunham in Attagirls! by Stewart Ross in this year's programme for Southwold's Theatre on the Coast tells the story of women pilots of the Air Transport Association during the Second World War. Photo: TFS Photo Woodbridge

Archant

Southwold’s summer Theatre on the Coast’s exciting programme is to be streamed over four weekends. Here’s how you can see it.

Matthew Townshend at the launch of Theatre on the Coast last year in Southwold. Photo: Alex HermonMatthew Townshend at the launch of Theatre on the Coast last year in Southwold. Photo: Alex Hermon

Southwold’s popular Theatre on the Coast summer season could have been a cultural casualty of lockdown until artistic director Matthew Townshend decided the show must go on.

Summer theatre in Southwold has been a highlight of the calendar for more than 60 years and when Matthew took charge last year, renaming it Matthew Townshend Productions Theatre on the Coast, it was a huge success. So, determined that 2020 audiences should not miss out entirely on their summer theatre treat, Matthew has come up with a cunning plan that will see Theatre on the Coast streamed direct from Southwold Arts Centre every weekend between August 22 and September 12.

As Matthew explained, the team will move into Southwold Arts Centre on August 10 for a technical rehearsal week. From the following Monday the actors will rehearse and film each new show in just a week, with the live transmission going out at 7.30pm over subsequent weekends.

The plan is to show six performances over four weekends, including two double bills. By booking as a subscriber to Theatre on the (virtual) Coast, you can watch online either on the night of the show or for up to seven days following, paying a one-off fee to receive the link for each weekend’s shows. The schedule and booking information are on the website at totc.co.uk.

Paul Ansdell and Kieran Garland in a Bunch of Amateurs by Ian Hislop, a huge success for MTP Theatre on the Coast in 2019. Photo: TFS Photo WoodbridgePaul Ansdell and Kieran Garland in a Bunch of Amateurs by Ian Hislop, a huge success for MTP Theatre on the Coast in 2019. Photo: TFS Photo Woodbridge

“It’s really exciting – it’s a new way of working for us and it’s full of technical and creative challenges,” says Matthew. “How do we turn a play text written for the stage into a shooting script? What do we do with the set designs that we were working on? How many cameras to use? Yes, it’s a big gulp but when the adrenaline kicks in . . .”

Matthew says they realised early on that making use of technology would be integral to how MTP plans future seasons. “Broadening our reach, accessing hard to reach audiences and offering interactive content – we see it as an opportunity arising out of a crisis. Honest.”

Live streamed performances are well established, says Matthew, but what makes this so so different is that people are normally watching a cinematic live show from venues such as the National Theatre or the Royal Opera House.

“It’s a daunting prospect for a 240-seat former church hall by the sea, on the Suffolk coast, to start doing the same thing. Yes, it’s a challenge but the actors, technical and stage management, the arts centre and, most importantly, the public are all behind us, so we’re encouraged by their support for this mad venture.”

The 2020 virtual programme features new commissions that reflect both recent times and our common history, says Matthew, featuring high profile and emerging talents. All 4 One is a new comedy from celebrated TV and radio writers Jan Etherington and Gavin Petrie. Attagirls! is a drama from award-winning historian Stewart Ross celebrating the contribution made by women pilots of the Air Transport Association during the Second World War.

Astrid King brings her tribute to her mother Peg Lynch, pioneer of Radio and TV comedy in 1950s America, Robert Powell will give his take on Charles Dickens and a last night cabaret will feature the songs of Denis King, creator of the music for TV series Black Beauty, Lovejoy and for the late Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade. In Optimistic People, Denis will be joined by Robert Powell and Sarah Redmond as they entertain with songs, stories and extracts from shows.

“And that’s not all!” says Matthew. “Along the way we still hope to take some of the short scripts first seen at the INK festival and present them now fully staged in a dedicated evening of new writing by emerging creatives.”

There’s a financial risk to the venture but Matthew is optimistic that Theatre on the Coast can attract enough subscribers to the online season to make it worthwhile. “We’re very fortunate to have some financial support from the loyal and wonderful FESPA (Friends of East Suffolk Performing Arts), and this is year two of our three-year deal with our headline sponsor Suffolk Secrets, but with no grants and no subsidy from Arts Council – despite applying – we really do rely on the box office.”

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With dire warnings about the future of the theatre industry, big shows mothballed, pantomimes – the lifeblood of regional theatre – cancelled and talk of bankruptcies Matthew agrees the outlook is pretty bleak.

“Until March of this year we were co-producing the UK tour of a new adaptation of Frankenstein by Scottish writer Rona Munro. The tour finished just as the crisis began to bite here and the producing company, Sell a Door, have had to cancel all their tours since. So the winds blow very chill.

“It’s difficult to make predictions about when and how theatres will emerge but there’s no doubt that it’s going to be a long, slow process and the landscape will have changed by the end of it.

“On a positive note and with more of us staying at home or holidaying in the UK, this couldn’t be a better time for a revival of interest in our local theatres, and I don’t just mean the higher profile regional venues or those that play host to subsidised productions. This is the chance for smaller spaces and for innovative companies, managers and producers to reclaim some of the territory.

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“Whatever brings audiences into their own town’s theatre, it has to be exciting, top quality, span all the artforms and truly reflect the world we live in now and want to inhabit in the future.”

Is Matthew looking forward to a better 2021? “Although it’s probably too early to put money on it, I think so!”

MTP Theatre on the Coast

All shows start at 7.30pm

Sat Aug 22: premiere of All 4 One, a new comedy by Jan Etherington and Gavin Petrie

August 28 & 29: double bill one

Fri Aug 28: Beyond INK, new productions of short plays first seen at the country’s biggest festival of new writing.

Sat Aug 29 Aug: premiere of Attagirls!, a new drama by Stewart Ross

Sat Sept 5: Astrid King and A Funny Woman present The Peg Lynch Players. Comic genius from a pioneer in TV and radio. Devised by Astrid King with Tim Fitzhigham.

Sept 11 & 12 September: double bill 2:

Fri Sept 11: Robert Powell in Charles Dickens, a celebration

Sat Sept 12: Optimistic People. Robert Powell joins Denis King and friends, including Sarah Redmond, in songs, stories and extracts from a life of music, theatre and film.

Full details and booking at totc.co.uk or mtproductions.co.uk/theatre-on-the-coast-southwold

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