Summer theatre will go ahead in Southwold in 2021

Vicki Michelle in Hello Norma Jeane which is being performed in Southwold this summer

Vicki Michelle in Hello Norma Jeane which is being performed in Southwold this summer - Credit: Dylan Costello

Suffolk’s Theatre-on-the-Coast producer Matthew Townsend is an optimist and a believer in showbiz tradition and although Covid and the weather have conspired to do their worst to the local economy, he sincerely believes that despite everything: “The Show Must Go On.”

Tom Attwood, Madeleine Joseph, Ben Stock and Matthew Townshend in 'Tomfoolery'

Tom Attwood, Madeleine Joseph, Ben Stock and Matthew Townshend in 'Tomfoolery' which is being revived by Southwold's Theatre on the Coast - Credit: Theatre on the Coast

Public subscription in Southwold has not only provided the funds to mount this year’s summer season, it has powerfully demonstrated the demand for theatre in Southwold.

Matthew is thrilled to have a great season lined up which will tap into the timeless appeal of the Carry On films (and the personalities behind the films) as well as a speculative ‘what if’ look at the legend of Marilyn Monroe.

Matthew Townsend, producer of Theatre on the Coast, believes that after lockdown The Show Must Go On

Matthew Townsend, producer of Theatre on the Coast, believes that after lockdown The Show Must Go On - Credit: Top Floor Studio

Matthew admits that even his resilient spirit has been ground down at times by the extended nature of lockdown. “It’s been awful at times,” he says with note of resignation in his voice,

“You can’t plan anything with certainty – but hopefully we are now, finally, coming out the otherside.


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“Fingers crossed, the roadmap stays on course and this summer we can enjoy a little normality again.”

For Matthew this means staging his annual run of plays in Southwold for both residents and visitors and he says that a bit of fun and live entertainment is exactly what the world needs after being locked away for 18 months.

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“It will be great to play in front of an audience again and just to hear that sound of laughter again. It will be real tonic for everyone.”

2BDRMBF London.UK. Sid James and Barbara Windsor in a scene in ©Rank Organisation film, Carry On

Sid James and Barbara Windsor in a scene from Carry On Again Doctor (1969). The behind the scenes lives of the Carry On actors is explored in the play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick which opens Southwold's summer season - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

This year’s run of plays will be staged at the Southwold Arts Centre from July 21 to September 4. The plays that will make up this year’s season are: Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick by Terry Johnson, the National Theatre’s Olivier award-winning comedy which explored the affair between Sid James and Barbara Windsor (July 21-31), while Theatre on the Coast patron Vicki Michelle will star in Hello Norma Jeane, by Dylan Costello, the story of an Essex care home resident who escapes and flies to Hollywood with a secret – she is Marilyn Monroe (August 11-21). 

The season ends with a musical revue Tomfoolery, a tribute to humourist Tom Lehrer – a maths professor with attitude and a way with words (August 25-September 4).

Ben Stock in 'Tomfoolery' which closes this year's summer season by Theatre on the Coast

Ben Stock in 'Tomfoolery' which closes this year's summer season by Theatre on the Coast - Credit: Theatre on the Coast

“Terry Johnson has created a wonderful play which tells the backstage life of the Carry On films. It’s very funny and very touching. I knew Barbara Windsor and I knew that she wasn’t looking forward to seeing the show. I don’t think she wanted to see her and Sid (James) lampooned – it must be awful to see yourself on stage – but she saw it when it first opened at the National (Theatre) and she loved it and went round to see the cast afterwards – I can’t imagine how they must have felt waiting for to arrive.”

Matthew said that Hello Norma Jeane was another of his favourite plays which he first saw when it was being given a trial run at the Kings Head pub theatre before going out on tour where it got some great reviews. “It’s one of those plays which will either work brilliantly or will just die on its feet. I have to admit I was quite nervous before going to see it but within minutes I was hooked and Vicki Michelle is just brilliant in it.

“The other thing that makes it – and it’s down to clever writing and committed acting – is that by the end you aren’t sure what’s real and what’s imagined. It’s left for you to decide, to mull over as you go home. It’s brilliant and I am very excited to stage this great piece of theatre in Southwold this summer.”

During August, Theatre on the Coast will also be staging a community production of Treasure Island at various outdoor locations in the area and are looking for people to take part, aged 10 upwards.

He said that being part of the community was an important function of a company like Theatre-on-the Coast. “We are part of life in Southwold, we are part of the town. We aren’t some touring company who turn up, perform a show and are gone the next day, we are part of the make-up of this wonderful town – that’s why I am really excited to involve families and younger members of our audiences with Treasure Island.

“It’s a chance to get involved and experience some of the magic of theatre-making for themselves.”

He said that summer theatre in Southwold is deeply embedded in the town’s DNA.

“An annual summer theatre season has been running in Suffolk for more than 80 years. Summer Theatre, has been entertaining audiences at Southwold Arts Centre every summer since 1937.”

A three-week CrowdFunder campaign was launched during March with the aim of raising £6,000. That target was smashed and the campaign raised £8000 by the end of the appeal.
“We’re absolutely astounded by our community’s generosity and support of Theatre on the Coast. We cannot thank you all enough.

“It proves beyond doubt that theatre audiences are hungry for the return of live performance, back on stage in the theatres that they know and love.”

Tickets for all shows can be booked on the Theatre on the Coast website.

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