Curtain up on an exciting year for theatre

Gazette: On stage – the summer production of Cowardly Porter On stage – the summer production of Cowardly Porter

OPERATING from a quiet seaside corner, it has helped launch the careers of Vanessa Redgrave, Gary Oldman and Lynda Bellingham Frinton Summer Theatre, the longest-standing summer repertory group in the country, will next year celebrate its 75th anniversary.

While theatre audiences across the country are falling, producer Matthew Townshend has promised a revival with a host of star names.

He hopes the milestone will catapult local theatre back into the hearts of residents.

He said: “We want to honour our roots and the tremendous support of our local community in Frinton.

“But we also are determined to drag ourselves into the 21st century and show people we are not just an eccentricity on the Essex coast.

“Everything we have done this year in terms of attracting new audiences and publicising ourselves is helping us to re-establish local and traditional theatre in people’s minds.

“We are still entirely relevant, important and worth taking seriously, and we were delighted, despite our short seven week season and 210 seats–size, to reach the top third of this year’s Most Welcoming Theatre’ competition.”

Although last summer was one of the hottest in recent memory and the hall, in Fourth Avenue, has no air conditioning, we were 70 per cent full on average.”

Mr Townshend has ambitious plans to celebrate the anniversary and hopes 2014 will be the best year yet for the organisation, which launched the careers of an array of British television and film stars.

Other big names to appear on its stage include Jane Asher, Julie Christie, Timothy West and Michael Denison.

Mr Townshend is promising more famous faces in the coming year.

He said: “It’s a bit of a secret at the moment.

“But I can confirm that two well-known faces from film, TV and stage have said they will be joining us to appear in two different plays.

“We’re also hoping for a BBC Radio 4 documentary about Frinton’s summer theatre.”

Lynda Bellingham had her first experience of the stage at Frinton when she was just 20 .

Mr Towns h e n d approached her last summer to discuss the future of the company and local theatre in general.

Together they launched a campaign aimed at renewing the core audience and getting younger people interested in repertory theatre – where, at Frinton, actors perform seven different plays over the course of seven weeks.

It was also backed by fellow actor Nickolas Grace, who made his professional debut on stage at Frinton in 1969 and is best-known for his roles in Brideshead Revisited and BBC sitcom Birds of a Feather.

Mr Townshend said their support had helped him target a new generation of people whom he hopes to attract next summer with an extended range of productions and events.

He said: “We plan to do two completely new plays – one of which will be written by our in-house playwright, Patrick Marlowe.

“For the first time we will be running events outside the theatre alongside the traditional repertoire. This will include a sing-along show, music and cabaret, and a community performance based on stories from the Essex coast, including contributions from 103-year old Frinton resident Gladys Harvey.

“We will also be hosting an exciting exhibition of photographs by world renowned photographer, Clive Barda.”

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