In July last year I was delighted to be at the opening night of ‘The end of the Line‘ – the first production in the 2019 Summer Season of the Theatre on The Coast (TOTC). It was a wonderful evening that went a long way to ‘making’ my holiday in Southwold. So, I was sad to realise some months ago that this year social distancing measures would mean that there would be no Theatre on the Coast. What a joy it was then to discover then that the TOTC were joining the virtual revolution and offering a season of productions broadcast live from Southwold Arts Centre
The first of these took to the stage on 22nd August. The premiere of ‘All 4 One’, a new play written especially for the season. This explores the events of the meeting at Sandringham in January this year, between the Queen, and princes Charles, William and Harry, to discuss Harry and Meghan’s plans for their future. From the opening moments – featuring Camillia (yes really) in full apron and gloves, joining in with the household cleaning to the soundtrack of Springteen’s ‘Born to Run’, the tone is set for an at times shockingly hilarious journey through the events of that afternoon. Topical references abound, from the then very recent Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special to the Duke of Edinburgh’s driving skills and Harry and Meghan ‘doing veganuary’.
Given that none of us were privy to the events at Sandringham on that day, artistic licence is rightfully given full reign in imagining the exchanges between a hurt and somewhat bewildered grandmother, her son, and grandsons. The father who doesn’t want to alienate his son, the brothers whose relationship will be changed forever by diverging paths and the desire of one to leave the family ‘firm’, and the claustrophobia of a family that loves each other dearly but for all that can’t quite reach understanding. I suspect these are themes many of us will recognize. And herein lies the strength at the heart of ‘All 4 One’. While it is irreverent and pokes fun at the traits and mishaps of the royals, both supposed and real, it does so with empathy and warmth. There are also moments of real poignancy, not least towards the end of the play, when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh fondly reminisce about their own time as a young couple living abroad. In a strong cast James Thorne as Harry and Hilary Greatorex as the Queen stand out, delivering performances that are unnervingly believable.
There were one or two odd camera angles and slightly patchy sound at one point. But these are minor concerns and easily addressed for the remaining productions. This is a pioneering moment for the Theatre on the Coast and Matthew Townsend Productions. In seizing the moment and broadcasting from Southwold, they are following in the footsteps of national institutions, that added ‘live from’ to their portfolios some years ago, long before we could imagine the constraints of today. Many regional venues have recently begun to follow suit with one-off productions principally as fundraisers. For the Theatre on the Coast to deliver an entire season on consecutive weekends is a considerable achievement.
It is also undeniably a significant contribution to an English cultural tradition – coastal repertory theatre. Once, a night at a play or show would have been the highlight of most annual seaside holidays. In recent decades the tradition has ebbed away across much of England, in the face of rising costs and diverse travel and entertainment choices. However, it has, against the odds, remained resolutely strong in East Anglia. Established theatres have continued to thrive at Frinton-on-Sea, Aldeburgh, and Cromer. And in 2019 Townsend productions re-launched the long established Southwold summer season as the Theatre on the Coast.
Whether you are new to theatre or a long time fan, I can recommend the ‘Theatre on the Virtual Coast’. It’s great fun and a wonderful introduction into the delights of Southwold and, Suffolk. We can’t yet return to our theatres quite as we would like, but now, and for some time to come I suspect, they need us to be there for them, in whatever way possible. The Southwold season is already attracting audience members from around the world. Do join them if you can to keep this amazing part of our cultural heritage alive.
Visit the Theatre on the Virtual Coast to view productions and book
Check out the Frinton Summer Theatre