Thursday, July 04, 2013
Family Summer Holidays- Part 4
Frinton holds more memories from when we went there for our summer holidays during the '60's. We stayed almost exclusively within Frinton, but there were one or two forays into the outside world and I do remember going to Walton-on- the-Naze, which is further up the coast, although we may have walked there along the sea-front. It can't be more than a couple of miles. There is a pier there, which Frinton has never had. You can see this pier from Frinton. I have to admit that Frinton does have a sort of snobbish air about it. It has none of the, what I would call 'classic' seaside attractions such as a pier, which would have made Walton and even Clacton, which is further down the coast, so attractive to us children. The entertainments on these piers would have been a draw for us children and I seem to remember my mother taking us to Clacton one evening to go on the pier but I have an idea that she might not have approved of it, the sort of 'kiss-me-quick', candyfloss, bright neon lights and cheap entertainment not probably being to her taste. These resorts had summer shows on, with stars of stage and the world of pop music headlining. I recall that Leslie Crowther spent his holiday at Frinton, presumably he was in summer season at Walton or Clacton and chose Frinton to relax as it wasn't going to be quite so popular as either of the other resorts. I think he was starring in a popular children's television show on BBC television called "Crackerjack", at the time, as well as compering some sort of Saturday evening show or other.
Although Frinton doesn't have the classic 'summer season' style theatre entertainment, it does have the famous Frinton Summer Theatre. I think it may have been this which started me off on my interest in theatre. It remains, quite remarkably, the last remaining Equity standard company producing weekly repertory theatre in this country. They do seven plays, of a week each, over seven weeks. I worked in rep as first a Student A.SM. , then a fully-fledged A.S.M.(see earlier posts.) and worked my way up to D.S.M. I did three-weekly rep with some theatres I worked for, but never weekly. These theatres were subsidised with Arts Council and Local Authority money, but, unfortunately, these forms of theatre are virtually dead. Due, mostly, to Government cuts. Most theatres that are left and were your traditional 'rep' now have programmes made up of touring productions, although some companies do attempt to put on homegrown productions in short seasons that are similar to the traditional idea of 'rep.' One such company is the Royal Theatre, in Northampton. Some companies do co-produce plays, so that costs are spread further.
The Summer Theatre in Frinton is in what is little more than a village hall, or, at least, that is what it looks like from the outside. It is apparently celebrating it's 75th anniversary in 2014. It has been the training-ground for some well-known names within the acting profession, such as Vanessa Redgrave, Gary Oldman, David Suchet and Lynda Bellingham. During the 70's, the period I was working in 'rep' you had to have an Equity card, Equity being the union for those working in professional theatre. You started off with a Provisional membership (a red card) and only got your Full Membership (blue) after you had worked 42 weeks on Equity contracts, and you could only work in professional theatre with a full Equity card. These 'rep' companies were where actors could learn their craft, playing a range of different parts in a fairly wide range of plays over a season which could run for 6 months to a year. One week you could be a lead in a Shakespeare play and the next you could be the butler, or maid or a minor part. You'd be performing one play whilst rehearsing the next one. The stage of the Summer Theatre is 17 feet by 13, which seems a remarkably small space. I can't imagine how they manage to perform on such a tiny stage, what with having a set, wings 'off-stage' and all the back-stage equipment that would be necessary to put on a show. And to produce something of a really amazingly high standard is even more remarkable.