2019 President's Day
Over 20 Club Members and partners celebrated IPP Les Sheppard’s year of office with a tour of Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal and a matinee.thumbnail view
President’s Day Trip to Bury St Edmunds
On August 28 a party of over 20 Club Members and partners celebrated IPP Les Sheppard’s year of office.
To be (or not to be) a Thespian, to tread the boards, don the greasepaint and hear (not see) the standing ovation as you take your final bow. All the world’s a stage....... Perchance to Dream The Impossible Dream.
Enough! You cry. Calm down, dears – it was only a theatre tour and performance. But what a tour, what a performance. Thanks to the inspired instigation of IPP Les, we celebrated his President’s Day with a trip to the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.
Mystical morning tour of the Regency theatre, one of eight Grade 1 listed theatres in the UK and the only working theatre operated under the auspices of the National Trust but managed by the Royal Theatre Company.
Diversity for lunch spots (four of us chose the Greene King Brewery canteen!) Then magical performance of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with west end actors and members of the theatre’s own Young Performers learning their trade – and how!
Missed you, Ben
Our party: 19 on the coach from Christchurch in Perry Street at 9.00 am. Sadly, President Ben felt unwell and he and Angela had to cry off and Ken and Jeannie Smith made their own way to join us for lunch and the show. We had time before leaving for our cheery coach driver to take the photograph of us all outside the theatre. Go on – see yourself in the team photograph.
The theatre: Opened by its proprietor and architect William Wilkins on October 11, 1819. Wilkins had an international reputation, responsible for, amongst others, London’s National Gallery and Downing College, Cambridge. He employed a company of players for an annual tour of six theatres, Yarmouth, Ipswich, Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds, Colchester and King’s Lynn until the arrival of the railway in 1840.
It went into decline until, in 1892, it staged the world premiere of Charlie’s Aunt. Business boomed again briefly but it closed in 1903, only to reopen in 1906. In 1920, Greene King purchased the threshold and closed again with the advent of the cinema. Greene King used it as a barrel store until the 1960’s when, led by Air Vice Marshal Stanley Vincent, the locals raised over £37,000 to restore and reopen it in 1965. From 1975 it was vested by the NT on a 999-year lease.
In 2005, it began a £5.3m restoration to match its 1819 configuration and decoration. Today, it is back to a Regency theatre with a Georgian repertoire.
The tour: With an excellent guide, we saw the huge stage from up “in the Gods “ and also the incredible ceiling, painted with sky and clouds to give an amphitheatre effect. It works. (But how they manage to keep it pristine by repainting when needed, even the “Gods” could not explain!)
And the frieze across the top of the stage of the Graces and Muses, then taken backstage to see the costume and make-up departments and on to and below the stage.
Like visiting the Old Curiosity Shop! Costumes everywhere, saws and hammers, clever lighting processes and how the long stage could be rolled back to allow for the orchestra to have their pit area and told about the clever staff who designed the clothes. Then on the stage – a desire to perform a play of our own while watched from the next tour party in the “Gods”. A flourish from us, applause from up high. Much more, all thrilling.
The performance: Superb acting out Austen’s comic satire of the times - “a west end show” as a Member remarked. How right, he was. Clever use of the stage as the story moved on – windows that were turned to meet all acts and even a large bowl of flowers on a single chair for the historic garden scene. Sadly, we did not see a sodden Mr D’Arcy emerge from a lake. One step too far even for the Theatre Royal!
No grumble about our restricted seating. We were split into intimate boxes each side of the stage. Some of us saw one half, others saw what others could not see. We could have signalled to each other, but why bother? We shared our images and thoughts at the end. Verdict – just one lovely social day out. Thank you, Les.
By Trevor Bond.