The Theatre Challenge 2022 reaches Felixstowe
The Spa Pavilion Theatre, Felixstowe:
With its landmark location on the promenade overlooking the sea, surrounded by cliffside gardens with winding well-lit pathways, my tour of every theatre in Suffolk in twelve months is in Felixstowe at the Spa Pavilion.
The theatre is five minutes’ walk from where I live, but I probably don’t go to it as often as I should. More on that later.
Felixstowe had a seafront Edwardian bandstand, then a Floral Hall, before the first the theatre was built on the site in 1909. With 700 seats, the Spa Pavilion was revamped in the 1930’s, as a large theatre and music hall, where stars such as Joyce Grenfell and Tommy Trinder appeared. In 1928 it was destroyed by a wartime bomb and was rebuilt as we see it today, a large theatre with nearly 900 raked seats (and no boxes or balcony) and a traditional proscenium arch stage. Stars past and present, such as Norman Wisdom Joe Pasquale and Frank Skinner, have performed there and it has been the home for several amateur and semi-professional local theatre companies too.
The theatre closed in 2013 when management companies for Suffolk Coastal District Council couldn’t make it pay any longer. It was sold by the council two years later, for £1, to its current owner Ray Anderson, who has brought it back to life.
“It’s a wonderful theatre with its art deco features and we’re really make a go of it,” explained Box Office Manager, Sophie Kennelly. “Although Covid put a bit of a hold on things, we are now going with bigger and better shows. We are still being cautious and are spacing seating where we can, but it is great to have live entertainment back in Felixstowe again.”
There are challenges, as the theatre has no fly-tower and has a limited backstage area.
“A recent Whitney Houston tour usually has a massive LED video wall and projections, and things that had to be scaled back a little as our stage isn’t quite tall enough. But it works fine.”
The reason I had not been to the Spa Pavilion much in the past, apart from attending the excellent am-dram musicals, was the high number of tribute acts.
“That is the impression that some people still have and, to be fair, we do still have some really good tribute acts that go down well, but we are interspersing them with the big names, tours, comedy and different sorts of things to attract different audiences. The Denis Lowe Theatre Company have been here for over 50 years and they still do our Christmas Pantomime, and do big musicals too. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is coming soon.”
I spoke to Sophie in the lounge-bar restaurant, overlooking the sea, which was formed in the previous reconstruction of the theatre by enclosing a balcony. The theatre now has planning permission to install an extension to the lounge, with sliding doors onto an open balcony.
“What is so lovely with our position here is that many of the buildings along Felixstowe seafront, have the road in front of them, before you get to the promenade. We are right on the beach so it feels almost like you are on a cruise ship and you can sit and see the sea and the ships going past. Many performers come here and are surprised as they have never been to a venue quite like this before.”
Saved during Covid by the Culture Recovery Grant they received, the Spa audiences are getting the confidence to come back and the coach parties are beginning to return. Large theatres like the Spa Pavilion have their fingers tightly crossed for the future.
For the programme of shows to come go to https://spapavilion.uk/
On my Theatre Tour Challenge, as well as going to every theatre in Suffolk in twelve months, I am trying to see a whole variety of productions. So …
COME WHAT MAY – The Ultimate Tribute to Moulin Rouge and the Hit Movie Musicals. (Spa Pavilion, Saturday 12 February 2022)
A country-wide tour brought this song and dance extravaganza to Felixstowe, starring Robin Windsor, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, an Ipswich ‘boy’, enjoying the loud and excited support of home-crowd fans who were amongst the large audience. It was interesting that it was a younger audience (maybe 30 and 40 year- olds), some girls-night-out groups ,but also almost as many men as women. The wide influence of Strictly perhaps?
Leading the team of two singers, seven dancers (usually eight) and Robin, was the wonderful Master of Ceremonies-cum -ringmaster, David Wyatt who, as well as a very good singer and dancer, had the audience in his hands as he encouraged them to join in the fun. With a natural sense of comedy and the absurd, I liked it when in one song, he was singing about tipping the band and gave a knowing glance and wink to the audience, acknowledging the recorded soundtrack they were performing too!
The show had opened with dazzling lighting effects and, with voluptuous red silk draped curtains and a few black bentwood chairs, the ‘sexy, disruptive and glamorous underworld of Paris’ lived up to its billing, with more than a hit of burlesque. The dance routines dazzled with lifts and acrobatic moves that would surely have had some tops marks from the Strictly judges, had they been there. Mention must be made of the Dance Captain Chloe Gatwood, an amazing dancer, who spent a lot of the evening held aloft or upside down – often by Robin, who was loving every moment on stage with his high energy dancing. One dance that the audience particularly appreciated was all the dancers doing the can- can, including the men.
The two lead singers, Charlotte Rose and Ron Remke, were excellent and, with David and the dancers singing too, had us enjoying not only songs from Moulin Rouge but also The Greatest Show, Rocket Man, A Star is Born and other musical movies.
A huge shout-out to the costume designer too. With lots of quick changes, it was a feast for the eyes, with lots of top hats and tails for the men, and for the women, red, silver, sparkling and scanty, with black stockings and suspenders (the latter not just on the women!).
It was fast, fabulous and funny. We left the theatre and walked back along the promenade with a happy, buzzing crowd… and with our ears buzzing too, both from the music (it was loud!) and from the screams and cheers of a very appreciative audience.
What an atmosphere!
The show continues its national tour and returns to Suffolk in early March, to the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds on 3rd March and the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft on 5th March 2022.