11 May 2022

The Theatre Challenge is in Ipswich at the Regent Theatre

By Rachel Sloane
The Regent Theatre, Ipswich

As someone who was born in Ipswich, lived there, went to school in the town and worked there I have many memories of the Regent Theatre in Ipswich, which I knew as The Gaumont. As a child it was here that I had my first experience of the cinema, attended Victor Sylvester ballroom dance classes in what had been the restaurant, and had a major strop when my parents refused to let me join the queue to see the Beatles in the 1960’s. as I was too young! (Nowadays, a mother would be in the queue too to see a famous pop band!) As a teenager it was the place for first dates and seeing my first pop show – Herman’s Hermits!  As an adult I have appeared in charity shows on stage and go to see the occasional performance. 

Yes, I have a lot of memories associated with the Regent Theatre!

Built as a cine-variety hall it opened in 1929,  and ‘into its spacious foyer crowded nearly 2,000 Ipswich people who had come to witness this momentous occasion.’ https://ipswichtheatres.co.uk/

There was a brand new Wurlitzer organ, and a resident organist,  Frank Newman.  ‘The film chosen to open the venue then began – “The Last of Mrs Cheyney” starring Norma Shearer and Basil Rathbone – an ‘all-talking’ picture with front circle seats costing 2s / 4d.’

Concerts, ballet, tours, amateur and professional musicals have long been features at The Regent and, with fourteen boxes, it was considered very grand… 

In the 1950’s Buddy Holly and the Crickets started off the pop concerts and most of the big names have appeared there. 

‘By 1965 the proprietors, The Rank Organisation, were sufficiently confident of the future to spend £50,000 on a major modernisation and redecoration programme. But by the 1970’s, the large cinemas that had been so successful in the 30’s and 40’s proved to be less economically viable.’

The dance studio I remember was converted to a luxury 200-seat cinema, but as the theatre is the only one in Suffolk big enough for the big touring shows the auditorium was saved from being converted into a multi-screen cinema.

Ipswich Borough Council have owned The Regent since 1991, and it is here that the big touring shows appear in Suffolk


We Will Rock You by Ben Elton.

WE WILL ROCK YOU by Ben Elton, (photo: Johan Persson)

This was supposed to be my first theatre visit back in January when I started the Theatre Tour Challenge but, because of covid, the national tour was postponed. Finally, it is back on!

First performed in 2002 and a world-wide hit seen by 16 million people, the publicity says ‘the multi-million pound show dazzles all the senses in breath-taking style. Guaranteed to blow your mind, this musical phenomenon is not to be missed.’ 

Would it live up to its billing?

With 24 of Queen’s greatest hits in the show, I fully expected to end the evening with no voice after singing along to the likes of Radio Ga-Ga, I Want To Break Free, Killer Queen, and Bohemian Rhapsody. Well, I kept my voice … but it was still a great evening.

Before the start a recording of Ben Elton (the writer of the show) reminded us that they had a cast of 24 professional actor/singers so ‘please don’t sing along as they are better than you!” Actually, although that didn’t help to get the show rocking, it did mean there was no annoying next-door neighbour singing out of key to ruin the evening!

With dramatic lighting effects, back projection and a set that consisted of a double decker scaffolding stage, we were transported to a future world of the i-Planet where rock music and instruments are banned and all life is lived via a screen.

Lead character Galileo (played by Ian McIntosh) was desperate to get away, “I want to Break Free’ from this nightmare world of the authoritative silver-clad marching guards, who are under the control of the Killer Queen, (Jenny O’Leary) and her henchman, Khashoggi (Adam Strong)

 Spot a link? Yes, the lyrics of Queen songs were everywhere, not only in the numbers that the cast brilliantly belted out, rock-style, but also in the confusing and unexplained dreams that Galileo was having. His equally unhappy friend, later girlfriend, he named ‘Scaramouche’, although still not knowing why the name occurred to him. Played by Elena Skye, she was extremely funny, with a great voice and great comic timing, sassy, and standing for no nonsense, (such as being called “Chick” …which is what the boys thought all girls were called in the rock era).

Together they go in search of the legendary Bohemians, a breakaway rock/punk tribe who live at Hotel California and are hiding out whilst searching for the “Rhapsody’… but not knowing what they were looking for.

As well as great music the script, by Ben Elton is, as you would expect, very funny. The Bohemians have found scraps of old magazines so all have names of past pop stars….including Cliff Richard (“but you can call me Sir Cliff’), Britney Spears but also  “Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west”, and they mispronounce terms such as ‘Harley Davidson’ and ‘Video Recorder’ which they have only read.

The friend I went with to The Regent Theatre  has seen the show several times and said the jokes are always updated… and indeed a gag about covid masks got one of the biggest laughs from the packed audience.

After eventually arriving at the ruins of the old Wembley stadium, Galileo, Scaramouche, and Sir Cliff, discover a hidden electric guitar, work out the meaning of the words that Galileo has been dreaming, and we all get to join in with the cast with clapping, waving of arms and yes…. singing too!! 

The encore was, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody… and the rock musicians had a well-deserved standing ovation.

If you want to see a London show without the travel, are good at playing ‘spot the lyrics’ and want to leave the theatre with a smile of your face, and rock music ringing in your ears, this is a Great Night Out… Highly recommended. 

We Will Rock You is on at The Regent Theatre, Ipswich until 14th May 2022. https://ipswichtheatres.co.uk/

(Rachel challenged herself to visit every theatre in Suffolk this year, learn about its history, and review a production while she was there.)