28 August 2022

Rachel’s Theatre Tour …in Pakefield at the Seagull Theatre

By Rachel Sloane

When I did the original tour of Suffolk theatres in 1988, for BBC Radio Suffolk, I didn’t go to The Seagull Theatre at Pakefield. Looking back, I assumed that it wasn’t open then, but from the history of the theatre it appears that they were functioning … as an arts centre. Perhaps there wasn’t any productions in 1988?

Anyway, I have made it now. The theatre is in an 1835 school building where you can still faintly see the entrance doors are labelled ‘girls’, ‘boys’ and ‘infants.’ A plaque says that it closed for the war in 1945 and never reopened as a school. From the 1960’s Suffolk County Council ran the premises as an arts centre, but it closed and was boarded up, ready for sale and demolition in 2006.

A campaign was launched to ‘Save our Seagull’ and eventually a local resident bought the building to save it. It is now a Community Interest Company (“The Seagull’) and is run by volunteers.

Many of the smaller scale and ‘one-man’ professional touring shows come to The Seagull and it also is the home of the local amateur group, The Red Herring Theatre Company. This last fact was quite hard to find actually. The programme of the play I attended (nor the theatre website, as far as I could see) didn’t name or explain who ‘RHTC’ were – I suppose locals know, as the group been going for 40 years, but visitors and holidaymakers might be, like me, a bit baffled! (I spent the interval googling RHTC to try and find out more.)

The Seagull is on a residential street with limited parking onsite, but there are public carparks a few minutes walk away. I found a roadside space. You enter via a wonderfully quirky bar area, with lots of things to look at (a moose head, theatre masks, props, chandeliers, pictures and posters ).

The building is home to arts workshops and studios, and there are community clubs that meet there too. The performance space is a ‘black box’ with a floor level stage area and tiered seating for about 100 people, so it is an intimate venue.


George Orwell’s ‘1984’ adapted by Richard Melchoir.

Performed by the Red Herring Theatre Company – Saturday 27th August 2022

This was never going to be a comedy! I expected a challenging and slightly scary evening and that was what we got. Entering, the dark theatre was lit with dramatic red lighting and the stage area was bare apart from a scaffolding platform, a raised dais, and two rows of red chairs, facing each other from the sides of the stage. Behind was a large tele-screen, showing moving CCTV of a street scene, with facial recognition of those walking.

Already in position on stage were two men, dressed in black suits with red ties, a red logo on their breast pockets. One standing on the scaffolding proved to be Big Brother, who made announcements with intimidating authority and was played by Brad Mercer. On the dais sat Goldstein (Richard Melchior, silently watching for most of the play until it was revealed who he was, when he spoke for the most part in kindly persuasive tones, but all the more scary for that….especially when he was involved in the torturing at the Ministry of Love). Also onstage at the start was a uniformed guard ( Pason’s Child, played by Isla Henderson, like a Hitler Young member). This may have been a small spoken part but she was SO intimidating, as for the length of the play she constantly monitored the audience and cast with a steely gaze!

After they entered, the full cast of fifteen were assembled on stage throughout, sitting on the facing chairs when they weren’t actually performing. Clad mainly in boiler suits, they sat straight-backed, stony faced, with hands on their knees – such discipline and so appropriate for the story. When Big Brother made proclamations it was so like watching a Hitler rally as rose, chanting in unison the slogans of The Party.

The story of ‘1984;’ is well known. The Party rules the superstate Oceania and has complete control over the brain-washed citizens, with a Ministry of Truth (or should that be un-truth?), the Thought Police, and Room 101, where citizens are punished when their deepest fears come to life. The narrator, diary-keeper Winston Smith (an excellent performance from Harry Quirk,) had the audience rooting for him as, with his new girlfriend Julia Tillotson (Lola Matthews), they met secretly and planned to fight against the oppressive regime. Betrayed by their landlord, they found themselves heading for torture and Room 101.

A simple set, with the screen used cleverly to emphasise the action ( Oh, those rats in Room 101!), excellent sound effects, and lighting… and such a disciplined cast.

It wasn’t an easy watch, but the adaptation of a complicated book was excellent (Trump’s “alternative facts”, Russia in the Cold War and today, all came to mind). I won’t forget that moment at the end when the whole cast turned as one and stared at the audience as Big Brother boomed out… “Big Brother Is Watching You”.