10 October 2022

The theatre tour returns to Lowestoft – to The Players Theatre.

By Rachel Sloane
The Players Theatre, Lowestoft

I must have driven past this theatre several times when I’ve been in Lowestoft but hadn’t noticed it on Battery Green Road, the main road past the old harbour, just after the bridge. 

The Lowestoft Players bought the building in 2009 and transformed it into a 200 seat theatre which opened in 2012. Previously they’d performed in the Sparrow’s Nest Theatre, which I visited as part of my original 1988 BBC Radio Suffolk series about the county’s theatres, although it wasn’t a Lowestoft Players show, as far as I can remember.  

 ‘The Bethel’ opened in February 1899 as the Seamen’s and Fishermen’s Bethel after previously being in Commercial Road since 1864. The building closed around 2008 and was sold by the British International Sailors’ Society to The Lowestoft Players as a headquarters ‘with lots of potential’.

New toilet facilities and a licensed bar, were the first stage of an ambitious project, but more has been done over the following years and there are now rehearsal and dance studios and it can be hired for wedding receptions, conferences and seminars. 

In the auditorium, the walls of the old church are draped in attractive wall-hangings and the nave archways have full-length curtains.

The Players Theatre team gave a very warm welcome, both the helpful box office and the volunteer ushers lined up to greet the audience. This is team that is proud to declare that it is England’s most easterly theatre!

During this series I have been to several smaller theatres run very professionally by teams of keen amateurs. They all, whether hosting  am-dram shows or small scale professional tours, are a huge benefit to the county and should be praised and appreciated more.

The idea of this, Rachel’s Theatre Challenge, where over twelve months, I visit every theatre (and concert hall) in Suffolk, has also taught me something. I know and appreciate the amateur theatre groups in East Suffolk as that is my ‘home’ area. Going to Lowestoft where I have now seen both The Red Herring Theatre Company and The Lowestoft Players, has made me realise the quality of the amateur scene across the county. Forget any preconceptions about ‘am-dram’ that you have. There are some seriously good performers and backstage teams in Suffolk!

Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5, the Musical’

First, I should explain: I saw the Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5, the Musical’ in the West End in 2019. It was funny, a bit cheeky, had big star names in the lead roles and was a story that brilliantly portrayed how misogynistic some workplaces were in the 1980’s, when it is set. I went to see The Lowestoft Players production expecting that some of the key elements that made the London show so good would be missing. But no…

A filmed Dolly Parton, setting the scene and talking to the audience was there…. an hilarious scene where the ‘sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot’ of a boss (who was also into sadomasochism) got his come-uppance was there…. And the wonderful leading roles for women were really well portrayed…

The front of the proscenium arch stage was framed with metal, with the back a giant screen. Before the show started, it was showing a vintage television, with adverts from the 1980’s, which was a great audience talking point and an effective reminder of the era we were about to see portrayed. The programme notes said “… some of it is a little chauvinistic in today’s standards but I trust you won’t be offended by the content. It’s all part of the period, written with tongue in cheek!”  

A giant TV on the screen at the back of the stage, prior to the opening number.

On the screen was the best use of projection I have seen in any theatre, so seamlessly the scenes changed from the office to the bosses house to a hospital etc (although I did feel sorry for any set painters now out of a job!) 

The terrible boss, Franklin Hart Jr, was played by John Marjoram as a HORRiBLE man that his staff (and the audience) loathed. I remember that Brian Conley played the role in London much more for laughs. However, John Marjoram’s portrayal, when he was being his most awful to his female staff, really had us rooting for them!

Violet Newstead, the mature office manager who does all the work while Franklin Hart Jr gets the credit, (played by Emily Simpson), Doralee Rhodes, the Dolly Parton character (Polly Blowers) whom everyone thinks is sleeping with the boss as he said so, and is relentlessly pursued by him, (think dropped pens, books on high shelves etc), and the naïve newcomer Judy Bernley (Daisy Such), are very good in their roles… especially when they finally have reached the end of their tether and taken revenge upon Franklin. 

The actor who ‘stole the show’ in the London production was Bonnie Langford, throwing off her prim secretary’s clothes to reveal suspenders and basque, for a raunchy dance and a song revealing how she secretly loves Franklin. In Lowestoft it was Paula Crisp who played the role of Roz Keith, company administrator… and she too ‘brought the house down’, as they say. Of a very different type to Bonnie Langford, she too stripped off and made us ache with laughter with her suggestive dancing. Brilliant!

The principal actors are supported by a quality cast of singers, dancers and actors, who also take on different parts (watch out for the hospital scene and a revealing hospital gown!).  The nine musicians are excellent and play, hidden from our sight, on a platform above the stage.  I had to check the programme to confirm it was live music.

The singing and acting were very good and the staging excellent, and it was VERY funny. It is not often I can say I cried with laughter… but I really did! (And I even knew what was coming next…) 

Tickets are going fast… book one quickly. It was definitely worth the drive to Lowestoft from my home in Felixstowe. 

Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 is at the Players Theatre on Battery Green Road, Lowestoft for 10 performances from 7th to 16th October 2022. www.lowestoftplayers.co.uk