7 November 2022

And my Theatre Tour goes on… to Beccles

By Rachel Sloane
Beccles Public Hall and Theatre

The stage at Beccles Public Hall has a 1903 plaque above, marking the renovation of the building, so it has been a venue at a busy crossroads in the town centre, for many years. The website says that, 

“In 1785 the Corporation of Beccles Fen decided that building a Public Room as an Assembly Room and a Playhouse would encourage people of independent means to move to the town” however goes on to say that “not much of John Fulcher’s original design has survived.”

Over the years the hall had been used for a variety of purposes: “as a Theatre, for Balls and Assemblies, the Portreeve’s Feast, as a dancing school, a place for the Masons to play cards, a tea room, as a temporary home for the Independent Church in 1812 while their chapel was being rebuilt, auctions, the gallery was used as the National School from 1822, a practice room for the Beccles juvenile band of musicians, as a library for the Library Institution, and as a place of worship while St Michael’s was being restored in 1858.”

“The vision of the Beccles Public Hall directors and management team is to develop a centrally located facility where local people can access and enjoy a wide range of activities from events, concerts and performances to special interest groups.”

The theatre is owned by Beccles Lido Ltd and is used as a flexible space with seating for 175 people downstairs and 48 in the upstairs gallery. The easy removal of the stackable chairs means that conferences and dances are also held in the hall. 

The auditorium of the theatre, pre-performance

The hall is fully accessible, and the foyer has a small box office area and a bar. There is a public carpark nearby. 



Oliver! – the programme

Continuing my plan to not only visit every Suffolk theatre in 12 months, but also see a wide range of genres, this ever-popular musical gave me the opportunity to see a youth theatre group in action. The Beccles Youth Theatre, for 8-18 year olds, combined with members of the adult group to stage this production.

Based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, the story is of a Victorian work-house orphan boy (Oliver, played in the production  I saw by Bobby Penman-Hartigan) who is sold by the Beadle Mr Bumble (Andy Salton) to an undertaker, rescued by the Artful Dodger (Flo Cook) and then gets accepted into a gang of thieves and pickpockets led by Fagin (Adrian Wright). Wrongly accused of theft, Oliver briefly lives a grander lifestyle with Mr Brownlow ((Paul Clark) before being snatched back into the gang by Nancy (Alison Dean) at the behest of her lover, the sinister Bill Sykes (Matthew Vanston). 

The rear of the compact stage was filled with a monotone image of Victorian slums, and a gallery across it (with stairs and a ladder to access) expanded the performance area and added an extra dimension (literally) to the action. Great use was also made of the auditorium, right from the opening bars of the first song, “Food Glorious Food”, when the stamping of the orphans’ boots could be heard at the rear entrance before they marched in, singing the opening lines “is it worth the waiting for,… if we live till 84.. all we ever get is gruel!” as they made their way through the seated audience and onto the stage. 

With great costumes, singing and dancing, this show was bound to be a crowd-pleaser and there were a lot of families in the audience (and so a couple of early leavers) – perhaps parents had forgotten the darker, violent, side of the story? 

The story and most of the songs are well-known (I found myself mouthing along) but highlights for me were Mr and Mrs Sowerbury (Simon Peck and Ruby Bardwell-Dix) the undertakers, singing  “That’s Your Funeral”, Nancy and the cast with “Oom- pah- pa”h, singing and dancing in the pub, “Who Will Buy”, the street sellers entering through the audience again,  and Fagin’s “I’m Reviewing the Situation”. 

A special mention must go to Fagin’s dog Bullseye (real name Princess) who got his own biography in the programme, which says “This is Princess’ stage debut and having trained at RADA (The Royal Academy of Dog Arts) hopes to take on other famous theatrical roles … Sandy in Annie, Toto in the Wizard of Oz…etc.!

A talented adult cast supported the enthusiastic and well-rehearsed junior cast, who all looked as though they were having the best time.  

Inside the programme

Oliver! was on at Beccles Public Hall and Theatre 29th Oct – 6th November 2022