14 November 2022

The Theatre Tour is in Halesworth – The Cut

By Rachel Sloane
The Cut arts centre at night


It was a very dark winter’s night when I walked along the narrow residential street to where The Cut is to be found. The car parking is a few minutes walk away, in the town centre. Entering, there are a few steps up into the café (there is a stair lift, which I noticed wasn’t working when I arrived, so it may be worth a phone call to check first if you find stairs tricky). These steps lead into the spacious café, where there is a lift to all other areas, and the doors into the theatre itself. The café was just serving drinks and cakes on the evening I attended but during the day hot food is available and it is a popular meeting place in the town.

The Cut, a rural arts centre, was created in an historic derelict maltings building owned, in 1999, by Micropress Printing  who sold it to PanTeknikon an artist’s cooperative, who saw the potential of the building as an arts and performance centre.   New Cut Arts (NCA), was formed, gaining charitable status in 2000 , when fundraising started with donations from local people. Ownership of the building passed on to NCA in 2000.

‘A mixture of EEDA and English Heritage funding, as well as considerable volunteer work in kind, enabled the leaking flat roof to be replaced, the old Victorian windows to be secured and basic welfare facilities to be installed,’ says their website.

In 2002 the first Halesworth Arts Festival was held, and a year later Suffolk County Council funding allowed the renovation to be completed. Getting grant support was an ongoing problem but, in 2006, ten business units were created providing some regular income.

The HighTide Festival was started at The Cut (it is now based in Aldeburgh) and currently the Ink Festival, for new short plays, has its home at The Cut. Along with other businesses and creative arts people, the charity Suffolk Artlink are based in the ‘east wing’ of the building which NCA bought in 2012. 

‘New Cut Arts receives no central funding and relies on the support of the local community and The Cut Lottery members who help to pay the mortgage.’

The Cut has, as well as the café with licensed bar, meeting rooms, an art gallery and studios that are used for classes, and activities. The auditorium itself has 208 comfortable raked seats, that look down onto the floor-level stage.

A few full-time and part time staff and a team of volunteers are proud to say they host arts, music, theatre, dance, comedy, cinema, workshops and exhibitions and The Cut is “ a creative hub for entertainment, education and enterprise.’


Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring, performed by Roughcast Theatre Company

The programme for Arsenic and Old Lace

The Rough Cast Theatre Company opened their eight-night tour of this well-known farce at The Cut in Halesworth. 

Written in 1939 , many people know the story from the 1944 film that starred Cary Grant, but I came fresh to the play… and to the theatre company. 

“We are an amateur group in the original sense of doing it “for the love of it” but we hope the negative connotation of the word does not apply to us,” states their website, which also says that they usually put on classic plays, including Shakespeare.  

If I hadn’t first read their website, I might have been surprised that the stage at The Cut was set with stark grey screens and grey built-in sidetable and window box. Completing the set was a traditional small dining table with tablecloth, set for tea. Those screens provided several entrances and were vertically labelled with ‘cellar’, ‘window’, ‘kitchen’ etc , in large print. it seemed strangely modern  for a play set in the 1940’s, however the website had warned: 

“We are a touring company and necessarily travel light. So you will not usually find very much in the way of a set, or indeed a stage in the normal sense.”

The stage for Arsenic and Old Lace

The very accomplished cast of twelve were dressed in clothes of the period however… and those signs were very helpful as the farce unfolded. 

Without giving too much away (as the tour is continuing until 26th November) the story of Arsenic and Old Lace involves the Brewster family. The two elderly old-fashioned sisters (with lace touches on their clothes) when they find a gentleman lodger is alone in the world, poison him (with an arsenic- infused wine), before their nephew buries him in the cellar, along with eleven or twelve other bodies!! 

The wonderfully gentile sisters, Martha and Abbie, who cannot see there is a problem with their ‘mercy-killing ‘ were played convincingly by Annie McClarnon and Pat Parris. Their mad nephew Teddy, with his bugle playing, conviction he is President Eisenhower and that he is digging the Panama Canal in the basement, was a finely judged and very funny performance by Rob Johnson.

Into the this setup comes Teddy’s two brothers, first the theatre critic Mortimer (a funny, high-octane performance by Benjamin Wilmott) who, horrified,  stumbles onto his aunts well-meaning if misjudged lifestyle, when he finds a body in the window-box storage chest. Later the third brother arrives, the scar-faced gangster Jonathan (Bruce Alcorn) with his plastic-surgeon sidekick, Dr Einstein (Barry Givens), looking for a hideout … and somewhere to bury the body currently hidden in the boot of their car!

The two sisters and three nephews are well-supported by a strong cast, and the timing is spot-on for a fast-moving farce.

This play could have seemed dated but, with the interesting set and an excellant cast, this was a funny and enjoyable night at the theatre.  


The 2022 Tour:

11th November – The Cut, Halesworth

12th November – Diss Corn Hall

13th November  Hoxne Village hall

18th November – Beccles Public Hall and Theatre

19th November – Fisher Theatre, Bungay

20th November – St Edmunds Hall, Southwold

25th November Garboldisham Village Hall

28th November Wingfield Barns