Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Lucky to have the Marine Theatre

ONE of the biggest names in comedy, Jo Brand, appeared at the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis, one of the smallest venues of its kind in the country, on Monday evening before a sell-out audience. 

It was not so long ago that Michael McIntyre, now THE biggest comedy act in the country, trod the boards at the Marine and in recent times such household names as Anne Widdecombe, John Sargeant, Douglas Hurd, Rich Hall, Ade Edmondson and Charlie Watts have also appeared at the theatre by the sea.

How lucky are we, who live in a town with a population less than 4,000, to have a theatre which seats only 250 people that attracts such a high calibre of entertainment?

Back in the 1980s I fronted a week of entertainment at the Marine featuring Richard Digance, Jim Davidson and Hale & Pace which raised £30,000 in a bid to save the hospital.

Back in the 1950s there was always a summer show at the Marine; the one that sticks in my memory was a cowboy show starring a white horse which was kept backstage.

In the Sixties a promoter called Bob Alexander brought some of the biggest names in pop music to the Marine, including The Searchers, The Tremeloes and The Swingin’ Blue Jeans. It was where most of my generation did their courting.

And folklore has it that the enigmatic Jimmy Cagney appeared at the Marine to entertain the American troops billeted in the town before the  invasion of Europe.

The Marine has certainly had a colourful history and, of course, has courted its fair share of controversy over the years.

The ownership of the theatre has now been passed to a trust with financial support from the town council to the tune of around £30,000 a year.

The Marine has had to rely on grant aid for many years to survive; it is just not possible for a theatre to make ends meet with a seating capacity of 250. It also relies heavily on voluntary assistance.

There has been much debate in the council chamber in recent times on whether the theatre should continue to receive such a high level of financial support and greater efforts should be made to make it self-supporting. 

There are also those who think the fabric of the theatre has been ignored for far too long and there has to be some investment to keep the building habitable.

Then there is the vexed question of inadequate support from West Dorset District Council compared with their funding of similar facilities in Bridport and Sherborne.

In planning its budget for the coming year, the town council has indicated that it is prepared to continue its financial support at its current level for at least another three years which gives the trust breathing space to get to grips with some of their pressing needs.

The current artistic directors, Tim Bell and Harry Long, are doing a fantastic job at the Marine, having increased its footfall year on year by 48 per cent.

They have been less ambitious than some of those who have run the theatre in the past but have still managed to produce a diverse and highly entertaining programme of shows which appeal to a wide range of theatre-goers.

And they are very conscious of the need to provide facilities for local stage groups to use the building and are keen that the Marine is seen very much a part of the community.

Lyme is indeed fortunate to have a theatre where live entertainment is still provided, not to mention the fact that we also have a cinema open seven days a week.

I didn’t get to see Jo Brand on Monday evening but I was pleased to see on a clip on YouTube that she used material from the View from Lyme Regis (our recent story on the town toilets) for one of her hilarious sketches.

COMEDIAN Jo Brand pictured with the Marine 
Theatre’s Tim Bell at Monday’s sell-out show


HAVING compered the annual Festival of Remembrance in Lyme Regis for the best part of the last two decades I have come to admire greatly the work of the Royal British Legion.

So much so, in fact, that I have become a member, which is now possible for those who have not served in the Armed Forces, and will be marching with other Legion members in the annual Remembrance Parade on Sunday.

You will read elsewhere in this week’s View that I have decided to stand down as compere of the Festival of Remembrance after officiating at the event for the past 15 years or so. The popularity of the festival has been declining gradually over the years and my commentary has become a tad predictable as the years have passed. 

It’s time to ring the changes and the Legion, quite sensibly, have decided to review the format and come up with some new ideas for the future.

One thing I am sure of is that the work of the Legion is as crucial today as it was when the organisation was set up in 1921 to care for those who served in the First World War.

Legion members in this town and up and down the land do a fantastic job caring for those who have served their country and their families, much of their work going unseen and unpublicised.

Lyme Regis has a proud record of supporting the Poppy Appeal and I hope the townspeople will help organiser Sylvia Marlar and her band of helpers make 2012 another record year and help the Legion reach its national target of £42 million.

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