Paul T Davies speaks to Clive Brill, Producer and Artistic Director of Frinton Summer Theatre.
Essex is more than the ultra tanned, conversationally limited residents that TOWIE would have many people to believe. The county consists of beautiful countryside and coastline, none lovelier than the coastal town of Frinton-on-Sea. It’s genteel, quirky, and, unbelievably in 2018, home to the only remaining weekly rep theatre company in Britain. Based on the traditional structure in which actors would perform the weekly play in the evenings and rehearse the following week’s play during the day, this summer the company will present eight productions in seven weeks. It’s something of a tradition in Essex, has a loyal following, and brings an exciting buzz to the town- everyone discusses the plays and productions with a passion and enthusiasm many theatres would yearn for. Alumni include Vanessa Redgrave, Gary Oldman and Anthony Sher. In the middle of the heatwave, which makes Frinton’s coast shine even more beautifully, I chatted to Clive Brill, Producer and Artistic Director of Frinton Summer Theatre.
PTD: Tell me about your involvement with the summer theatre, how it all started for you.
CB: Mainly as the result of a mid life crisis! I had a long career in TV and Radio, mainly producing, (Clive still produces and directs radio drama), and I yearned to return to acting. I was lucky enough to be cast in Charley’s Aunt in the 2012 season, and I fell in love with Frinton and the theatre itself. Having never even been to Frinton prior to that engagement, I was determined to return, which I did and in my third year I brought Richard Wilson down to perform The Dog. In 2015, I became the producer and artistic director. One innovation I brought in was to extend the rehearsal time to ten days- believe it or not, that has made a big difference! And we also don’t have a fixed company for the season, the cast changes from show to show. However, each incoming company watches a run of the outgoing production, which creates a great feeling of support and camaraderie. It also means that we cast from a wide net, for example, we kick off this year with Driving Miss Daisy, and so older, strong characters are presented. We saw eight actresses for the role of Daisy, and the standard was incredibly high.
PTD: How do you get the balance right for the season? What influences your choices of production?
CB: Well, mainly we are audience driven, without whom we wouldn’t exist! On average, our box office is 85%, which I know many artistic directors would seriously envy! Our audiences are fiercely loyal, who see all productions and come every year, they are also very vocal! The Friends of Frinton Summer Theatre also do a wonderful job throughout the year raising money so we can book the McGrigor Hall for the season. I am very mindful that you need to please the audience, and I believe that going through the genres gets a right mix, you know, comedy, drama, thriller, musical.
PTD: Does that make the programme a bit risk adverse?
CB: Well, you can certainly take risks within the challenges you set yourself as a producer, whilst keeping your core audience in mind. I have brought in more contemporary work, such as Shelagh Stephenson’s Memory of Water, and this year we have a new play, Love Virtually, by Daniel Glattauer. The book has sold millions of copies throughout Europe, with dramatised versions following it. This will be the UK premier, and it’s a wonderful rom-com, and I produced the radio version with David Tennant and Emilia Fox. But I suppose the biggest risk this year is that we are doing Fiddler On the Roof under a tent on the greensward!
PTD: Now, that is a risk!
CB: Yes, and we are running it the same week as Death Trap plays in the Hall! Fiddler is so current now, with its themes of exile and migration, and I couldn’t resist it. So our audiences have the opportunity to see two shows in one week, and both on the Saturday!
PTD: Would you say that Fiddler is the biggest selling point this season?
CB: In many ways yes, because we are being adventurous by breaking out of the Hall, and we really want to showcase our talents to a bigger and wider audience- the Hall often sells out. But, as we receive no funding, we have to work within our budget limitations. But that can also be a strength, as our show has a group of terrific actor/musicians, a band instead of an orchestra, and puppets! It is, indeed, our biggest risk so far, but Fiddler On the Roof under canvas will be an experience we will remember! Then we end with a classic farce, Boeing Boeing, which hopefully will send our audiences out on a high!
PTD: It’s a great season, and I would also highlight that you’re commemorating the centenary of the end of the first Wold War with Private Peaceful. Thanks Clive, and here’s hoping I can catch some of it!
THE 2018 FRINTON SUMMER SEASON.
Driving Miss Daisy. 10th-14th July.
Our Man in Havana. 17th-21st July.
Private Peaceful. 24th-28th July.
Blithe Spirit. 31st July-4th August.
Love Virtually. 7th-11th August.
Death Trap. 14th-18th August.
Fiddler on the Roof- 14th-19th August.
Boeing Boeing. 21st-25th August.