The show will go on at Southwold this summer
- Credit: Archant
Actor and theatre producer Matthew Townshend tells Gina Long about how technology is playing its part in enabling Southwold Summer Theatre’s rep season to go ahead.
Matthew Townshend boasts a long career in theatre as an actor, director, writer, producer, and teacher. He grew up between home in Africa, school in Kent and acting with the National Youth Theatre. He has appeared in theatres, on film and on BBC Radio 4. He started mtp in 2000 and produces and co-produces a wide range of work, most recently the 2019/20 Frankenstein tour with Sell A Door. He lives in Woodbridge with his wife, Elaine, and their family.
What’s the impact of Covid-19 on your business and how are you adapting?
The impact on the whole of the theatre business has already been devastating, with the West End under threat and major regional theatres making redundancies and facing closure. At first our own plan was to postpone the Southwold Summer Theatre rep season, not cancel, but now we are planning to live stream as much as possible of the programme that we had originally planned.
What advice can you give to our readers during Covid-19?
I try to get a balance of opinion from commentators - scientists, historians, statisticians. Keeping positive and hopeful, being adaptable and being kind and staying patient will all help us get through!
What is your connection to East Anglia?
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My wife Elaine and family have had their home in mid-Suffolk for over 50 years but my first visits to these parts were to see friends. A motley crew of school and university friends would gather and together we discovered Aldeburgh, Southwold, Pin Mill, and even the Dog at Grundisburgh!
What is your East Anglian Heaven?
We enjoy our walks in the countryside; here in Woodbridge we are incredibly lucky to have the Deben with its views and the sounds of the birds and wind in the rigging of the yachts at their moorings - I love that sound, exciting and spooky at the same time. On clear nights the starscape is wonderful and the seashores by day, whether it’s grey and blustery or blue and hot, are a tonic for the spirits.
And what is your East Anglian Hell? I’m sure that we are not unique in East Anglia but the rise in traffic, road noise and insensitive, poorly planned, car hungry, environmentally blind development depress me.
What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?
We eat at home more than eat out and really appreciate being able to shop for good local produce, but when we do go out we’re quite spoilt for choice. In Woodbridge there’s always a warm welcome at The Crown and we’ve had some great evenings at The Table and dependable curries at Shapla, or lunch at the Sole Bay Fish Co. in Southwold. A bit further afield we’d probably head for the Ramsholt inn for the food and the wonderful location on the Deben, the river views and the sky.
What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?
It certainly involves friends, Adnams beer and a much-loved pub. We also enjoy concerts at Snape Maltings.
What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
It’s not really a landmark, but the watermill in Hoxne on the River Waveney is where I met Elaine and as the family home it has been a landmark in ours.
What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
At the moment as we try to keep live theatre alive I have to say that it’s the Summer Theatre on the Coast season in Southwold.
What’s your specialist Mastermind subject?
I might get by on the works of Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare but could also offer the story of civil aviation.
What is always in your fridge?
Suffolk Gold cheese, maybe a bottle of Adnams Ghost Ship, usually eggs from Hoxne and possibly even some Shawsgate wine! There’ll be meat from local butchers, Newbourne fruit and vegetables and we’ve been lucky to have local producers who are delivering.
What’s your favourite film?
Impossible! But it would be from the classics; Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, Olivier in Henry V, any of the Ealing comedies, Ken Loach’s Kes, Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero and, of course, Withnail and I.
What was your first job?
Between the end of school, my first summer with the National Youth Theatre and going to Cambridge I worked as an assistant stage manager at the Leas Pavilion in Folkestone in Kent, where there was still a repertory theatre running a season. I remember there was only one set of furniture and by the time I left the chairs were so rickety that the actors couldn’t put any weight on them but had to hover over the seat!
What is your most treasured possession?
Lots of inherited objects from my parents and grandparents – books and records and because they all were born abroad and worked in Africa for most if not all their lives, we have a collection of artefacts, carvings and sculptures that came back from Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria.
Who do you admire most?
My wife Elaine for her patience and skill as a teacher with young children, both our children for their resilience in the face of the disappointments and uncertainties they and all young people are having to deal with at the moment.
What is your biggest indulgence?
I have a PPL (private pilot’s licence) and I think that would count as an indulgent hobby or pastime!
What do you like about yourself most?
I’m a good entertainer and both of us bring people together. I believe that I can inspire others and incentivise them to achieve their best.
What’s your worst character trait?
I can hold on to an opinion and refuse to let go until forced by reality to admit defeat and change my position!
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
For a relaxing break, we’d head back to the Andalusian coast.
Best day of your life?
Wedding day, of course! We were so lucky to have the family home in Suffolk, the church a walk up the lane, an anthem composed by a close friend whom I’ve known since NYT days, a wedding breakfast in a barn in a field and all our close friends and family with us.
What’s your favourite tipple?
I always enjoy a good ale and you don’t get much better than Adnams. But I do like a rich and robust red wine and a good malt. Not together necessarily.
When were you most embarrassed?
Many years ago, as guests at a special event in London, I and two others were caught out when we turned around sniggering from a private joke to realise that we were face to face with, let’s say, a very senior member of the royal family.
What’s your earliest memory?
Getting my head stuck between the bannisters of the wooden staircase at our house in Kumasi, Ghana.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
It would either be a classical piece or possibly Tom Lehrer: how about We Will All Go Together When We Go?
What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
It’s not quite the worst thing but as a teenage aspiring actor in my NYT days, Barrie Rutter told me I had a face that wouldn’t come into its own until I was in my 40s. I think he was trying to be encouraging...
Tell us why you live here and nowhere else
For us, there are lots of connections. It’s also a place that in a small island can have the magic of feeling very far away, whilst still being accessible.
What do you want to tell our readers about most?
mtp, my producing company, is running the summer season of professional theatre at Southwold Arts Centre and we’re presenting a season of live-streamed performances in August and September. We’d planned a programme of new plays by established writers, a link up with the INK new writing festival, celebrity events and musical theatre and we’re presenting as much of the original schedule as we can. See more at at mtproductions.co.uk and look out for Theatre on the Coast to find out how you can watch the shows.
If you live in Suffolk or Norfolk and are adapting during Covid-19, email email@example.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram: ginalongmbe