Paying the bills in Southwold

RACHEL BANHAM Southwold Summer Theatre is almost as much a part of the north Suffolk coastline as its glorious scenery, a paddle in the water and a good pint. Rachel Banham spoke to Jill Freud about the forthcoming season.


As the rest of the country wakes up to its first glorious sunny days and warmer weather, Jill Freud and Company have held thoughts of summer for the best part of a year.

For, far from being a seasonal pursuit, Jill's full-time team of four began planning the 2004 Southwold Summer Theatre just weeks after the last one was complete. Shows such as The Boyfriend and The Importance of Being Earnest, which take to the stage in July and August, take some planning.

The theatre plays to a 95pc box office in Southwold and 85pc in Aldeburgh. This year it celebrates 21 years in Southwold and 10 in Aldeburgh, but the theatre still costs almost £250,000 annually to put together – its rent for accommodating its actors has nearly tripled in the past two years.

And this year Jill has also had to deal with the news that Waveney District Council has withdrawn its grant to the theatre. Southwold Town Council and Suffolk Coastal still do give grants – but the total combined is still a fraction of what it costs to put on the shows.

Jill said: “We are flourishing but we are non-profitmaking and we have to pay all the bills. For next year we've got to find some sort of way of paying for everything.”

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But for now, she's looking forward to what she describes as a 'great' season.

“The Boyfriend is such a fun show with lovely songs. It's very English and very romantic. Sandy Wilson, who wrote it, is coming to the first night. I think that will be a very exuberant start,” she said.

“Then we have a really strong thriller (Murder by Misadventure by Edward Taylor) with a twist every five minutes.

“We're also doing our own adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look Now, set in Venice. We hope to bring the whole of Venice to our tiny stage. That's going to be very exciting for us and very interesting for the audience, I hope so anyway.”

There's also the classic Oscar Wilde comedy The Importance of Being Earnest and Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular.

There are Sunday galas and children's shows in Southwold and Aldeburgh, as well as 'lunchtime jazz', 'poetry, music and wine', 'lunchtime theatre' and 'supper theatre at seven' exclusive to Southwold.

And there are some special celebrity evenings. Paul Heiney and Libby Purves will appear at Southwold on Sunday August 22, while Stefan Bednarczyk presents the music of Flanders and Swann at Aldeburgh on Sunday July 25, at 8pm.

Jill and her team now put on some 28 different events over 10 weeks in Southwold, and nine weeks in Aldeburgh.

St Edmund's in Southwold had had a long history of weekly rep played in a flat hall. But things changed in 1984 when Jill was offered the Southwold Summer Theatre. A week after the tenancy was agreed, her husband Sir Clement Freud obtained unwanted seating from the Ford Motor Company. They never looked back – and have put on a range of productions ever since. Last year new seating was installed, and a special booklet was produced to mark the theatre's 20th anniversary.

But if she continues to receive no grant from Waveney, Jill admits she's facing the future with a mixture of enthusiasm and unease.

“We are a very, very committed company and we love what we do. We all think that we do a cracking job. We are absolutely determined to find a way to go on but at the moment we don't know what that way is,” she said.

“It is a mixture of excitement and trepidation. It's not trepidation for this season – I don't want anybody to think there's any chance we won't be up there in July. But it's for the future – how do you go on after that? That's the problem.”

For Southwold Summer Theatre's many advocates, of which there will no doubt be more after this season, one can only hope it's a problem that Jill Freud manages to solve.

t David Holland, Waveney District Council spokesman, confirmed that the second phase of this year's revenue grants allocation has been referred back to the working party for further consideration. It is due to report back to the executive in September.

t The Southwold Summer Theatre season opens on July 7 with The Boyfriend until July 17, then there's Murder by Misadventure from July 19 to 31, The Importance of Being Earnest from August 2 to 14, Don't Look Now from August 16 to 28, and Absurd Person Singular from August 30 to September 11. These productions will take place at St Edmund's Hall, Southwold.

t To make your booking for this season's forthcoming shows call the theatre box office now on 01502 724441. From July 8 call 01502 722389 (evenings). For more details on this year's season, visit

· Southwold Summer Theatre would welcome sponsorship of any shows for the 2005 season. To discuss, please call 01502 723077 or 01502 722688.