With special thanks to Rosemary Steward, whose eighteen scrap-books of local news cuttings on the theatre, covering the years 1972-1997, provided the main source of this information.
The history of entertainment in Hunstanton St Edmunds dates back to the 1860s and the beginnings of the new town, which was built specifically to cater for the new craze for sea bathing and ozone. The railway reached ‘New’ Hunstanton in 1865, bringing an era of cheap travel which allowed many more people to enjoy day trips and seaside holidays. Along with the paddling, beach-loving, ice-cream-eating crowds came entertainers, from Punch and Judy men to Pierrot Shows. The Mikado cinema, a wooden building on the sea-front, burned down in August 1922 and was eventually succeeded by the Capitol Cinema which opened in 1932 on the site of the present theatre.
Local residents with a thespian tendency began to form groups and stage amateur productions, probably at an early date. The West Norfolk Gilbert and Sullivan Society (now based in King’s Lynn) was originally formed in Hunstanton and in its early years the town supplied many of its regular and leading players. They presented Patience as early as 1901. Meanwhile as the twentieth century progressed, the Hunstanton Players put on shows at Easter and Christmas.
The pantomime Aladdin was staged in the 1940s by the somewhat dauntingly-titled Hunstanton Improvement Association, to be followed in the next decade by the Hunstanton Variety Club, who staged their shows in the Town Hall. They did Ali Baba on 10 January 1950, Mother Goose in 1951 and Humpty Dumpty in 1952. The Lynn News and Advertiser [LN&A] notes that the Huns’ton Variety Club had so many members of the chorus that they could fill the stage at the Town Hall. Over the next few years they widened their scope to cover not only pantos such as Robinson Crusoe and Puss in Boots, but drama No Foe Shall Stay, the musical No, No, Nanette, and a revue titled They Call them Yanks.
The Hunstanton Variety Club folded after producing one final panto in 1956. Reasons given were ‘rising costs, professional competition (from the Capitol Cinema which provided a venue for live shows as well as films) and of course from the spreading new craze called Television.
A drama group named the Pheonix Players kept the AmDram flag flying locally and others were doing their bit -- a programme from the Capitol Theatre in the early 1970s suggests that a Theatre Club might be a good idea, so that local groups might take advantage of ‘the atmosphere of a live theatre’ rather than using ‘multi-purpose halls’. There is one brief mention in the local press of a Hunstanton Theatre and Cinema Club being formed circa 1971, but no clue as to what they did or how long they continued. The Capitol closed in 1974 but soon re-opened under the name the Kingsley Centre, providing films and summer season shows. This venture lasted only for a couple of years. The building was used for a while as a Bingo Hall but eventually closed again and was left almost derelict until the Borough Council purchased and refurbished it in 1981.
The venue re-opened on 5 July 1981, renamed the Princess Theatre in honour of the new Princess of Wales (Diana, who married Prince Charles that same month). It offered pantomime around Christmas, a season of summer shows, and at other times it acted as a cinema. It was at this period closed from early January, after the panto, until the end of March.
First mention of a Princess Theatre Club came in February 1985 when the Lynn News & Advertiser noted that the Friends of the Theatre were to be known in future as ‘Members of the Princess Theatre’, a club with opportunity for people to be actively involved.
January 1986: inaugural meeting of the new Theatre Club, attended by
twenty people. Committee: Chair, Pat Brooks; Secretary, Rosemary
Steward (theatre administrator); Treasurer, Brian Tebbs. The purpose
of the club was 'to provide volunteer stewards for the theatre and
to help out as needed backstage.' From April to early January the
Princess Theatre was to host a programme of celebrity concerts,
summer season and pantomime, with films being shown at other times.
Extra events staged by the Princess Theatre Club [PTC] and by the
Hunstanton and District Festival of Arts would help to widen the
Hunstanton theatre’s reputation as a community theatre.
May: the first fund-raising Open Day for the PTC was held at the theatre, with John Harris providing non-stop music on the piano and other club members manning various stalls and attractions. This Open Day was to become an annual event.
June was the time of the annual Hunstanton and District Festival of Arts. This year, 1986, at the evening of Adjudicated Drama on 20 June, the PTC presented No Appointment Necessary . It was judged to be ‘Best Play’ and won the trophy.
November: in aid of the BBC’s ‘Children in Need’ appeal, members of PTC assisted during a 24-hour entertainment marathon in the theatre organized by theatre administrator and PTC secretary Rosemary Steward. Among familiar names involved was a young magician named Philip Bayfield (now a leading light in West Norfolk Arts and Theatre world).
1987: Theatre Club’s AGM in February. Brian Tebbs new Chairman;
Vice-Chair Gordon Lilley; Betty Clapham Treas. and Rosemary
Steward still Secretary.
April: inaugural meeting of a junior branch of PTC attracts sixty youngsters aged 7-17 showed up. In future years they would split into two groups -- a Princess Children’s Theatre Club [PCTC] for ages around 6-13 and a Princess Youth Theatre Club [PYTC] for ages 14-25.
May: annual Theatre Open Day raised £250
Festival of Arts both PTC and PYTC entered plays in the Adjudicated Drama evening on Monday 22nd June and the following evening PYTC performed ‘Streets of London’ as part of a ‘Musical Pot Pourri’ evening.
September: PTC staged Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit,
November: ‘Children in Need’ 24-hour entertainment marathon raised £5,750. Club members involved as usual.
December: PYTC presented The Pied Piper of Hamlyn.
PTC annual Christmas Dinner. PTC has 200 members.
1989: January: PYTC put on their panto Almost Alice.
February: AGM -- Chair, Chas Bayfield; Vice, Lawrence Selby; Sec, Margaret Allchorn; Treas., Sylvia Shaw. John Barrett, northern area manager for BCKLWN (Borough Council) congratulated PTC on playing a major part in improving the fortunes of the theatre, which later reported a ‘bonanza year’.
Feb: PTC efforts contributed to raising funds to buy a new grand piano which made its debut at an evening of entertainment on 18 Feb: ‘It’s a Grand Night...’
March/April: Spring production. On 30 and 31 March and 1 April the combined PTC and PYTC presented a highly successful version of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver.
June: Festival of Arts, PTC filled another evening at the theatre: ‘Princess Theatre Club Entertains’
October: fashion show presented by PTC
November: Man Alive by John Dighton
December: PTC participated in ‘A Festival of Christmas’ sponsored by Huns’ton Lions.
1990: March: a plea for more
men to apply for small roles and chorus for spring
production My Fair Lady. Scheduled for April, owing
to lack of men (plus the misfortune of
a hospital operation for a leading player) the show was
postponed but eventually took to the stage from 7‑9 June. With a
cast of forty and no less than eighteen scene changes, it proved a
great hit. The first night audience demanded three curtain calls.
June 11th: barely having time to get their breath back after My Fair Lady, the PTC and its younger elements combined to put on another evening of entertainment for the Festival of Arts, including a musical extravaganza from the Children’s PTC with ‘The Singing Sixties Detective’; students from Norfolk College of Art and Technology [NORCAT] with three playlets on crime prevention; and PTC in a one-act send-up of a girls’ school, Good Form by Barbara Van Kempen.
November: Goodnight Mrs Puffin, by Arthur Lovegrove.
1991: January: appeals for more teenage recruits to PYTC. Junior's flourishing but
14-25 year-olds not
April: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
AGM reports losses from last year’s ambitious My Fair Lady somewhat off-set by success of Wilde play earlier that month. Need more members for Youth Theatre and more helpers for Children’s group.
June: PTC member Margaret Allchorn appointed manager at the theatre.
Festival of Arts, Adjudicated Drama: PTC sweeps the board, wins all three cups for The Private Ear by Peter Shaffer.
October: PTC presents ‘Music Hall Memories’.
December, Festival of Christmas.
1992: April: Billy Liar by
Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall
June, Festival Of Arts, Adjudicated Drama, Forward to the Right, play about Joan of Arc by Lily Ann Green, won three trophies.
November, PTC presents double bill of two one-act plays Forward to the Right (Festival entry from June) and The Dear Departed by Stanley Houghton. Later PCTC does Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
February 2nd, Open Meeting, Cheese and Wine
evening at the theatre
Feb 20th, PCTC evening of songs, readings, recitations and sketches, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’.
April: Quiet Weekend by Esther McCracken
June: Festival Of Arts, PTC’s Adjudicated Drama entry The Birds Stopped Singing by Lawrence Barker won a joint best actor award for John Harris and Ted Willis. PCTC did Captain Blackboot and the Wallamagrumba by Patricia Wood.
October: Beyond Reasonable Doubt by Jeffrey Archer
November: ‘Children in Need’ event, two nights of sketches, songs and a mini-musical
PCTC production of musical Little Shop of Horrors.
1994: Relaunch of the Youth Theatre (ages 14-25)
January, auditions held for another ambitious musical, Lock Up Your Daughters an adaptation by Bernard Miles of the comedy written by Henry Fielding, which was staged as the spring production in
June, Festival of Arts, Adjudicated Drama entries by all three branches: adult PTC produced The Man in the Bowler Hat, by A A Milne; PYTC produced Rabbit – a play about youngsters surviving in the aftermath of nuclear war. (Use of a real dead rabbit caused some criticism in letters to the press), and PCTC did their version of A Ticket to Hitsville
October: Lettice and Lovage by Peter Schaffer. 1995: To accommodate major renovation works, Princess Theatre closed after end of the pantomime, 7 January and re-opened 30 July with celebrity concert by Anthony Newley (who was fantastic!). Interim, theatre was altered, enlarged and modernised. Adult PTC took a break from rehearsals but junior branches held their meetings in the Town Hall during theatre’s closure. Festival of Arts held in two separate weekly parts, one in June using Town Hall as concert venue, and second week in October by when the theatre was again available.
October, Festival of Arts Adjudicated Drama event, PYTC presented original script titled Getting Off.
November, Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore.
1996: January: junior groups entertain on two evenings,
20 and 21, PYTC stage Gregory’s Girl by Bill Forsyth while
the youngest group, PCTC perform Friends devised from their own
ideas and written by club member Liam Murtagh.
April: Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett.
November: The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard.
January, the PYTC stages modern version of Romeo and Juliet
Spring: When We Are Married by J B Priestley.
Autumn Production: Edge of Darkness by Brian Clemens
Blythe Spirit by Noel Coward
Autumn Production: Flowering Cherry by Robert Bolt
Production: Busybody by Jack Popplewell
June, Festival of Arts Adjudicated Drama: the Adult PTC produced Shop for Charity by Charles Mander
while the Youth Theatre presented an adapted version of Under Milkwood. Tobias Nicholls, who is still a regular Active Acting member of the PTC, won Best Youth Actor (though since he also entered a play with his own youthful 'Purple Dreams' company it was never clear which play won him the award -- possibly both!) Busy young man. Talented, too.
Autumn Production: Busybody by Jack Popplewell
Production: Abigail’s Party by
Autumn Production: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Production: Out of Order by Ray
Festival of Arts Adjudicated Drama, two entries: 'Last Tango in Heacham Bottom' adapted from David Tristram’s Last Tango in Little Grimley and Joining the Club
and Boudicca’s Last Battle, written and produced by club member Mary Mackie. This play won – Best Actress, Elaine Johnson, Best Actor, Charles Layton, Best Original Script, and Best Overall Production
Autumn Production: Houseguest by Francis Durbridge
December, PTC buffet supper followed by evening's entertainment by members.
Production: Ten Times Table by
Autumn Production: Brush with a Body by Maurice McLaughlin
Production: Spring and Port
Wine by Bill Naughton
Autumn Production: Outside Edge by Richard Harris
2004: No Spring Production owing to illness
Autumn Production: Black Widow by Paul Thain
Production: Bedroom Farce
by Alan Ayckbourn
Autumn Production: Verdict by Agatha Christie
2006: Spring: Man Alive by
Festival of Arts Adjudicated Drama: PTC's Tobias Nichols, this time with his company ‘Purple Dreams’, produced and starred in his own play Romantic Centre. It carried off a Certificate and two cups – Best Original Script, and Best Adult Actor (Tobias).
Autumn Production: Relative Values by Noel Coward
Production: Cash on Delivery by Michael Cooney
Festival of Arts Adjudicated Drama: PTC member Tobias Nicholls (working with his with his own youthful drama group 'Purple Dreams') produced and starred in his own script, Chasing Rainbows, and won for himself both Best Original Script and Best Actor awards; another PTC regular, Mary Mackie, produced her own play, Lavender Lingers, but was obliged at the last moment to take over a male role herself ('he' became a bit of a butch woman!); even so the play was awarded certificate of merit, or more likely 'for teMERITy'!
Autumn Production: Something to Hide by Leslie Sands
Production: There Goes the Bride
by Ray Cooney and John Chapman
Festival of Arts Adjudicated Drama -- a very large entry this year, with some superb plays and performances. PTC had no time to mount a production but our prolific Tobias Nicholls entered his own play, Butterfly Girls (with his own company Purple Dreams), and once again won the Best Original Script award.
Autumn Production: Cause Célèbre by Terence Rattigan
2009, Spring Production: Comic Potential by Alan Ayckbourn
Autumn Production: The Shell Seekers (from Rosamund Pilcher's best-selling novel)
2010, Spring: Anyone for Breakfast by Derek Benfield
Autumn: 'Down Memory Lane', an Olde Tyme Music Hall extravaganza
2011, Spring: 'Allo, 'Allo by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft
Autumn: Night Must Fall by Emlyn Williams
2012, Spring: Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling