A talk by Douglas Ditta, 8 January 2003
Our speaker was introduced as an actor of wide experience in theatre, radio and television who came to the Ipswich Arts Theatre in the early sixties and later became its General Administrator.
Mr Ditta started with a brief review of the long history of theatre in Ipswich and reminded us of the original theatre in Tacket Street and the Mechanics' Institute in 1850, the lecture hall of which eventually became the Arts Theatre. David Garrick and Charles Dickens were just two of the famous names associated, respectively, with each. In the early part of the last century, the lecture hall was sadly neglected then became first a cinema and later, during the war, a WVS canteen; both these uses were remembered by some of those present!
The unlikely transformation of the hall into a theatre was an impressive piece of municipal enterprise. In the fervour of post-war reconstruction, and inspired by a letter to the press, a public meeting attended by 800 people voiced its determination to have a repertory theatre in the town. An energetic committee supported by Ipswich Borough Council and ably steered by the Chief Executive Officer, Tom Hill, led after much hard work to the opening in 1947 of the Ipswich Arts Theatre - although the name came a little later. The theatre was not only popular and profitable but entirely free of the coarseness that seems an inevitable and tedious component of so many modern productions. The early voices of doom were finally vanquished and Ipswich was once more clearly on the theatrical map.
Mr Ditta then took us on an anecdotal romp through his years at the Arts Theatre which included references to the many later-famous names that had been associated with it. Humour was never very far away even at times of stress or even alarm, and it was usually - but not always - All Right on the Night. Even the constraints imposed by the building seemed to inspire rather than inhibit achievement and it seemed that the Wolsey - and the New Wolsey - although superior in many ways can never inspire the same feelings as the old Arts Theatre.
An entertaining evening suffused with happy nostalgia came all too soon to an end.
Still Chewing on the Mint Quarter
No more news at present about developers Helical Retail's talks with Woolworth's. The whole ambitious scheme for this vast area in the town centre seems to hinge on Woolworth's willingness to have their store re-built and to stay on. See the report of the CABE workshop on pages 6-7. The workshop took this area as an example of what urban redevelopment could be. A pity that Helical Retail weren't involved in that exercise.