When the Arts Council seemed likely to withdraw its funding from Eastern Angles, protesters weren't difficult to find! The theatre company formed in 1982 has produced something like 70 shows, two or three a year, and taken them to towns and villages throughout East Anglia. A loyal and appreciative audience has grown up and newcomers are discovering the joys of Eastern Angles' creativity. I was one of many who wrote strongly to the Arts Council, which thankfully reinstated most of the company's grant.
Ivan Cutting, one of the five founders and now Director of the company, gave his stimulating talk to the Society on 14 January. He described the group's wish from the outset to invent truly local shows with local topics and local speech, speech culled for example from 19th century newspapers which in those days printed what people actually said in full. Inspiration came from the sort of local history written by George Ewart Evans (e.g. Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay), and from the Radio Ballads of Charles Parker and Ewan MacColl (e.g. The Ballad of John Axon) and from the plays compiled and put on by Peter Cheeseman in the theatre at Stoke-on-Trent. For a great many of their shows they have enjoyed the ever-fresh musical compositions of Pat Whymark ("a natural Paul McCartney").
Their topics have featured, to name a few, herring fishing, agricultural workers, brewing, fire fighters, lifeboatmen, the Anglo-Saxons and coming up soon Return to Akenfield and Getting Here, which will be about incomers from the Caribbean, Portugal and Poland.
Ivan explained Eastern Angles' continuing wish to be "true to the region". It would be easy and popular to adapt a Hardy novel for instance but it wouldn't be right to do so. Moreover, the company is keen "to push audiences a little further" rather than doing an East Anglian Lark Rise to Candleford! Above all, Eastern Angles aims to engage audiences many of whom don't see themselves as theatregoers. They come along because for some of them it will be seeing "their story".