A new national touring company, which at times will be presenting three shows simultaneously in different parts of the country, has been formed by the actor George Baker with the help of an Arts Council annual grant of £20,000. It will be based in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, where four years ago, Baker reopened the Regency Theatre Royal after four decades in which it had been used as a store for barrels of beer.
Starting in October of this year, when the Theatre Royal (the fourth oldest in Britain) celebrates its 150th birthday, Baker’s company will operate for 20 weeks of the year at Bury in addition to a further 18 weeks on tour from Scunthorpe to Southampton by way of such towns as Hull, Rotherham, Norwich and Cambridge. The first full season of productions at Bury and on tour will include Gigi, Springtime for Henry, A Doll’s House and The School for Scandal, as well as two contemporary plays, The Odd Couple and The Birthday Party. Baker also intends to work with 22 schools in the Bury St. Edmunds area to produce drama programmes which will supplement their educational syllabus.
Candida Plays, the Bury production company, will join Meadow Players, and Prospect Productions as the third of our leading national touring companies, and Baker’s intention is “to push back frontiers and get people into theatres whether they laugh, cry or think when they get there is up to them; the main thing is that they should be there.”
At the Theatre Royal, where Baker operates as one of our few remaining actor managers, there are only 300 seats, and ticket prices have not risen since 1904. “Every five years”, he believes, “there is a new generation of theatregoers, and we have to get them.”