The end of the Pier doesn’t mean the end of the road

Worthing Pier - only 55 left in the UK

Emily Gosden’s piece about end of the pier entertainment in the Daily Telegraph (9.6.11) makes the valid point that out of 55 remaining piers in the UK only six are offering traditional Summer seaside entertainment. The end of the pier show has been part of the English seaside landscape for as long as Punch has been altercating with Judy and candyfloss has been blown away by stiff north easterly breezes.

Punch and a Judy

In Worthing there is an additional threat. Apart from the economy, the migration abroad rather than to the UK for Summer holidays, the dwindling municipal coffers for seaside promotion, here the Council operates all three major venues (The Connaught Theatre, the Assembly Hall and the end of the pier Pavilion Theatre) and there is no more money in the cupboard to maintain the cultural and leisure service to the community. The theatres have been advertised in The Stage and expressions of interest requested from operators keen to take the theatres off the Council’s hands. Worthing Theatres Trust is a Company Limited by Guarantee (Community Trust) set up with this in mind – and to return profits, pride, interest from local groups and schools and good old fashioned bums on seats back to the venues of Worthing.

It is well documented that Worthing’s Connaught Theatre has a rich theatrical tradition – it’s where Sir Alan Ayckbourn CBE (who announced this week that he is to become WTT’s Patron) as a young assistant stage manager performed on stage (they were short handed) in 1956. Pinter lived around the corner and wrote in the Town. Susan Penhaligon started her career here. Mark Wynter, Michael Simkins, Nick Day and many others trod the boards early in their careers in Worthing.

However, The Pavilion, built in 1926, is a thriving venue for traditional seaside entertainment. Every Wednesday afternoon in August John Mann’s Seaside Summer Melodies on the organ will beguile the elderly – and in the evenings in a Tardis-like experience, you will be able to track down the 60s group The Searchers, the inimitable Ken Dodd who holds the record for the longest stand up show ever performed in Worthing, The Rat Pack who will swagger on stage, then set the controls to ‘One Night of Queen with Gary Mullen’ followed by ‘That’ll be the Day – the stage show, along with old-time TV comedy duo, Cannon and Ball, The Glen Miller Orchestra, The Alter Eagles, before finishing the Season with Jim Davidson’s Seaside Frolics.

If this wasn’t enough, Worthing Theatres Trust TT has already made a public declaration that it will seek every means of preserving the future of the world-famous Wurlitzer organ found in The Assembly Hall. It is listed. Who else owns a listed organ? The Trust also sees a public trust as a means of increasing community and educational participation in the three venues – with a particular emphasis on encouraging local schools and colleges usage of the three venues. The Preserving theatres, culture, the arts is not about creating a business plan. It doesn’t – and shouldn’t fit into a business portfolio or a corporate plan. This is why we are receiving support from actors, directors and other theatre professionals who have worked at the Connaught Theatre and other Worthing venues. You can’t chip away at people’s memories.

The world loves the sound of waves against shingle, the curlicue calls of seagulls tossed into the channel gusts, the cries of children building memories like sandcastles. In Worthing we know how to do history, heritage and the celebration of what we are, and where we’ve come from. Worthing Birdman is an annual exercise in futility as participants build their own flying machines and try to fly off the Pier. One year an entrant came within centimetres of succeeding. Futility – or hope?

Worthing Pier from the Pavilion Theatre

Each September in Worthing we celebrate our heritage with the Annual Pier Day where people flock to the pier to enjoy vintage fun, frolics and a veritable mountain of popcorn, candyfloss and Edwardian sing-alongs. As one of the six remaining piers that endeavours to entertain its public, we see our job as preserving this facility for future generations.

The Trust is appealing for public support at this critical time – especially from the 17,000 plus people who signed the Save Worthing Theatres petition.  

Visit and go the to the Friends page to join up immediately as a Friend of Worthing Theatres. Alternatively, email your request for a form to

Which part of your history are you prepared to see sold?

South Pacific at the Connaught – another reason why we have to save the theatres..

South Pacific by Worthing Musical Comedy Society

The Connaught Theatre Thursday May 19th 2011 

Director: Lee Payne  / Choreography: Terri Moore  / Lighting Director: Stephen Holroyd

It was good to see a packed Connaught Theatre warmly receive South Pacific’s cute opening scene as Sky Cook and Robert Glick, playing the children of the Musical’s romantic lead Emile De Beque, sang and acted in French. The preamble with WWII combat footage reminds us that there is a serious war going on behind the South Pacific froth. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical is based on Tales of the South Pacific by Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist James A. Michener which focuses on the story of an American nurse in World War II, Nellie Forbush (showstopper Amelia Regnante), who falls in love with De Beque, a French plantation owner played by Chris Keen who exudes warmth and character throughout. He confesses that he killed a man in France – but what she still doesn’t know is that he has two mixed race children. There is an undertow of criticism of the US racial insularity running through the script which led to some discomfort in society at the time, but which seems quaint and arcane today.

The US army, Captain George Brackett (played splendidly by Paddy Gosden) and Commander William Harbinson (captured perfectly by Andrew Taylor), need his assistance and recruit Nellie to try and uncover De Beque’s political opinions.

Adam Knight

Running alongside this main romance is the tale of Lt Cable (Adam Knight, showing huge promise and smouldering control in his first lead) and Liat (the doll-like and demure Kristie Murphy), the daughter of Bloody Mary (played with wit and style – and with vocal excellence by Caroline Lowe). Their rendition of Happy Talk was memorable.

Some of the dialogue and vocal performances were hard to discern against the music – a mixing issue rather than a musical one. The band was excellent and ably led by MD Nigel Newman.

The character of Luther Billis is a comic anchor of the show and a lot of responsibility sits on the shoulders of the actor playing him. John Chambers does this with energy, pace and tremendous humour. John can also sing which is a bonus. His performance of Honey Bun with the full line-up of dancers was a highlight of the evening.

I have to mention first timer Michelle Quibell (Ensign Dinah Murphy) who delivered a memorably comic performance in the ‘Wash that man right out of my hair’ scene. Will Croome as Lt. Buzz Adams had the cameo of the night with his rat-a-tat-tat delivery in the military briefing scene.

Amelia Regnante

The final word has to go to Amelia Regnante who was equal to the tremendous acting, singing and energy demands placed on her. Resisting the temptation to overact and deliver lines in a cod southern US drawl, she sounded authentic and played the part with the subtlety and dignity it deserved. She undergoes a personal value system transformation and this was delivered realistically and with style.

The show sees two men change their minds but fulfill their military mission. The mission succeeds but one man lives and one dies. The women are defined by their relationships with their men. There’s lots of antediluvian attitudes to smile at, but this show does contain ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught’ a subtle song on many levels and delivered with understated power by talented teenager Adam Knight.

Overall, a fine show with a great ensemble WMCS cast that demonstrates precisely why the current campaign by the Worthing Theatres Trust to keep all three performance spaces open must succeed. A community show for all in a much loved community theatre.

Roy Stannard