On Thursday at 3pm, Paul Cooper and Sue Jesson were invited to the Lesley Dolphin Show on BBC Radio Suffolk to talk about their celebration of Theatre Royal’s 200th Anniversary. After meeting at the theatre and developing a relationship, Paul and Sue wanted to celebrate the theatre’s birthday by touring all of the Theatre Royals around the UK. To read the first instalment in the Volunteers On Tour blog series, click here.

Paul and Sue have completed their tour just in time for the end of the year. Here is what Paul has said about the experience:

‘At the beginning of the year Sue and I joined Clare Barry (Heritage Officer) as Heritage Volunteers to help research the history of the theatre for the 200th Anniversary.

We wanted to mark the anniversary in our own way and decided to visit all twenty Theatre Royals in the UK, still functioning under that name, and attend a performance. We started in January with Bury (of course), Norwich and York and completed the quest in December at Stratford (East) in London. The one Theatre Royal we visited but could not watch a show was Drury Lane as it is undergoing renovations until 2020 but we have been to the building!

We have no favourite theatre as all were interesting. However, it became clear that some of the smaller theatres, under about 1000 seats, are in a bit of a perilous state and could easily go under without local support and enthusiastic volunteers. The larger theatres all appeared to be doing well. Without being biased we felt our theatre was one of the best of its size. Margate has about 400 seats and looked very rundown. We spoke to some volunteers there and they are doing their best but agreed that it needs a lot of TLC to recover. Dumfries, 195 seats,  was very sweet and run by a full-time manager (who treated us royally when he found where we were from as he gained his Equity Card in the 1980s at Bury) and volunteers. The show we saw had only 19 in the audience so they moved us into a Rehearsal Room which made it a very cosy and intimate show. They were kind enough to take us into the auditorium at the interval.  Most of the theatres were very attractive buildings but I found the architecture of Plymouth rather brutal and stark. The Hospitality Area was modern steel and glass but the auditorium was spectacular.

We saw some excellent shows and some rather ‘challenging’ shall we say, shows. But the show was not of primary concern as that was visiting the theatre. We were fortunate to see shows like Les Miserables at Plymouth, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at Glasgow and Only Fools and Horses at the Haymarket. However, The Dead Dog in a Suitcase at Bristol, Right Place, Wrong Time at St Helen’s and Dick Whittington at Stratford (East) were definitely in the challenging category! We saw Blithe Spirit at Bath which was showing at the same time here. But, as I said, the shows were at important!

As by-products, we saw some stunning and spectacular parts of the country and visited some quirky museums. The Bagpipe Museum in Glasgow, the Pencil Museum in Cumbria and the Museum of Witchcraft and the Wireless Museum in Cornwall to name but a few. All the museums were actually very good and we always spent much more time then we intended.

Sue and I met at the theatre as we started at different times as volunteer Front of House stewards in 2016. We got chatting, started going out as friends in January 2018 and the friendship developed into a relationship in July 2018. We are getting married on stage in 2020. We are so pleased that we will be able to do that as the theatre plays a big part in our life together and to get married there will be very special.

We also volunteer at the hospital and for the Home Library service.’

Paul Cooper

Front of House & Heritage Volunteer