Matthew Munson: Theatrical energy in Thanet – small and big

Performing arts flourishing in Thanet

I’m rather a fan of dining out, as there are so many options in dear old Thanet, and just a few days ago, I found myself eating at the Regency Indian restaurant in Westgate.

I was introduced to this place a couple of years ago by two good friends of mine, Michael and Terrie Wheatley-Ward, and we get together as often as we can to return to a place we all share a fondness for.

Michael was talking about the arts scene in Thanet and it made me appreciate just how varied it is. He’s writing a book about his theatrical career to date (I say “to date” as he doesn’t seem to have any intention of retiring) and it was interesting to learn that he’d been running the Sarah Thorne Theatre in Broadstairs for ten years now. I remember the theatre first opening, when I lived not far from its buildings and soon getting roped into the occasional back-stage adventure … and even a few on-stage adventures as well.

Talent

I’m thrilled to see there’s so much theatrical energy in this small part of the UK, and the fact that it attracts such powerful talents is quite thrilling. The Ramsgate Music Hall and its vast range of singers, the Birchington Guild of Players (who have been alive for longer than I have), the St Peter’s community centre and its focus on local arts, and Sarah Thorne itself, with its pantos, summer seasons, and – shock horror! – a focus on popular shows that people actually want to see.

I’m undoubtedly doing the arts scene a disservice, as there are so many more venues than the ones I’ve mentioned, but these are definitely some of my favourites.

Engaging

So often, people are dismissive of local arts because it’s believed that anything put on in venues other than large-scale theatres just aren’t worthy of their time – but that’s just woefully ignorant of the work done in local venues that work twice as hard (even more) to make sure that they are keeping everything interesting, engaging, and appealing to people from as many walks of life as possible.

Larger venues with teams of professional staff, of course, have their place, attracting London shows on tour down to areas that want to see these bigger shows, but we need to remember the place of the small venue as well.

Freedom

I use Sarah Thorne as an example, because it’s the one on my mind, but it’s not afraid to try new things – not just big shows, but smaller, more experimental things, and that’s the beauty of living somewhere like Thanet; people aren’t afraid of trying. If something doesn’t work, then fine, but if audience builds up for something new, then they’ve been introduced to something  innovative. To me, that’s why genuine theatrical freedom in a place like Thanet is so important.

Oh, and why Indian restaurants are so important as well; my life would absolutely be the poorer without them. I recommend the vindaloo; you’ll never go wrong with that delicacy!