Continuing my journey around the British Isles as I search out theatres, young and old.
Piers are a feature of the British coastline, whether for commercial purposes or entertainment. There are famous ones at Blackpool and Brighton. Please spare a thought though for the performers of Cromer Pavilion Theatre. They can’t drive up to the building, they have to walk along a pier, to the end, where there is a theatre.
There has been a pier (jetty) at Cromer since 1391, it gets a mention now and again in historical documents. What exists today was opened in 1901, and the bandstand added in 1905. This was covered to create the pavilion. In the 1920s and 30s, shows were put on. Not plays, but the variety performances popular at the time. The show has continued, going from strength to strength, attracting audiences from across the region with a seating capacity of 500.
It’s been a chequered history for the pier though. The wooden jetty built in 1822 washed away in 1843. A new 240 ft wooden pier was built in 1846, and regulated with strange laws, such as banning smoking before 9pm, when the ladies went to bed. 1890, destroyed again and the leftovers dismantled, the pier was replaced with a second jetty. This time made with iron and 500ft long.
Storms damaged the pier in 1949, 1953 (major storm whose floods killed many), 1976 and 1978. The amusement arcade was destroyed in February 1990 (I remember that storm), and in 1993, a rig crashed into it, cutting off the theatre.
The actor Stephen Fry reopened the pavilion in 2004. Then another storm got it the year later, then a tidal surge in 2013. But it’s still there.
And its haunted. As an author of a ghost novel, this a winning addition. Irish Impresario, Dick Condon, was a manager of the theatre. He died in 1991, but actors claim they sense his spirit back stage, standing next to them, or his shadow. Or there is the tall hatted, pale faced man with black hair. Objects, such as glasses and bottles, move and smash, entirely of their own accord; people wearing Medieval clothing wandering along the pier; ghostly cries from the sea; disembodied laughter in one dressing room; the intense atmosphere behind the stage felt by many. I could go on.
But I’ll stop there. If it can survive the sea, it can survive anything, including ghosts.
The variety act of the End of the Pier Show continues unabated with comedy, singing and dancing. The only one of its kind in the world.