Washed Up, December 1, 2015

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When I left West Norfolk many years ago, I would not have described it as a place where there existed a thriving arts and culture scene.

If you wanted to see the latest blockbuster release, then you would go to the Majestic in King’s Lynn. For a show, you might try the Corn Exchange and if you were feeling particularly high brow, then the King’s Lynn Arts Centre was the place to go.

But recently I have been intrigued by the number of places that are popping up as venues for films and plays. The most obvious delightfully surprising package has to be the Luxe Cinema in Wisbech. When I first read about the Luxe and I saw the words ‘eclectic’ ‘sophisticated’ and ‘stylish’, I am ashamed to say that I let all my prejudices about the town of Wisbech spring forth in a torrent of disbelief. Wisbech, I both apologise and salute you. You have a fine, independent cinema that any town would be proud of.

Then there are the numerous village venues. Thornham Village Hall has a great programme of events, including cinema evenings, live links to the National Opera, talks by eminent politicians, sports stars, celebrities and academics. Cinema in the Creakes, which is hosted in South Creake Memorial Hall also has a busy schedule, showing recently released films as well as silver screen classics. This cinematic offering is repeated at venues across West Norfolk – largely facilitated through the work of Village Screen, a touring cinema that provides film screenings in village halls and community centres.

But the biggest surprise for me was a recent visit to West Acre Theatre. I have known the theatre exists for a while, but I had never been to an event there. The village is tiny, for goodness sake. How on earth can it be home to a theatre?

Well, the theatre is modern, bright, well-designed and has a great atmosphere. There is a lounge where people can enjoy pre-theatre drinks; the interval drinks and ice-cream service is smoothly run and the staff at the venue are professional and friendly. And what about the show itself? I went with three friends to see Shirley Valentine, and it was great. We had a lot of pre-show discussion about how the theatre would transform into a Greek beach, we wondered how the boat would be brought onto the stage and whether the love scene from the movie would be re-enacted in full.

Actually, it was a monologue delivered word perfect, with exquisite timing. You didn’t need the sea and the sun to realise that Shirley had left her middle-aged self back in Liverpool and was going on a voyage of self-discovery. The full house laughed appreciatively and nodded empathetically as the actor took us through the Willy Russell masterpiece. Once again, this county has surprised and delighted me.