Traditional seaside entertainment enjoyed by families a century ago has returned to Britain’s beaches following the lifting of the ban on outdoor theatre.
The socially-distant performances for small groups include Punch and Judy, a flea circus, music, comedy, circus skills and games like hoop-la.
The performances are being run twice a week from August to the first week of September at Teignmouth and Exmouth in Devon. Dr Tony Lidington, a showman and performer for 40 years and drama lecturer at the University of Exeter is running the show.
Dr Lidington – known to his audience as Uncle Tacko – says: “I think it will be really positive for the wellbeing of residents, visitors and the economy of the area to be able to provide some performance again.
“Sometimes we’ve performed to 500 people, but often it is three people and a dog and that is just as important. Theatres are closed, but we hope to bring some entertainment for people outdoors. This art form was designed to be enjoyed al-fresco.”
Mr Punch may have begun performing in the 17th Century but Dr Lidington has updated his story for the modern age. The seaside and people’s enjoyment of it has also changed. Dr Lidington says “I’m interested in the way that seasides have evolved over the last 250 years for the British as a kind of playground. They were designed as somewhere that people could play and have fun. They would have exercise and fresh air but also a place of sanctuary and excitement and romance”.
The drama lecturer has been awarded emergency Coronavirus funding from Arts Council England to support the start of a new apprenticeship scheme for seaside performers, and a digital archive showcasing the incredible history of the art form. He has already recruited his son Spike as his apprentice.
He says, “It’s really rather lovely. Apart from anything else I wouldn’t be able to unload the van without him anymore. My back hurts, my legs hurt.”
Spike says, “It’s really nice that he’s carrying on the tradition that has been at the seaside for hundreds of years and I think it’s great that he’s introducing it to the modern world and putting on more modern variations on classical traditions.”