Photo:Tea Time At Rehearsal

Tea Time At Rehearsal

Aurora Productions Ltd

By Tom Elliston


The Little Theatre - Royal Aquarium

Great Yarmouth had an active repertory theatre company in the town for nearly three decades; from the thirties to the end of the sixties. The BBC Radio Norfolk[1] broadcast, “A Play at the Seaside”, gives a flavour of life in “rep” as recalled by the actors themselves. Anthony and Lorna Cundell, Ruth Kettlewell, Donald Adams and John Hunt share their memories of life in the Little Theatre, the Royal Aquarium, in this programme presented by BBC’s Tony Mallion.

The Little Theatre was originally the Minor Hall Ballroom of the Royal Aquarium, Great Yarmouth. In 1934, through the initiative of Mr Cliff Diamond, then manager of the Aquarium, a stage was built with a fit-up proscenium. Summer seasons of repertory were staged by George A de Gray in 1935 and 1936, John Lee Hunt in 1937 and 1938, and the Forbes Russell Brighton Repertory in 1939. Over the war years, there was no further professional activity until Robert W Schofield took on the lease, opening with the Westminster Players in May of 1946. Subsequently, Mr Schofield presented the County Repertory Players and Aurora Productions at the theatre till his death later that year.[2]

Peter Elliston, Director of Aurora Productions, took on the lease in 1946 with the Aurora players presenting weekly repertory both summer and winter seasons.[3] In 1950, a collaborative venture between the Little Theatre and Mr F C Symonds manager of the Lowestoft Playhouse formed the “East Anglian Repertory Company”. This was done in the hope of achieving profitability for both theatres, but by the end of 1950, the venture had failed. Aurora Productions held the Little Theatre lease for one further year but played no part in its running.[4]

Repertory though continued at the Little Theatre into 1951 with the newly formed  Yarmouth Repertory Company[5] under the direction of John Dodd with some of the Aurora cast; Desmond O’Callen, Diana Shaw, with Ruth Kettlewell returning in 1952.[6] The company presented all year round productions under the management of Mr Dodd successfully till 1957, when the Government’s “Entertainment Tax” made the maintenance of a year round repertory company impossible.[7]

Come April 1957, Anthony Cundell takes on the management and production of plays in the Little Theatre under the sponsorship of Thompson's Enterprises (proprietors of the Royal Aquarium).[8] Mr Cundell and his Norfolk Repertory Company presented repertory theatre in the summer seasons till the end of 1969.[9] At that time, the Little Theatre was converted to a cinema.

Thanks must go to BBC Radio Norfolk for the making of the programme and allowing this broadcast to be posted.

The majority of the memorabilia accompanying the radio broadcast comes from the time when Aurora Productions held the lease to the theatre; 70 years past. Some names have been put to faces and plays but there are gaps. Apologies for these omissions and the lack of detail post 1951.

I must also make mention of the amateur dramatics company "The Masquers". I have little information on this local group but for the collaborative venture of the staging of "Saint Joan" at the Little Theatre with Aurora Productions.



[2] The Stage, Repertory,” Bright Prospects At Yarmouth”, July 26th 1951, BNP

[3] The Stage, Repertory, Great Yarmouth, December 21st 1950, BNP

[4] The Stage, Repertory, Great Yarmouth, May 17th 1951, BNP

[5] The Stage, Repertory, Great Yarmouth, January 25th 1951, BNP

[6] The Stage, Repertory, “Yarmouth Milestone”, October 29th 1953, BNP

[7] The Stage, Repertory, “John Dodd Blames The Entertainment Tax”, January 25th 1951, BNP

[8] The Stage, ”Rep. Company for Great Yarmouth”, April 4th 1957 P.1, BNP

[9] The Stage, Repertory, ”No Rep. this Year at Great Yarmouth”, January 15th 1970, BNP

This page was added by Tom Elliston on 10/03/2021.

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