The closing of the company

One day More – rehearsal with 2017 cast.

Around 2015, Adrian Connell had begun to think about how to reshape the company. Production costs for the Phantom of the Opera year ran to £75,000 and in other years hovered around £50,000 a year. One mistake and any production debts could cost him his house.

He started to make enquiries about performing in cheaper venues and finding somewhere less expensive to store the sets and props. In 2018, someone, maybe wanting to book the company’s October space at the Maddermaket for themselves, informed the management we would no longer be performing there. Instead of checking with Adrian to see if this was true, the Maddermarket management booked the space we had used for 24 years, for another production company without even telling us.

A new venue, The Garage, was available but very limited in what could be staged there. Certainly no Miss Saigon’s or Phantoms. A simple show and a regular favourite was the Vackees and this was performed with a young new cast in 2019.

Jane Eyre at the Playhouse in 2018 had been our most stunning production to date The current vogue for ‘juke-box’ musicals and not ones with intelligent scores you actually have to listen to meant few people came to watch it and the show lost £8000. After a quiz night, a charity ride, and a trust fund donation the loss was made up, but this only reinforced Adrian’s view that it was time to scale things down. In 2019, After  21 years of performing at the Norwich Playhouse Adrian decided to move the company to the nearby Puppet Theatre and make that space the new home for the groups Easter and October shows, thus considerably reducing any potential losses that might occur.

Finding new accommodation for the props had proved futile and for the time being the company continued to pay the £240 a month rental. Without this incredible resource it would be very difficult to sustain three productions a year.

Enjoyable as the Edinburgh Fringe shows had been it was also time to stop them.  The early shows with small casts had been a pleasure to take and spend a week with, but as the shows grew in size so did the casts (over 70 one year), and behaviour had started to become a problem. Adrian decided to only allow cast members to come if they were accompanied by a parent. But still problems persisted with cast inviting friends to join them and share rooms despite fire regulations, room fees not being paid in full, and other groups piggy-backing the company to get rooms for their own casts.

It was time to scale the Edinburgh shows down and in 2016, The Little Sweep, with a cast of just nine was the most enjoyable trip we have ever had. Finally, when some cast pulled out, leaving £1200 of empty rooms to pay for, the 2019 Fringe production of Oliver! and the accommodation were cancelled. For a lot of people it had become a cheap holiday. But for Adrian the fun had gone and it was time to stop.

In 2020 rehearsals started for a new production of the Addams Family with an incredible cast. The Norfolk YMT had always been able to attract the finest singers and actors in Norfolk, but a month before we were due to open – the country shut down!

Despite many efforts to move the show to new dates, it had become obvious that theatre life would not be the same for a long time. The owner of the scenery store kindly dropped the rent to £100 a month to help but by August Adrian skipped much of the store and moved the props to a cheaper container.

The Addams family cast just before lockdown.

However, the lockdowns had brought about another result. For the first time in 25 years Adrian had been able spend time doing what he wanted to. After working as a delivery driver in the first lockdown and a volunteer in the vaccination clinics for the second lockdown he decided that it was time to call the Norfolk YMT a day. Ten hours of rehearsals a week and all the hassel that adults create, the huge financial concerns and the hours of scenery and props building and driving 65 miles to and from from rehearsals, often late at night, had become just too much. With lockdown came two years of enjoying a new life and so at the age of 70, after 80 or so productions, it was time to stop, sell up and move up North.

Several thousand young people have passed through the company. many still call it their ‘home’. Lots have gone on to professional theatre careers. Many are now parents and the Norfolk YMT is a fond memory. The company will be missed. Not just by the hundreds of supporters who came to watch the shows but mostly by me. The Norfolk YMT has been my life for 25 years and I will always think of and remember all the lovely youngsters who came and sang so beautifully for me. We had a lot of fun and many good times.

And most of all we produced some of the finest theatre in Norfolk and won more Noda awards than any other group.