Musselburgh â€“ the ‘Honest Toun’ â€“ is famous for many things but when one of the town’s industrialists, John D Brunton, son of the Brunton wireworks founder, died in 1951, he left a bequest of Â£700,000 to be used to provide halls for the use of the community. It was several years before his dream appeared in bricks and mortar but this year sees the Brunton Theatre celebrating its 30th anniversary of professional productions.
Brunton was a keen fan of musicals and one of the groups Brunton foresaw benefiting from this was MAMA, Musselburgh Amateur Musical Association. MAMA was not the only enthusiastic amateur drama or musical society performing in Musselburgh during the 40s and 50s so, at an early stage, it was decided that the Brunton Hall complex should include a fully equipped theatre.
Around this time, the Town Council were also looking for premises where they could bring together various scattered departments and took the opportunity to add money of their own to accommodate their administrative offices in the same building.
One of the founder members of MAMA is singer and producer Jane Fairney â€“ she has a strange assortment of memories. “As a child, I remember playing on the empty site,” she recalls. “Then I worked for Crudens, who actually built the offices. When Brunton Hall was finally opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1971, I performed in the first ever production â€“ the Gypsy Baron, playing the housekeeper.”
For as long as the theatre has been open, Jane has been involved in singing, or producing musicals and pantomimes for charities or for the Church. She began in the junior choir which is the longest continuous choir in the Theatre and is also involved with another choir, the Harbour Lights.
“When I was in MAMA, we were promised by John Brunton that we would have our own premises â€“ that he would leave us a building for the people of Musselburgh. In the early days, each organisation had to take in their own crews, lighting technicians, stewards and so on,” she recalls. “Our costume department was run by Jessica Battles, who made all the costumes. Now there is so much going on that we only have one slot a year and all the facilities and staff are provided!”
By the early 1990s the Theatre was in need of an upgrade so in the Spring of 1996 the Theatre closed for refurbishment. With funding from East Lothian Council, Scottish Arts Council and the European Regional Development Fund, enhanced facilities included a new fly tower, restaurant, audio description booth, lift and wheelchair gallery.
The Theatre Trust commissioned Glasgow based glass artist, Deborah Campbell to design the beautiful glasswork around the Theatre. The design is based on the Musselburgh Fishermanâ€™s Walk with fish, creels, seaweed and waves forming the background. The new complex was reopened in 1996 and MAMA was the first company back on the stage with their production of Oliver.
These days, Brunton Theatre works in partnership with a range of performing arts companies to produce and present projects covering the full spectrum of film, dance, music and drama. Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which produces projects for schools, has been resident at the Theatre since 2002. Curve is the Theatre’s resident Dance Company, led by Musselburgh native Ross Cooper and producing and developing their own magic as well as bringing the best dance from around the world.
The facilities and standards of production have come a long way since John Brunton’s dreams and Jane Fairney thoroughly approves. “It’s been a long wait but it’s been worthwhile. The theatre has something for everyone,” she says. “I just love it to bits!”