A Special Trip to Cromer

Who would have thought that a German documentary about Cromer would even be a thing, let alone a success, both in producer Jens Meurer’s home country and here in the UK. Seaside Special is all about the summer season in Cromer, when for three months, a variety show is performed in the tiny theatre at the end of the pier. Billed at the last show of its kind in the world, it could be seen – depending on your inclination – as either a valued rarity or an embarrassing anachronism.

Meurer wisely avoids a polarising debate, neither celebrating nor sneering at the saucy gags, brassy musical numbers, Hollywood inspired dance routines and pop songs. Instead, he points his camera at the choreographer, the MC, the singer and the stage manager, and lets them speak for themselves. What emerges is a humane and sensitive portrait of people working their hardest while candidly knowing their limits. The film is filled with hope and positivity, but also a sanguine stoicism that for those involved this is as good as it gets. In unkinder hands we might have been invited to laugh at, rather than with, those interviewed and showcased. Instead, Meurer is at pains to emphasise the indomitable spirit required to tread the boards for little reward.

The movie was filmed at a unique time in the UK’s history, post Brexit and pre pandemic. In a town that voted to leave the EU, one might have expected lashings of bile and recrimination. Instead, far from judging the people of Cromer, Meurer gently probes and questions, more in puzzlement than anger. Unspoken of and unforeseen, the spectre of Covid had yet to haunt the Theatre or town, but for the viewer it adds another layer of melancholy to the aspirations of performers whose ambition goes no further than to be asked back next year.