THEN & NOW - a Brief History of Theatre in Grayshott

The Amateur Dramatic scene in Grayshott goes back to before the 1914/18 war. Records exist of a group called The Grayshott Dramatic Society that staged productions in the Village Hall as early as 1912. Grayshott Dramatic Society circa 1921
The Grayshott Dramatic Society circa 1921
During the second World War, however, proceedings lay more or less dormant, but afterwards, for the rest of the 40's, interest was revived mainly by the Women''s Institute who produced a series of one act plays, helped out as occasion demanded by a number of gentlemen. It was to be these enthusiasts who provided the seed corn for the yet unborn Society.

In 1950 the village decided to hold a Prayer Book Pageant to celebrate the Jubilee of the dedication of St. Luke's Church. This resulted in the village being combed for suitable participants. About fifty people responded and took part in a very colourful and successful production. This success showed there was a fair amount of latent talent spread, for a small village, over a wide range.

Following the Pageant, a meeting was held at the home of Brenda and Ken Baldock to discuss the possibility of putting on regular productions. A Committee was formed and the play JOHN MARLOW'S PROFESSION chosen and put on, under the banner of THE GRAYSHOTT STAGERS, in the February of 1951. This first production was staged in curtains with very basic furniture and properties. Financial backing of £30 was provided by one of the members. THE GRAYSHOTT STAGERS had been born.

John Marlow's Profession
The cast of John Marlow's Profession
The name "Stagers" was derived from Ken Baldock's early days in Canterbury where the "Old Stagers", reputed to be the oldest amateur society in England, performed plays every Canterbury Cricket Week.

The production of JOHN MARLOW'S PROFESSION was received enthusiastically, made a handsome profit of £8 and established a reputation which to date has produced 78 plays for public performance.

The second production, TOVARICH, had a large cast of 8 women and 7 men. It also set a precedent for the future; the Society took the show "on the road", and did one performance at Rogate.

In 1952 the Society's productions were enriched by the addition of live entr'acte music under the direction of Leslie Larkham. It was, therefore, of little surprise that the next step should be a full scale musical production and in 1954 QUAKER GIRL was staged, masterminded by Leslie Larkham. It had a large cast of 24 principals supported by a full chorus and orchestra.

The year 1954 produced another milestone. In connection with the musical an appeal was made to members and friends for black material to make boleros. The response was tremendous - not only black velvet but dresses, skirts, furs, feathers and trunks to store them came pouring in. The wardrobe had begun. But with it came the problem of storage. The wardrobe wandered from one member’s home to another and continued to grow with each new production. It was not only costumes that needed storage; properties, scenery, lights, etc. were all increasing and the limited storage available at the Village Hall was restricting.

Relief to this situation came in 1964 through the generosity of the Disney-Roebuck family. A trust fund was set up in the sum of £500. This was to be used "for the purpose of erection, equipment and the maintenance of a building to be utilised as a Scenery and Storage Hut for the use of the Grayshott Stagers". This generous gesture was further helped by the Parish Council who kindly leased the Stagers the ground behind the Village Hall on which the hut is now erected. It was leased for the princely sum of one red rose per annum.

There then followed a long and continuous series of "Leslie Larkham productions", in which his wife Winifred also became involved. With the establishment of the musical at Grayshott, the Society was provided with its foundation of today, and is one of the few local organisations which stages both musical and drama productions. In 1965 it was realised that performing the musicals at Grayshott alone did not bring in sufficient income to cover costs. A gamble was taken and THE MERRY WIDOW went "on the road" to Haslemere. It was a great success and for many years most musicals productions were performed in the two locations.

To date 62 musicals have been staged bringing the combined total to 140 major productions.

During the years that followed the achievements and experience were consolidated and in 1980 a junior section was formally introduced into the Society's Constitution and, under the banner of the YOUNG STAGERS put on a total of 12 major productions. The YOUNG STAGERS are not currently active.

In February of the other years the senior Stagers put on a third production. This was introduced in 1986 and was intended to give the opportunity to more members of participating in a production. At the same time it was anticipated that the show would be of a less conventional nature that would not necessarily appeal to a large audience. In 2000 this was replaced by the 'Evening of One Act Plays and Supper' and has since presented 15 such events which are now so popular they almost instantly sell out with a waiting list for the unlucky few.

Today the Society caters for a broad spectrum of interests, spread over a wide age range. In addition, all other forms of stage craft can be practised: costume design and manufacture, scenery design and construction, lighting, etc.

It has been a process of development and expansion - long may it continue.

Over the years The Grayshott Stagers have been acknowledged for their excellence by NODA (National Operatic & Dramatic Association) having received eight Accolades of Excellence for Presentation:

• 1988/9 Accolade of excellence for Presentation - 'How the Other Half Loves'
• 1996/7 Accolade of excellence for Presentation - 'Key for Two'
• 1998/9 Accolade of excellence for Presentation - 'Underneath the Arches'
• 1989/90 Accolade of excellence for Presentation - 'Guys & Dolls'
• 1990/91 Accolade of excellence for Presentation - 'Daisy Pulls it Off'
• 1991/92 Accolade of excellence for Presentation - 'The Cat & the Canary'
• 2008/9 Accolade of excellence for Presentation - 'Spend, Spend, Spend'

ALM cast
The cast of A Laughing Matter
The latest award being for their production of 'A LAUGHING MATTER', by April de Angelis, directed by Ellis Nicholls and performed at the Grayshott Village Hall in November 2013. This was the personal choice of Roy Brown, Regional Representative of District 15 covering East Hampshire, West Sussex & South Sussex. There are 19 Districts in the South East District representing some 300 amateur dramatic and musical societies.

Compiled from the reminiscences of Ken Baldock, Win Larkham and Barry Penny

Updated and edited by Melanie Tyrrell (September 2007) and by Peter Budd (July 2014)

Copyright © 2014 Tony Legat. Updated: