THE BEGINNING - 1954 ONWARDS
In the beginning there was nothing. At least not in the amateur drama field in Loughborough in 1954. That was the year in which a group of young people got together and decided to remedy the situation. Twenty-five years later the Festival Players had reached their century of productions with three of the founder members still appearing regularly. Two others had been members for 99 of the productions and, thanks to this continuity, the Company remains loyal to its original concept, the provision of a high level of drama at a reasonable cost with the entertainment of the audience as the primary consideration. To attempt to record all the significant events which have occurred during the history of the Festival Players would take far more space than is available in these notes. Many of the earliest events were recorded in our booklet Exits and Entrances which was written for our 21st production in 1960, and we therefore propose to mention only the most important ones at this time.
The first President of the Society, elected at the inaugural meeting, was Eric Hammond and he continued in office until his death in 1977. His influence in the early years particularly was of great significance and it was due to his encouragement and financial guarantees that the second production was staged at Stanford Hall Theatre, the first having played in the Martin Hall of Loughborough Training College. In fact, 98 of the first 100 plays were at Stanford Hall theatre, the only other exception being in 1956 when YOUNG WIVES’ TALE was re-produced at Shepshed.
Appearing in the initial production of YOUNG WIVES’ TALE at the Martin Hall was Jo Miller who remains an honorary life member of the society. Janet Fowler, another life member, appeared in the second play RAIN ON THE JUST with Pamela Ryde-Rogers also joining the Company at that time.
The first studios were above the now-demolished showrooms of Archie E. Moss Ltd. in Woodgate, and when these were no longer available, a suite of rooms was leased in Derby Square until they, too, were demolished for the construction of Charnwood Precinct. Both these sites had served the Company well for many years, but the ever-present lack of security in leased premises prompted the decision to purchase the building in Burder Street, which was acquired in 1972, and has been the Company’s home ever since. The foresight of the Committee in taking the decision to purchase was the most important single event in the first 25 years, for the Festival Players are now the owners of rehearsal, scenery and storage premises which would be the envy of any theatrical Company. Again, in the raising of the money required to finance the purchase of the studios, Eric Hammond played a major part, and several Patrons and friends made loans without interest which enabled the purchase to be made. The facilities now owned are adequate for any purpose foreseen in the future, and the security enjoyed has removed a major problem of earlier years.
In those earlier years, Hugh Bott was a stalwart performer, and had a good following among audiences, particularly in his comedy roles. Eileen Rose, for several years the Hon. Secretary, had some outstanding portrayals, notably as Madame Arcati in BLITHE SPIRIT and Harold Gorst scored heavily in PRESENT LAUGHTER, the sixth production and the first one to be directed by Louis Stanford. Jim Rees and Ryan Beecham gave some outstanding performances in these earlier plays, and Judith (Small) Razek had also joined the Company.
From the fourth production, stage management had been taken over by Ian Simpson, and he was to become a stalwart member for many years, except during his National Service when Jerry Deakin handled the staging of plays. lan’s wife, Valerie, became Hon. Secretary for many years and the magnificent work they put in led to their being made Honorary Life Members many years ago. Another stalwart of the back-stage staff was Sidney Bradshaw who designed and built 42 of the first 50 sets.
THE EARLY SIXTIES
It was the first amateur production in 1963 of SALAD DAYS, at that time the longest running musical in West End history, which gave the Festival Players their greatest success thus far. Kathleen (Quinn) Moore, who had been a founder member and Hon. Treasurer for several years, played and sang the lead role of Jane to perfection, supported by outstanding performances from Cedric Grainger (who had made his debut the previous year in DOLPHINS RAMPANT), Hugh Bott, Louis Stanford, Margaret Stanford, Jo Miller, Hal Calvert, and Ivor Hewett. The 19 scene changes went like silk, and the staging of the musical numbers by Margaret Lovett and musical direction by William Stanford all combined to earn Louis Stanford’s direction the headline, “Festival Players hit a new peak”.
1964 and the production of PLAINTIFF IN A PRETTY HAT saw the involvement of Andrew McGowan for the first time in an FPs production - at that stage no one could have foreseen what a central role he would come to play in the group and that his commitment and talent would be a key element in the rise of the Festival Players over the next half-century.
SALAD DAYS set a trend of ending each season with a musical play and this continued through THE BOY FRIEND, SWEENEY TODD and FREE AS AIR and led to our Continental Tour of a new production of SALAD DAYS in Loughborough’s twin towns of Schwabisch Hall and Epinal. This was probably the high spot of our entire history. The fantastic reception we received, featuring 17 curtain calls in Schwabisch Hall, was something our members will remember for the rest of their lives.
The next milestone was our 50th production of GRAB ME A GONDOLA which featured a “tour de force” from Jo Miller in the leading role of Virginia a thinly disguised parody of Diana Dors, and a chorus of ladies in mink bikinis (including Mary Baird making her FPs debut). We were then honoured with an invitation to present the production at the first Corby Arts Festival, where we had to compete with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and John Heddle Nash! Nevertheless, it was another high spot for us.
In between these musicals several outstanding productions were given including PYGMALION (with a fine performance from Margaret Stanford as Eliza), THE CHILTERN HUNDREDS (featuring James Bailey in superb form in the A. E. Matthews role) and a very atmospheric setting of KILL TWO BIRDS by Sidney Bradshaw.
By our Continental Tour, another member who was to play a major part in our destiny had joined. John Considine gave a brilliant performance as Dan in NIGHT MUST FALL and went on to give many more. His influence in the constant striving to increase the group's artistic ability was of the utmost importance and his gentle and cheerful manner endeared him to all our members.
Sheila Woolich had taken over the position of Hon. Treasurer, a position she handled with great skill for several years and Harold Woolich had become an important member of our backstage crew. In 1965, Margaret Stanford took over as Hon. Booking Manager, from Winston Lay who had capably filled this position for several years. Margaret performed this arduous task until bowing out, with relief, after the milestone of our 200th production in 2004.
Andrew McGowan was now in charge of our settings department, and what can one say about his outstanding work ever since? Until his recent retirement, one constantly heard comments from audiences comparing his settings to the best in London and, within the restrictions of the conditions under which he had to work, the comments were more than justified. In the same way that the acting members’ competence progressed, so too did the staging and presentation of productions and this was due almost exclusively to Andrew’s constant search for new materials and innovations to increase the visual pleasure of them.
THE LATE SIXTIES
In November 1968, we finally plucked up the courage to present Marghanita Laski’s play THE OFFSHORE ISLAND. This harrowing play of the after-effects of an atomic war had been in our minds for several years, but we were worried about its effect on our audiences. We need not have worried! Probably more than any other play we have presented, this was the one we were asked to repeat by our patrons. Margaret Stanford, John Considine and Judith Razek all gave fine performances, but perhaps the most significant was by Barry Harding, as the American officer. Barry had joined us some years before, but now re-joined having taken a break to study law and qualify as a lawyer. He, too, was to become a major influence in our future development, not only for the strength of his acting talent, but also in the development of both the artistic and business sides of the Festival Players.
FOLLOW THAT GIRL was the next of our musicals and surprised us by the warmth of its reception by audiences. John Considine, Janet Fowler and Pamela Ryde-Rogers were in excellent voice and the musical direction, as for the past two or three musicals, was by Keith Lanspeary. It should also be recorded that Colin Haywood had been the percussionist for every production, including the overseas tour.
We had practically run out of the type of light musical play we could perform but we now entered something of a purple patch with our straight productions. Starting with Margaret Stanford’s initial direction of RATTLE OF A SIMPLE MAN (a stunning performance from Diane Wright as Cyrene the call-girl), we had a sequence of productions which enhanced our reputation and added to our polish:
1970 witnessed our beloved HAY FEVER by the Master himself to be followed by Peter Shaffer’s THE PRIVATE EAR AND THE PUBLIC EYE, which was one of the best performed productions we have given and BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (a fine performance by Pamela Ryde-Rogers).BILLY LIAR was another standout production (with John Considine in the title role and Barry Harding as his father and a host of lovely cameos from the cast) and two monumental roles for Louis Stanford in Sir Noel’s NUDE WITH VIOLIN and Barry Harding (as John Profumo?) in THE MEMBER FOR GAZA.
THE MEMBER FOR GAZA was important in two ways. It was the first production to be constructed in our new studios in Burder Street, Loughborough and it marked the entry into the Company of Pauline Huffer (Inkley). Pauline had had considerable experience in other parts of the country and, in fact, had gained the Guildhall Gold Medal for acting - she soon became an important member of our production team. She was an incredible Gran’ma in BILLY LIAR and gave another fine performance opposite John Considine in PLAZA SUITE, which also brought a fine performance from Joan Ashford who had joined us in 1973 for NUDE WITH VIOLIN. She, too, became prominent in our production team, as well as making memorable appearances in THE HEIRESS and REBECCA.
In 1973 also, Barry Harding gave an outstanding performance in SEMI-DETACHED and was well-supported by Janet Fowler, but we then experienced a difficult few months due to lack of availability of several key members. We had a brief emergence from our traumas with excellent performances by Mary Baird and Graham North in BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, but in 1975 we really began to get back to our best with a sell-out performance of the first of our Francis Durbridge plays, SUDDENLY AT HOME. At this time, another important member joined us. Peter Bell-Young was to become one of the most prominent cogs in our management machine, and in the time, he was our Hon. Treasurer he developed the financial structure in keeping with its present position as a private Limited Company. In addition, Peter gave several fine and varied performances, particularly in LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER and BLACK COMEDY.
The alarming increase in costs was causing us great concern in 1976 and a decision was taken to safeguard the stability of the Society. On February 1st, 1977, The Festival Players (Loughborough) Limited took over all the assets of the Festival Players and the Committee became Directors of the Company. Barry Harding put a monumental amount of work into this evolution and, in recognition, was elected an Honorary Life Member of the Society. Fiona McGowan became the first Secretary of the new Company and Peter Bell-Young the Treasurer. Just before the Limited Company came into being, we received our greatest blow with the sudden death in December 1976 of our first and only President, Eric Hammond. His value to the Society can never be over-stated for it was his encouragement and support, together with his constant enthusiasm, which carried us through many difficult periods. He was commemorated by the public address system in Stanford Hall Theatre, the cost of which was raised by subscription by members and friends of the Festival Players.
During the 1976-77 season, Barry Harding added about sixty years to his age for LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER which also featured a fine performance from Pauline Huffer and was written by our next President. The distinguished playwright, the Hon. William Douglas Home generously agreed to accept our invitation to fill the position which he retained until succeeded by Lady Barnett in1979. Joan Ashford gave an outstanding portrayal in REBECCA and Martin Sarsfield, Barry Harding and John Considine scored heavily in our third of Neil Simon’s plays COME BLOW YOUR HORN. 1977/78 was notable for John Considine’s playing in THE WINSLOW BOY which also introduced Ann Stirrup and John Inkley (Pauline Huffer’s son) in the title role.
The first play by Alan Ayckbourn was produced in this season, which ended with a double bill of AFTER MAGRITTE and BLACK COMEDY. The first of these two caused some consternation with some of our audiences (not to say our members) but Barry Harding’s bruises were ample evidence of the effort put into the second.
Margaret Stanford was at her very best in DEAR CHARLES, as was Barry Harding in THE GAZEBO and it was thought by some members (though not by him!) that Louis Stanford’s performance in our production of THE SECRETARY BIRD was the best he had done.
And so, we reached our century. So much had passed. So many people had helped and supported us - Harley Colman who had
advertised in our programme for over 20 years, Guy Moss who provided us with a home when we needed it most, Jen Sketchley (now Mrs. B. H. Herrington) who handled our booking for over 15
years without recompense of any sort, Jerry Deakin and the Echo Press, who did our printing for over 23 years, Lester Bros. who ran our bus service for 25 years, Mr. and Mrs. Frank
Bodycote and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Cooke, who were on our first list of Patrons , Ken Onions, Manager of Stanford Hall Theatre for over 20 years, and his staff who helped us so much, Peter
Merriman and Walter Leeson who had photographed over 70 of our productions. At the end of our century, we were stronger than we had ever been. The carefully nurtured baby of 1954 was now a strapping
The first two plays of our second century were not among our more memorable. Indeed, there are those amongst our members who think THE EDGE OF DARKNESS the worst we have ever done! CHILDREN’S DAY was noted only for provoking a letter of complaint from a Patron about bad language, but we know a lot worse!
Before the start of our new season, our members were shocked and saddened by the death of our President, Lady Barnett. We had all been overjoyed and encouraged by the warmth and support she had given to our work, and her loss was a great blow.
THE WHOLE TRUTH started our next season and evoked a critical comment about a contrived ending, but we didn’t write it!
IN THE RED was a typical William Douglas Home comedy which brought a fine performance from Peter Bell-Young, and Sharon Huckerby made her debut We really got back into our stride with J.B. Priestley's AN INSPECTOR CALLS which brought fine performances from all the cast, particularly Barry Harding as the Northern industrialist and Christopher French made his debut. Margaret and Louis Stanford repeated the roles they had played 19 seasons before in Noel Coward’s RELATIVE VALUES, the final play directed for us by John Considine who had been such a stalwart for many years both on stage as a superb actor, and off stage as a talented director. It also brought David Hately to our ranks and the season which had begun so tragically with the death of Lady Barnett ended on a high note.
During the following summer, Louis Stanford, one of our founder members became our 4th President, a position he held until his death. He celebrated by directing Neil Simon s LAST OF THE RED-HOT LOVERS which produced excellent performances from Barry Harding, Margaret Stanford, and Mary Baird and a stunning one from Pauline Huffer as Elaine Navazio, the brash and cynical object of some of Barry’s desires on his 50th appearance.
THE KEY OF THE DOOR which followed was not one of our most memorable productions. BOEING BOEING, although finding favour with the critics, made some of the cast wonder whether 2 hours of slogging through a translated French Farce was worth the effort. Still, the audience seemed to like it. Our final production of that season turned out to be a little treasure. THE CURIOUS SAVAGE had been suggested to us by a member of the audience and, under David Hately’s skilful direction, engrossed both the critics and the audience.
The 1982-83 season started with THE UNEXPECTED GUEST, an Agatha Christie thriller which, introduced several sound performances, and a debut for Rob Whitehouse. There were those who thought Louis Stanford had an unfair advantage directing OUTSIDE EDGE which brought outstanding performances from all the cast, notably Jeremy Selman and Joan Ashford as the cricket club captain and his wife and from Mary Baird as the coarse wife of one of the players. Frederick Knott’s WAIT UNTIL DARK produced excellent performances from Mary Rose Selman and David Hately. Pauline Huffer directed this play brilliantly and followed with a compelling role in HORSES IN MIDSTREAM reviewed by one critic as “a hard one to follow” and featuring a staggering set from Andrew McGowan which the Elba tourist board must have sponsored!
ANGELS IN LOVE, a piece of Victorian style nonsense opened the next season and was followed by RANDOM HARVEST with a marathon role for Barry Harding. Ira Levin’s DEATHTRAP had mixed, and totally contradictory reviews from the critics, but none could fault the strength of David Hately’s and Rob Whitehouse’s playing. Mixed reviews, also, for DRY ROT but at least the audience enjoyed it.
Francis Durbridge's HOUSE GUEST achieved universal acclaim as did the entire cast’s acting and Joan Ashford’s direction. SIMON AND LAURA had first-class performances from Jo Miller and Rob Whitehouse in the title roles. KIND LADY gave Pauline Huffer and Barry Harding the chance to shine in a most unusual play and this season ended with HAPPY AS A SANDBAG, a nostalgic return to wartime, greatly enjoyed by both cast and audience and containing a stunning Max Miller from Rob Whitehouse and the Western Brothers from David Hately and Barry Harding.
Before the start of the 1985-86 season, we lost a long-term friend in Maurice Redfern, who had been lighting operator at the theatre since it was built in 1937. We also had to record the death of Frank Bodycote who had been a Patron since the start. DANGEROUS CORNER was the second play by J.B. Priestley which we had presented and got us off to a good start.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY which followed was notable only for the fact that Christine Moore made her debut, but A LETTER FROM THE GENERAL which followed, set in a far eastern nunnery, and superbly designed by Andrew McGowan, was described by critics as “captivating”, “absorbing” and “spine chilling”. The season ended with a little gem of a play, DEAD RINGER with outstanding acting from Cedric Grainger and Mary Baird. Before the start of the next season, we learned of the death of our first settings designer, Sidney Bradshaw. He had designed our first 50 settings and had played an important role in our evolution.
DOUBLE CUT, which started our season was not one of our best productions, but was followed by ONE O’CLOCK FROM THE HOUSE, one of the funniest plays we have ever staged. Everyone in the cast had a memorable character and we shall never forget Avril and Seymour as played by Margaret Stanford and David Hately, nor an astonishing portrayal by Joan Ashford as the coarse and pregnant Maureen. Jane Milne made her debut.
THE LIGHTS ARE WARM AND COLOURED was a most unusual play and featured excellent portrayals by Pauline Huffer, Mary Baird, and Barry Harding. Jo Miller and Rob Whitehouse were outstanding in LAURA which closed our season.
1987-88 began with Francis Durbridge’s DEADLY NIGHTCAP and was followed by a tour-de-force from Pauline Huffer in EVERYBODY LOVES OPAL, brilliantly directed by Joan Ashlord.
PACK OF LIES brought superb performances from David Hately, Jo Miller and Jane Milne and a nomination for best teamwork of the year for Margaret and Louis Stanford. Pauline Huffer’s direction evoked one critic to comment that the play was the best we had ever done. RELATIVE STRANGERS which followed was not as well received, but had fine performances from Martin Carr, Christine Moore, and Jane Milne.
Cedric Grainger was ordained and pontificated in THE DAY THEY KIDNAPPED THE POPE, a delightful comedy despite its title which also bought notable playing from Rob Whitehouse and Margaret Stanford. David Hatelv directed THE CHALK GARDEN, superbly acted by Pauline Huffer, Jane Milne, and Joan Ashford. David then played Dafyd in Alan Aykbourn’s
A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL which gave him the opportunity to enter through the auditorium and ruin the programme as well as giving a staggering performance. Mary Baird directed A STING IN THE TALE, which ended the season and had fine performances by Cedric Grainger and Martin Carr.
1989-90 started with Agatha Christies CARDS ON THE TABLE, not one of our memorable productions, but DAISY PULLS IT OFF was, with Jane Milne, Ruth Sharpe, and Kathy Wilkes in great form, and all the ladies having a ball. CUCKOO was notable for a fine performance by Janet Fowler and the 100th appearance by Margaret Stanford for the Festival Players, a remarkable achievement with one company in local drama. Nick Grainger also made his debut as Benjie.
BREEZEBLOCK PARK by Willy Russell brought the season to a close and featured the debut of Doug Gilbert.
Louis Stanford became the second member to top 100 appearances in Francis Durbridge’s thriller A TOUCH OF DANGER. Noel Cowards BLITHE SPIRIT, first presented in 1960, was given another run 30 years later, again directed by Louis Stanford, and with excellent playing by Barry Harding, Mary Baird and Janet Fowler and a captivating portrayal of Elvira by Christine Moore.
David Hately and Pauline Huffer were outstanding in Jeffrey Archers BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT, and David followed it with another winner as the Italian opera star in LEND ME A TENOR. However, Barry Harding stole the show with an outstanding compendium of characters, and the play climaxed with the cast telescoping the previous two hours playing into a maniacal 90 seconds.
The next season started with some fine playing by Pauline Huffer, Michael Dukes and Joan Ashford in Mary Baird’s production of ON GOLDEN POND and then followed one of the high spots of our entire history. Since the previous July, Joan Bonsor had been teaching our ladies to tap dance, and the fruits of her, and their, efforts came to a consummate and dazzling climax in Pauline Huffer’s incredible production of Richard Harris’s STEPPING OUT. How shall we ever forget the stumbling, hysterical attempts to follow dance teacher Ursula Wilkinson’s despairing efforts, not always helped by Jo Miller’s pianist? And how shall we ever forget the amazing transformation, led by Milovan Jelic, before the final curtain which had the audience in raptures. It was one of those rare events in the theatre which we shall always recall with pride and pleasure. That David Hately was able to follow it with an outstanding production of THE MIRACLE WORKER, featuring Jane Milne and Caroline Sharpe, speaks volumes of the love he has for this play.
And so, we came to NOISES OFF, our 150th. Not the usual musical with which we celebrated our 50th and 100th, but a very demanding play for all that. It was the culmination of 38 seasons at the lovely theatre which had always been our home. 38 seasons when we had tried to bring varied entertainment, sometimes good, occasionally not so good, but always with the sort of application and dedication which we felt our audiences deserved.
Our 151st production produced an outstanding performance from David Hately as Descius Heiss, the shopkeeper in THE SHOP AT SLY CORNER. David had already played the part in his professional career, and there was notable support from Jo Miller and Barry Harding.
HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES by Alan Ayckbourn produced excellent reviews for Jane Greenwood and Rob Whitehouse and was followed by MURDER MISTAKEN excellently played by Janet Fowler and Jo Miller amongst others. Louis Stanford’s performance as Mr Billings in THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE displayed “consummate cynicism” from one critic, but then it should do, as he played it the first time, we did it years before, as did Margaret Stanford as Miss Gossage a la Joyce Grenfell.
Our 40th season opened with THE KIDNAP GAME with Cedric Grainger and Steven Illidge (making his debut) outstanding, and Pauline Inkley's direction evoking “a contentious, disturbing and emotionally demanding” description from one critic. Richard Harris’s PARTY PIECE which followed made an “amusing silk purse out of an ordinary script” especially Margaret Stanford.
One of our most memorable productions, SHADOWLANDS appeared a month before Lord Attenborough’s film version and was awarded local Oscars to David Hately for best actor, Jo Miller for best actress, Louis Stanford for best supporting actor, Peter Gilbert for best juvenile, Pauline Inkley for best director, Andrew McGowan for best designer and a pat on the back for everyone else involved — what a pity the list was only the creation of a newspaper critic, but rewarding, nevertheless. A MONTH OF SUNDAYS which followed, contained fine acting from Barry Harding, Douglas Gilbert, Christine Moore, and Kathleen Brown who was making her debut.
THE 1994/5 season began with NIGHTWATCH and enabled Christine Moore to use her “golden voice” in the lead, going delightfully hysterical every five minutes! It was followed by THE DAY AFTER THE FAIR — not one of our better choices but well played, nevertheless and featuring Ian Currie for the first time in an FPs production.
N. J. Crisp’s DANGEROUS OBSESSION was notable in that it had only three in the cast, superbly played by Sian Ketley, Nicholas Grainger and Steven Illidge and unerringly directed by Pauline Inkley. Neil Simon’s revival of his great success THE ODD COUPLE had been re-written with female leads, superbly played by Jo Miller and Christine Moore and hilarious cameos from David Hately and Barry Harding.
Our 1995 / 6 season started with Leslie Sands’ CHECKMATE, an intricate thriller which did not, perhaps, have enough surprises, Charlotte Hastings’s THE ENQUIRY was set in a women’s prison, quite brilliantly designed by Andrew McGowan, and directed by David Hately. It had a cast of twelve and had critical approval, partly due to its location.
ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR, Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy which followed, was set in three different kitchens, and brought outstanding performances from Sian Ketley, Christine Moore and in fact all the cast of the three couples. David Hately’s production of I AM A CAMERA by John Van Druten on which the musical Cabaret was based, evoked an atmospheric setting of pre-war Berlin, and enabled several younger members to appear. Paul Stevens, Anthony Smith, and Rory Thorpe were ably supported by Kathleen Brown, Mary Baird, and Jane Greenwood.
1996 / 7 started with a revival of BILLY LIAR with Steven Illidge in the title role, and outstanding performances from Paul Stevens and Sian Ketley as his parents, and Margaret Stanford as his grandmother. David Hately directed. Francis Durbridge’s thriller THE SMALL HOURS followed and received a press headline “Players at their very best in superb show.” Mary Baird’s direction brought excellent acting by a strong cast led by Cedric Grainger, Jo Miller, and Ian Currie.
Pauline Inkley directed Alan Ayckbourn’s TIME OF MY LIFE with what one critic described as “a cracker — orchestrating conversation, character playing and action with a clear definite line and hard edge from a brilliant cast”, particularly Christine Moore, Douglas Gilbert, Paul Stevens, and Kathleen Brown. Andrew McGowan’s “quite stunning set, richly applauded by the audience, of a mysterious luxury liner was the basis of OUTWARD BOUND as it cruised between Heaven and Hell. Cedric Grainger and Nicholas Grainger appeared together for the first time. Every line of the script was “splendidly enunciated, each word ringing as sharp and clear as a ship’s bell. David Hately’s inspired direction further enhanced the Company’s reputation as a flagship among Loughborough’s dramatic fleet.”
Our 171st production marked the debut of Liz Berrisford in the Festival Players as Hester in THE DEEP BLUE SEA with a performance almost “unbearably heartrending” (quote). Louis Stanford gave a “finely sensitive performance” (another quote), but the “honours were shared by every member of a very strong cast directed by Pauline Inkley” (final quote)!
Eric Chappell’s THEFT followed, with incisive direction by Mary Baird and a setting by Andrew McGowan which was as polished and professional as the rest of a first-class production. Mary Grainger made her debut A lavish production of AN IDEAL HUSBAND by Oscar Wilde had a rave review from one critic for David Hately’s incandescent, intuitive direction of a superb cast in Andrew’s sumptuous sets. We can only assume that another critic did not understand what it was all about, but you can’t please everyone all the time.
The season ended with a very complex musical INTO THE WOODS by Stephen Sondheim which David Hately had wanted to direct for some time. It had some delightful moments, particularly the singing of Liz Berrisford and Milovan Jelic, but the involved nature of the piece was a little too complicated for some of the audience. Nevertheless, it was a challenging piece which we attacked with much enthusiasm and a lot of hard work. Ruth Grainger made her FPs debut as a delightful Red Riding Hood.
Alan Ayckbourn’s TAKING STEPS which opened our 1998/9 season had a marvellous reception from audiences and critics with praise for Pauline Inkley’s direction and Andrew McGowan’s setting.
CIDER WITH ROSIE, Laurie Lee’s autobiography, adapted for the stage brought a brilliant production from David Hately with Laurie Lee, in the person of Barry Harding narrating the story, and Jo Miller as his mother. The rest of the cast of five created 21 different parts with great skill and unerring accuracy.
Alan Bennett had written HABEUS CORPUS to be played on an empty stage, but director Louis Stanford and designer Andrew McGowan decided this was unacceptable at Stanford Hall. Andrew designed appropriate scenery, Louis included lots of lighting changes and Phil Thorne carried them out. The cast of eleven responded brilliantly, and David Lloyd even got to ride a bike across the stage, to produce a very rewarding production. Mike Jones made his FPs debut as a man continually trying to hang himself.
DEAD GUILTY by Richard Harris was the final play of the season and brought excellent performances from all the cast of four, Pauline Inkley, Liz Berrisford, Barry Harding, and Kathleen Brown, with tight direction by Mary Baird.
The first production of the next season was a farce by Ray Cooney. TWO IN TO ONE had been considered for some time and when Andrew McGowan found a way of overcoming the difficult hotel setting, we decided to give it a go. David Lloyd had his first lead and played it with aplomb against Nicholas Grainger, outstanding as his private secretary. Christine Moore was excellent as David’s wife with Louis Stanford as the harassed hotel Manager and Barry Harding as an astonishing Chinese waiter and Liz Berrisford hidden in a tea trolley. It was finely directed by Mary Baird.
Liz and Barry had very different roles in MAP OF THE HEART by William Nicholson, the author of Shadowlands. Described in the press as “a poignant play and memorable production” it included an impressive debut by Alix Ashurst and excellent acting by Ruth Grainger and Michael Bonshor under David Hately’s direction. David Hately was also responsible for a lovely production of COWARDY CUSTARD, a tribute to “The Master,” which, among many memorable performances included an astonishing duet about “Nina from Argentina” by Steven Illidge and Ian Currie which we still remember with amusement and amazement many years later. Derek Hunter superbly provided the musical direction and accompaniment.
ROUGH JUSTICE which ended the season was a courtroom drama which provided “a gripping evening’s entertainment” in Pauline Inkley’s direction. Mary Baird, as the prosecuting QC, David Lloyd as the judge, and Ian Currie as the defendant, were all outstanding in this finale to one of our best seasons.
2000/1 started with Willy Russell's ONE FOR THE ROAD, directed by Jonathan Pascoe, which brought the acerbic wit of Liverpool with a cast of four. Liz Berrisford, Steven Illidge, Christine Moore, and Michael Willis were all excellent on a cleverly designed set by Andrew McGowan, dressed by Jo Miller. Anthony Shaffer's dark but absorbing play
MURDERER followed, directed by Ian Currie and with a tour-de-force from David Hately, which featured the first 25 minutes in which he had no script, only actions. Ingrid Daniels, Jo Miller, and Louis Stanford were eventually able to assist with a few words! Another amazing set from Andrew.
Jo Miller followed with an inspired job of directing (almost creating)! LAST TANGO IN WHITBY with a little help from David Hately and several fine performances from a large cast. Would Mike Harding the writer have believed this play? Eric Chappell’s NATURAL CAUSES was expected to be the last production at Stanford Theatre, following the proposed sale by the Cooperative Union of the Estate to developers Raynsway Properties, and was excellently played by Paul Stevens, Pauline Inkley, Christine Moore, Kathleen Brown and Graydon Somers and directed by Mary Baird. However, Andrew McGowan persuaded the theatre management to let us have one last production, and David Hately devised and directed SIDE BY SIDE BY STANFORD in five weeks. It turned out to be an incredible show with music by Derek Hunter and choreography by Joan Bonser, and the applause and tears were very memorable.
And so, our 2001/2 season moved to Hind Leys Community Theatre and started with a superb production of LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES directed with style by Steven Illidge and with a spectacular if expensive, wardrobe. Nicholas Grainger and Anya Zeman were outstanding, and it was a tragedy that more audience did not come to this wonderful play. STEEL MAGNOLIAS followed, again beautifully directed, by Jonathan Pascoe and with superb acting by an all-female cast. Both shows were played under very unfamiliar conditions, brilliantly overcome by Andrew McGowan’s lovely settings and both notable for a sparsity of audience, which meant that the company lost over £3,000.
Our joy and pleasure was boundless when, thanks to the kindness of the Raynsway Group, the new owners of Stanford Theatre, we were able to return “home” for the third play of the season, Ira Levin’s VERONICA’S ROOM Described by a critic as “a taut thriller, a brilliant piece of dark and psychologically disturbing theatre,” Pauline Inkley’s production brought staggering performances from Mary Baird, David Lloyd, Ian Currie and 16 year old Lauren Barker, making her debut. It also brought our audience back in droves, much to the satisfaction of the treasurer! Our final play of the season AN EVENING WITH GARY LINEKER had a mixed reception from an audience which either loved it or hated it. Nevertheless, it was excellently performed by a cast of five, unfortunately not including the man from Walker’s Crisps who some expected. (You must be joking)! Anyway, we didn’t give the play its title.
Neil Simon’s comedy RUMORS started the next season with an outstanding performance from Jonathan Pascoe with strong support from Douglas Gilbert, Liz Berrisford and Mary Baird, and impressive debuts from Deborah Pettitt and Susan Pascoe. Mary Baird described her cast in QUARTET as geriatric, probably not far out.
Harold Brighouse’s HOBSON’S CHOICE, 70 years old, brought the house down with Cedric Grainger excelling as “Hobson” and Debbie Pettitt staggering us as his eldest daughter. Ian Currie was also outstanding as “Willie Mossop” and a large supporting cast was superbly directed by Pauline Inkley. FATAL ATTRACTION marked the debut of Alastair North and required Andrew McGowan to produce a jacuzzi on stage. Liz Berrisford, Douglas Gilbert, and Mary Baird were all excellent - in fact so good that they were better than the play!
GASLIGHT started the 2003/4 season and won us an award from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association. Alastair North, Liz Berrisford and David Lewis all excelled in Pauline Inkley’s direction and had fine support from Mary Baird and Lauren Barker.
BEDROOM FARCE by Alan Ayckbourn which followed, attracted a large audience, and produced a fine debut performance from Carolyn Wright and excellent support from the rest of the cast. It also produced a condescending criticism advising us how to select a play to attract an audience.
Perhaps Jonathan Pascoe’s direction of DANCING AT LUGHNASA went some way to correcting the problem. It certainly produced several outstanding performances, particularly from David Hately and Ian Currie. THE CEMETERY CLUB brought us many compliments from the audience, perhaps due to a very experienced cast of Jo Miller, Pauline Inkley, Margaret Stanford, Cedric Grainger, and Janet Fowler, directed by Mary Baird to bring out the humour and pathos in a tricky play.
AS TIME GOES BY, devised by Jo Miller and David Hately, celebrated the company’s 50th year and 200th Production at Stanford Hall theatre and was a compilation of many of the best loved shows including, Happy as a Sandbag, Cowardy Custard, and of course, Salad Days. From a cast of over 20, there were also excerpts from Rebecca, Present Laughter, and Cider with Rosie – and those founder members from 50 years ago, Louis Stanford, Margaret Stanford, and Jo Miller, were all there celebrating – and how proud they must have been – yet another milestone in the long life of the Festival Players. The Loughborough Echo critic summed it all up by describing the evening as “a marvellous birthday bash”.
A polished production of LADIES IN RETIREMENT followed in November 2004 and introduced newcomers Jeremy Malpas and Laura Orton with appearances from founder members Margaret Stanford and Jo Miller and featuring Mary Baird, Christine Moore, and Kathleen Brown. Pauline Inkley directed and noted in the programme that “it was great play to produce, and to have the privilege of doing it twice (albeit with a completely different cast) was an added bonus – let’s hope it’s twice as good! It was first performed by us in 1974 but there are some plays that (a) go back far enough for most of us to have forgotten them and (b) are really worth doing again!”
The choice of Ladies in Retirement proved, in hindsight, to have been uncannily prophetic because within weeks of that production, it was announced to a horrified amateur theatrical community that Stanford Hall Theatre was to close immediately due to urgent electrical works being necessary to comply with the theatre Licence. Digressing, for a moment from the Festival Players, it should be recorded that the new owners, the Raynsway Group, had purchased the estate from the Cooperative Movement at a price rumoured to be in the region of £5million with a view to converting the Hall into flats and building a luxury hotel adjacent to, and incorporating, the open-air swimming pool. Sadly, before Planning Permission was granted, Mr Charles Rayns died suddenly and whilst his widow indicated that the plans would proceed, in the event they were shelved and the estate was subsequently sold to local property developer Mr Check Whyte, of Bunny Hall, with the published intent of refurbishing and occupying the Hall for his own use.
Plans were subsequently lodged with Rushcliffe Borough Council for these works in June 2007, and in July 2007 further plans were deposited by Check Whyte Industries for conversion of the old Coop Bank premises overlooking the seal pond into Head Office premises. These were granted and CWI moved in in August 2007.
THE POST-STANFORD ERA
And so, back to the Festival Players! The closure of the theatre in December 2004 had come as a complete shock and there were no contingency plans for an alternative venue. Various meetings were held to try and find a way through, and all avenues were explored – find a venue, merge with another society, and even close down and dispose of Burder Street – all were considered.
Eventually a somewhat ostrich attitude was adopted, and it was decided to “go into hibernation” in the forlorn hope that Stanford would reopen. After a suitable period of “mourning” it slowly dawned that this was not going to happen, and an approach was made to the Town Hall to see if we could hire The Victoria Room. Astonishingly the then management had decided that they didn’t really want, or for that matter like, amateur dramatic societies and refused our request!
It was only after some skullduggery that we managed to get a booking, ostensibly through Nick Grainger and the ESNA players and performed our second presentation of Alan Ayckbourn’s A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL in September 2005, the only play to be presented that year. Again, David Hately starred in and directed this production which, whilst achieving critical acclaim, proved poor box office, and led to even more losses.
THE COPE YEARS
At this point in our history, Nick Grainger offered to provide new leadership as the group moved into the new post-Stanford era and came on to the committee full time as Chairman at the 2006 AGM having previously served as the liaison officer between ESNA and the FPs during the difficult months of 2005. We decided to persevere with LTH but were again rebuffed by the management which refused to accept any further bookings from us, and a decision was taken to “decamp” to The Cope Auditorium at Loughborough College and reprise AN INSPECTOR CALLS as our 203rd production in March 2006. Showing that if you pick the right play, the audience will return, box office receipts were good, and the play introduced Oli Thompson to the group as Eric Birling and Keith Hague made a guest appearance.
BLOOD BROTHERS (not the musical!) was performed in September 2006 and introduced Rachel Agustsson and Eleanor Blower to the company which welcomed back Chris Burdett and Ingrid Daniels after short absences. In January 2007 we presented LITTLE WOMEN to a capacity audience and welcomed Helen Fitzpatrick and Lianne O’Connor to the fold together with the return of Susan Pascoe and Jonny Fines in a large, and expensively, costumed cast.
March 2007 saw us re-presenting LEND ME A TENOR with belting performances by Nick Grainger, Laura Orton, David Lloyd, Steven Illidge, Debbie Pettitt, Ian Currie, Jane Milne, and Ingrid Daniels – the classic in and out of doors farce, played to perfection but with music!
Barry Harding, who had played Max in our previous production of Lend me a Tenor, died just weeks before this production and was remembered in the programme for the many and varied parts he had played since his first in Sit Down a Minute, Adrian in 1961 and his sterling work as the Society’s solicitor. He was a valued member of the management team and an extremely talented actor.
BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE was a delightful, warm, and optimistic comedy played in September 2007. It was beautifully done with a small cast of newcomer Rhiannon Mollart, Oliver Thompson, Ingrid Daniels, and Jeremy Malpas with a colourful attic set by Andrew McGowan. Probably being an unknown play, and an unusual title, the audiences stayed away in their droves – which was the same fate befallen by the following play in January 2008, ART. A theatrical tour de force starring Steven Illidge, Chris Burdett and Jeremy Malpas, this play was renowned for its excellent cast, its bad language, and being very short!
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was on in April 2008 and being a costume drama attracted back the audiences – although the increased box office take was wiped out by the cost of the costumes! It introduced even more newcomers to the Company – Nicola Speight, Claire Malpas, and Amy Walters and was well received by an appreciative audience.
The 210th production, THE GRADUATE, was the last at The Cope Auditorium in September 2008. Featuring a revolving set and starring Jane Milne as Mrs Robinson and Ollie Thompson as Benjamin Braddock this iconic play also had a large cast of 16 and was directed by Steve Illidge. Despite concerns regarding the nude seduction scene, the play was well received and formed a fitting finale to our time at the Cope. Tom Grainger,Eddie Orton and Kirstie Bennett appeared on stage with us for the first time.
LOUGHBOROUGH TOWN HALL
Having produced 8 plays at the Cope it was apparent that the limited audience capacity of only 200 could never provide the revenues we needed to remain financially viable - in effect we could only ever break even at best or lose on any given production. New management at LTH allowed Nick Grainger to negotiate permanent slots at the venue and REBECCA was chosen for our debut in February 2009 which fielded a strong cast including Nick, Susanne Martin (making her debut), Christine Moore, and a fully clothed Jane Milne! It introduced Robert Bramley-Buhler and was directed by Ingrid Daniels. The receipts exceeded our expectations with virtually full houses for the week and fully justified the decision to move to the much larger, and more expensive, town centre venue. Very sadly, it was reported that David Hately, having been cast, had died in the December before the play. He had made an enormous impact on the society with his enthusiastic and innovative support and was a gifted director and actor.
The second play at the Town Hall was STEPPING OUT with a cast of 8 tap dancing ladies and Robert Bramley-Buhler appearing as the hapless Geoffrey. Mary Baird played the piano-playing grumpy Mrs Fraser and Ollie Thompson was the voice of the stage manager. The play was a triumph, selling out every night and helping to recoup the losses incurred at the Cope.
In a totally different vein, the thriller WAIT UNTIL DARK followed in September 2009 with a magnificent performance from Laura Orton as the blind Susy Henderson terrified by the actions of the three “baddies” played convincingly well by Nick Grainger, Jeremy Malpas and Steve Illidge. The play was directed by Pauline Inkley and featured her grand-daughter Alex as Gloria.
SEASONS GREETINGS provided a suitably festive start to 2010 with a rollicking presentation in February of this Alan Ayckbourn farce featuring a warring family enjoying Christmas and Bernard’s (Chris Nixon) puppet show. This sparkling production introduced several new members – Phil Burrows, Cathy Rackstraw, Rachel Ingham, Ian Swift, and Elliott Wheatley and was directed by Mary Baird.
BRASSED OFF followed in June and very successfully marked the company’s first collaboration with Hathern Band. Imaginatively directed by Steve Illidge with settings by Andrew McGowan and projection by Mike Speight the play involved a large cast detailing the trials and traumas of the closing of a coal mine in the fictional South Yorkshire village of Grimley. A resounding box office success, the “fully booked” signs were up early and earned high critical acclaim. Jarrod Makin made his debut as did Ted Grainger, Sharon Lodge, Maureen Monk, Pam Doody and Sylvia Fall.
Neil Simon’s bittersweet comedy CHAPTER TWO started the next season in October 2010 featuring a small cast of Nick Grainger, Laura Orton, Steve Illidge and, making a welcome return after some years, Carolyn Wright. After the highs of Brassed Off, the ticket sales were disappointing, but the play went well and cemented our position as the main provider of non-musical theatre in the area.
The lavish costume drama AMADEUS was the Festival Player’s 217th production in February 2011with outstanding performances from Jeremy Malpas as Mozart and newcomer Norman Hockley as Salieri supported by a large cast . Ingrid Daniels was the director, and the baroque multi-purpose set was again by Andrew McGowan.
The cricketing comedy OUTSIDE EDGE was presented in June featuring a motley crew, and their wives, “enjoying” a cricket match against a team from British Railways Maintenance Division. A cast of 9 were ably directed by Pauline Inkley to a relatively small but enthusiastic audience.
OUT OF ORDER was presented from 12th to 15th October 2011 and featured excellent performances from Nick Grainger and Ian Curry ably supported by Debbie Pettitt, Lianne O’Connor, Sylvia Fall, Sharon lodge, Rachel Ingham, Ollie Thompson, James Daw, Jarrod Makin, and a sash window with a mind of its own! The play marked the directorial debut of Norman Hockley, following his outstanding performance in Amadeus. David Lloyd, a central figure in the group since his debut in 1997, died on 22nd November and was mourned by all who knew him - a lovely man and a loyal friend.
THE HISTORY BOYS followed in February 2012 and was an artistic and box office triumph! Superbly directed by Steve Illidge it featured outstanding performances by Norman Hockley, Jeremy Malpas and Liz Beresford and introduced a host of new actors playing the unruly sixth form intent on a university education. Notable for its somewhat fruity language, the play reached new heights in providing cutting edge theatre to Loughborough Audiences and received rave reviews.
Alan Ayckbourn’s classic comedy RELATIVELY SPEAKING was the second production in the 2012 Season and featured a small cast comprising Nick Grainger, Pam Doody, Amy Walters, and James Daw. Directed by Mary Baird and with a revolving set by Andrew McGowan, this gentle play was well received although a box office disappointment.
CALENDAR GIRLS proved to be the smash hit of 2012 with sell out performances of an imaginatively directed production by Chris Moore starring Julie Easter (on her debut), Ruth Grainger, Liz Berrisford, Mary Baird, Rachel Ingham, Debbie Pettitt and Cathy Rackstraw in a cast of 15. It brought a new phrase into the folklore of the society “we’ll need considerably bigger buns” and gained the comment from the Loughborough Echo “it is impossible not to be touched by this beautifully haunting production”. Liz Bristowe also made her debut.
Described by the Loughborough Echo as a “well-crafted thriller”, February 2013 produced Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Featuring a large cast of 11 – 10 victims and the murderer! – the Echo further commented that this was a very well-acted period thriller with “the Players using their considerable talents to transport us back to a pre-war world where the skeletons in the cupboards emerged with lethal weapons in their hands”. The play was well directed by Norman Hockley and featured, in no particular order, Ian Swift, Chris Marshall, Sharon Lodge, Laura Orton, Jeremy Malpas, James Daw, Mike Jones, Doug Gilbert, Kathy Brown, Chris Nixon and Phil Burrows. The art deco set was by Andrew McGowan.
SHAKERS by John Godber was a complete change to normal Festival Players fare and was set in a seedy Northern wine bar and apart from regulars Claire Malpas and Amy Walters introduced Emma Smith and Katie Jeffers to their first acting roles with the Company. The entire play rests on this quartet who set the tone, maintain the pace and grab hold of your interest. “They were quite magnificent in the way they drew the audience into this garish and cheap environment” – Loughborough Echo. The play appeared in June and was a directorial debut for society secretary Rachel Ingham.
THE ODD COUPLE followed in October 2014 featuring Nick Grainger and Steve Illidge as the mis-matched flatmates in Neil Simon’s classic comedy Oscar Madison is something of a slob while his poker playing friend, the suicidal Felix, is a clean freak described by Oscar as “someone who would wear a seatbelt in a drive-in movie”! Directed by Jeremy Malpas, the play also featured Oscar’s poker playing friends played by Norman Hockley, Chris Nixon, Ian Swift and Ashley Bright and nearby flat owners, the Pigeon sisters, played by Cathy Rackstraw and Rachel Ingham.
Reprising a play first performed at Hind Leys School, the first play of 2014 was STEEL MAGNOLIAS with a Directorial debut by Sally Bruton-Lang. Set in an American beauty parlour, Steel Magnolias is a microcosm of all that is best about female relationships and featured a strong cast including Emma Smith, Debbie Heveran, Pam Doody, Julia Quayle, Debbie Pettitt and Linda Moulton. The unashamedly pink set was by Andrew McGowan.
100 minutes, 4 actors, over 100 characters – this is the essence behind THE 39 STEPS, a marvellous spoof version of Alfred Hitchcock’s murderous classic. Imaginatively directed by Ian Curry this superb play starred Jeremy Malpas as Richard Hannay with the remaining 100 characters played by Rachel Ingham, Chris Nixon, and Steve Illidge. With virtually no scenery to help them, this versatile quartet managed to conjure up a fight on top of an express train, the Forth bridge, a car, and a very convincing biplane! With atmospheric lighting by Andrew McGowan and Judith Moulton, lots of smoke and spot on sound effects by James Daw this play was great fun but, surprisingly, was not the box office success expected.
Marking a departure from the norm, EDUCATING RITA was presented in the Studio Theatre at the Town Hall in July and, in contrast to the previous play, was a virtual sell-out. A two hander, the Loughborough Echo described Emma Smith playing Rita as “superb, dominating the stage and lightening the set as soon as she bustles in”. As Frank, Norman Hockley played his role as a quiet, gloomy counterfoil to all this manic bustle – “a quietly impressive performance as the story unfolds”. The play was sympathetically directed by Jeremy Malpas.
In homage to the Centenary of the First World War, the October 2014 production was David Haig’s MY BOY JACK, a moving tale of Rudyard Kipling’s search for his son John, lost after only two weeks in action. Taking the lead in this ambitious production, superbly directed by Steve Illidge, Nick Grainger played Kipling with “authority and sensitivity – a gritty performance” (Loughborough Echo). Jane Durant (nee Milne) gave a “believable understated performance as his wife Carrie” and Louis Gale as Jack, “was convincing, trying with little avail to command his troops”. Impressive debuts were given by Laura Bateman as Kipling’s daughter Elsie, and Matt Jarram was “heartily cheery as Major Sparks”. Special mention was given to Chris Marshall in his portrayal of the shell-shocked Bowe and new faces among the 18-strong cast “provided excellent support”. Andrew McGowan’s set for the claustrophobic muddy trenches was described as “inspired, and his atmospheric lighting and superb sound effects were spectacular”.
In February 2015, The Society reprised the ever-popular BLOOD BROTHERS with a talented cast of 13 featuring Tom Grainger and Henry North as the tragic twins and Debbie Heveran and Julie Easter as their respective mothers. The play introduced Hannah Levenston, Chloe McMackin, Georgia Thompson, and Ben Hardy to the company and was directed by Norman Hockley with sets by Andrew McGowan. The Loughborough Echo summed it up with "a bloody good evening of entertainment" which was backed up by excellent ticket sales.
A milestone was reached in April 2015, when, for the first time ever, The Festival Players produced Shakespeare's MACBETH at the Sir Robert Martin Theatre at Loughborough University. It was at the behest of Jane Durant who directed this ambitious play in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company's Open Stage Project. A cast of 20 was led by Rachel Ingham as Lady Macbeth - "a blazing power seeker who slowly loses her mind - her final scene ridding imaginary blood from her hands was hauntingly tragic" (Loughborough Echo) and Macbeth himself- "a riveting and simply stunning performance by the massively talented Jez Malpas". The set was designed and constructed by Andy Philpott and the play was well received by an enthusiastic and large audience.
DAISY PULLS IT OFF was presented in June 2015 and introduced several new faces, including Jo Pack and Daisy herself played by Harriet North. The play is a send up of the world of girls' schools in the 1920's and was an enjoyable romp for both the cast and audiences, but sadly was not a box office success. Directed by Sally Bruton-Lang with a multipurpose set by Andrew McGowan the show was described in the Echo as a "tribute to a world that no longer exists".
The final play of the 2015 Season was Mike Leigh's classic comedy ABIGAIL'S PARTY. Lianne O'Connor faultlessly played the hostess from hell, Beverley, and her husband Laurence was newcomer Kirt Hammonds - inviting guests to smell pages of his classic books! The three guests were played by Jez Malpas (Tony, threatening to tape up his wife's mouth), Amy Walters (Ang, vacuously smiling in the awkward silences - but her dancing was something special!) and Cathy Rackstraw (Susan, who was a fish out of water allowing herself to become the victim of Bev's condescending kindness). Imaginatively directed by Rachel Ingham and with a garish 1970's set by Andrew McGowan, the Echo described it as a "well-crafted slick play; plenty to laugh at, to be embarrassed by and to cringe at".
Michael Frayn's riotous farce, NOISES OFF, began the 2016 Season with a fine production directed by Norman Hockley. Described as real people in unbelievable situations, farce depends on razor sharp timing and Nick Grainger revelled as the manic director, Lloyd Dallas whilst Kirt Hammonds, played the gormless Frederick Fellows.
The Loughborough Echo described the performances of Liz Berrisford, Tom Grainger, and Chris Nixon as a "delight to watch" and Jarrod Makin and Rachel Ingham played the harassed Stage Manager and ASM convincingly.
Victoria Price on her debut was "deliciously stupid" and Emma Bamford "rang true as the one trying to keep order".
Andrew McGowan designed a revolving double decker set.
Following the precedent set in 2015, the second play of the season took place in the Sir Robert Martin Theatre at Loughborough University. Willy Russell’s play, SHIRLEY VALENTINE is a well-known classic but quite different from the film starring Tom Conti.
In a one woman tour de force, Deb Heveran, described in the Echo as "a talented, highly skilled and engaging actress" played the put-upon Shirley "and holds the audience on her every word and never lets us go".
Rachel Ingham directed this heart-warming play with great sensitivity and Andrew McGowan designed a 1980's kitchen transforming, in the second act, to a Greek island paradise.
LADIES' DAY by Amanda Whittington in June 2016 proved a sure-fire winner in the studio theatre of the Town Hall. Starting off in a fish filleting factory in Hull, the play soon moved on to York Races via swimming fish and dancing jockeys! Director Jez Malpas devised a superbly innovative production complemented by a large projection screen - "the sequence of still shots featuring the journey of all four ladies was hysterical" (Loughborough Echo).
In a large cast of 20, the leads were played by Julie Easter, Jo Pack, Rozzie Barlow and newcomer Ella Morris, ably supported by Nick Grainger, Matt Jarram, Chris Marshall, Ben Hardy, and Iain Swift.
Completing the 2016 Season was a smash-hit production of Richard Bean's ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS. James Daw was "a true comedic force and undoubtedly the star of the show, his moves, mannerisms and rapport with the audience were faultless, an engaging performance". He was backed by a superb cast including Henry North, "as Alan the larger than life 'luvvie', Kirt Hammonds as Stubbers milking his character to over the top spillage and Hannah Levenston as Alan's dozy fiancée". Simon Page made an impressive debut and the excellent skiffle band, The Fentons, provided foot tapping entertainment during the scene changes.The play was imaginatively directed by Amy Walters and the set was by Andrew McGowan.
The 2017 Season started in February with a hugely successful production of GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM. Selling to a near record capacity audience, this heart- warming story of William Beech, a grubby nervous evacuee sent to rural Dorset in 1939 to live with grumpy widower Tom Oakley, becomes one of kindness and love as both discover a new life together. Superbly directed by Sally Bruton and Ben Hardy, it expertly introduced several innovative touches including the use of puppets and subtle mime sequences interspersed with war time songs and the dreaded sirens. As noted in the Loughborough Echo “the talented and versatile Nick Grainger delivered an understated portrayal as the gruff character of Tom Oakley – a delight to watch”. Oliver Cunliffe as William “captured the audience’s hearts with his confident performance” and he was equally matched by Jack Cook as the extrovert and endearing Zach Wrench. In a cast of 17, special mention must go to Ellie Bowness’s skilful puppetry as Sammy the dog!
In April 2017 the company presented TEECHERS at the Sir Robert Martin Theatre, with for the first time, a reprise at the Century Theatre Coalville in June. Imaginatively directed by Rachel Ingham, this school days romp featured a versatile cast of only 3 actors, James Daw, Claire Malpas and Victoria Price, besides playing themselves, portraying a never-ending chorus of supporting characters including cynical staff colleagues, school bullies and obstructive caretakers veering into each one with consummate ease and totally identifiable with typical school stereotypes and brilliantly believable.
As a complete change, July saw EQUUS, again at the Martin Theatre. Under the capable direction of Ingrid Daniels, the Echo opined “the message of the play was impressively delivered. Experienced Steve Illidge gave a solid performance as Martin Dysart delivering excellent narrative monologues and Daniel Grooms captured the disturbed mind of Alan Strang impeccably - the relationship between the two was superb. There were no weak links in the remainder of the cast, especially Cathy Rackstraw and Nick Grainger as Alan’s parents and the minimalistic set and lighting created a disturbing and thought-provoking piece of theatre – again another triumph for the company”. Grace Lavender made an impressive debut.
The 241st production was Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES back at Loughborough Town Hall in October. The Echo reviewer was invited to watch and review one of the final rehearsals in the rehearsal rooms and, although it was in a rough and ready state with no costumes, props, or lighting, the cast of six” put on a fantastic performance and had the reviewer laughing out loud”. The show, directed by Steve Illidge and designed by Andrew McGowan, is basically one big tale of matrimonial mishaps. It follows primitive Bob Phillips (Kirt Hammonds) and middle-class Fiona Foster (Julie Easter) as they try and clumsily cover up their affair and their spouses’ (Hannah Levenston and Chris Nixon) intervention only adds to the confusion. William and Mary Featherstone (Ian Currie and Rachel Ingham) a painfully ordinary, and slightly odd, couple, become hopelessly stuck in the middle, falsely accused of adultery and with no idea as to how they’ve become involved. The plot culminates in two disastrous dinner parties on successive nights, shown at the same time, after which the future of all the couples seems in jeopardy.
2018 marked a departure for the Society – for the first time, 5 shows over 4 different venues! February saw our production of the smash hit television series – 'ALLO 'ALLO which proved to be an enormous success at our normal venue, Loughborough Town Hall. Featuring a host of our regular actors the play starred newcomer (to us) Jon Orton as the hapless Rene Artois and was ably directed by Benjamin Hardy and designed by Andrew McGowan. Gareth Busson (and his viglet) also made his debut as the (very funny) Colonel. Jess Hannah and Valerie Schmitt-Li made their debuts as clients in Renee's cafe.
April saw us at the University Robert Martin Theatre with Nick Grainger making an excellent directorial debut with PRIVATE PEACEFUL, the First World War epic by Michael Morpurgo. The play introduced a raft of new members in a cast of 23 and whilst a critical success proved poor box office.
THE DRESSER by Ronald Harwood and sensitively directed by Rachel Ingham was also performed at the Robert Martin Theatre in July and featured tour de force performances by Nick Grainger as Sir and Steve Illidge as his dresser Norman. This beautifully written tragicomedy introduced the talented Persephone Leafe to the company and whilst garnering a host of complimentary plaudits was, sadly, again, poor box office (probably due to the World Cup and stifling heat).
In a first for the Company,
August saw us perform an outdoor production of the all-women version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Bawdon Lodge Farm up on the Charnwood Forest. Fortunately, the weather was kind to us, despite being somewhat windy, and a huge cast of 26 played to near capacity audiences. Featuring dancers from Rawlins Academy the play also introduced a host of new members and was imaginatively directed by Amy Walters and Sarah Cantle. Emma Healey, Ranata Maynard, Anna Rowlands and Jo Shaw all made their debuts.
Ending the 2018 Season in December was another first for the company – a live radio play of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in the Victoria Room at the Town Hall, followed the next week by performances at The Century Theatre in Coalville. A relatively small cast of seven ably reproduced a raft of different characters and settings helped by the ingenuous live sound effects of Chris Marshall. The play was directed by Jez Malpas and designed by Andrew McGowan.
Sadly, it was recorded in the programme of It’s a Wonderful Life that one of our two remaining founder members, Margaret Stanford, had died at the age of 95. She had appeared in 126 plays with the company since her initial appearance in 1955 with Young Wives’ Tale. She also directed 5 productions and for many years was the Society Booking Manager.
It should also be noted that in the previous year, 2017, founder member and long-term Chairman, Louis Stanford, had died at the age of 88. He had also appeared in the first production performed by the Society Young Wives’ Tale at the Robert Martin Theatre in January 1955 and went on to appear in 115 plays with the Company over the next 50 years.
The first of the 44 plays to be directed by Lou was Present Laughter in 1956 and it was the first amateur production in 1963 of Salad Days, at that time the longest running musical in West End history, which gave the Festival Players their greatest success so far and earned Louis Stanford’s direction the headline, “FESTIVAL PLAYERS HIT A NEW PEAK”.
February 2019 witnessed a highly successful production of the stage adaptation of THE VICAR OF DIBLEY at LTH directed by Ben Hardy and Deb Heveran. Claire Malpas led the excellent cast as Geraldine Granger and there were wonderful performances from all including Keir Jones as Hugo who was making his FPs debut. Audiences were large and enthusiastic. Andrew McGowan designed the flexible multi-locational set and Cedric Grainger appeared as Frank Pickle at the age of 85.
April saw us celebrate our 250th production with three of Alan Bennett's TALKING HEADS monologues under Deb Heveran's direction at The Leonard Dixon Studio at LU. Julie Easter, Amy Walters & Vics Price performed A Lady of Letters, Bed Amongst the Lentils and Her Big Chance respectively to great acclaim from the small audiences.
In September at LTH came our production of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN under Nick Grainger's direction. Andrew McGowan built a wonderful railway bridge as the centrepiece of the set and the young cast of Persephone Leafe, Ted Grainger & Ellie Morris (making her FPs debut) charmed audiences with their completely believable portrayals of Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis. Richard York made his debut as a wonderful Perks and Tom Walker & Mike Blasdale also trod the boards with the FPs for the first time. The play also marked the first FPs involvement of Angela Truby as assistant to the director.
The year came to a close with our follow-up to the previous year's It's A Wonderful Life - A radio play version of Noel Coward's BRIEF ENCOUNTER which was directed by Sally Bruton and featured Laura Brooks and Nick Grainger as Laura and Alec. Shirley Burgess made her FPs debut, and the piece was well-received despite disappointing audiences.
2020 - 21 & THE PANDEMIC
With no idea as to what was to come, we began 2020 in confident mood with our February production of THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE. Laura Hardy, on her FPs debut, made a wonderful job of the title character and Vics Price and Simon Page shone as Mari Hoff and Ray Say respectively. Jess Hannah was also wonderful as Sadie. It was Kevin Clarke's first FPs play and Dave Phillips made his debut too as Mr Boo whilst Tom Walker was impressive in his first big part.. Rachel Ingham directed with her usual skill and panache and Andrew's versatile set would prove to be his very last for the FPs although we didn't know it at the time. Indeed, we were beginning the last few weeks of rehearsals for our April play, KING CHARLES THE THIRD when the pandemic struck, and the play was cancelled. Kirt Hammonds had been doing a great job directing a large cast which featured Nick Grainger in the title role, and which included Cameron Sim, Nicole Driver and Danielle Aley who were due to make their FPs debuts.
During the rest of 2020, like all other theatre, we went into hibernation. The summer months offered some hopes that we might be back on stage soon but these were dashed with the second Covid wave in the Autumn and then again at Christmas when we were briefly asked by LTH to reprise It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play before all theatres were again shut down. Needless to say, our planned production of Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play which was due to be staged at LTH in December had already been postponed even though it had been cast and was being rehearsed in back gardens during the Summer and early Autumn with a view to performing some time in 2021. This was the hope even though it had been generally agreed that King Charles The Third would not be rescheduled . Over the Winter, the heartbeat of the group was kept going with plenty of activity via Zoom including quizzes, play readings and an online advent calendar which was much appreciated by a good portion of the membership.
During lockdown, Andrew McGowan had had a chance to experience life without the FPs and made the decision to retire. At the AGM in September (via Zoom) Chairman Nick Grainger paid tribute to his remarkable contribution to The Festival Players over more than half a century whilst other members added their messages of appreciation. This whole period was proving to be a true watershed in the history of the society.
It was also decided during lockdown that this would be a good time to spend some money on redecorating tha upstairs rooms and kitchen at Burder Street and the Committee duly ripped up the old carpet and cleared all the upstairs space of furniture, props and other sundry items. Work began on decorating and reflooring in August and by early Autumn the job was complete save for the realisation that water was still coming in from the roof in a number of places and that further repairs would be needed.
In the Spring of 2021 the Vintage Hitchcock production team of Laura Brookes, Deb Pettitt and Jonathan Orton mooted the idea of recording the piece and presenting it online in aid of Rainbows Hospice, The necessary permissions were received and the job of recording the actors and adding visuals, music and sound effects began. By the middle of July Jon had pulled out all the stops and completed the editing of the two hour show and the cast and production team gathered to watch the finished product in advance of the live streaming on July 30th. An online audience of 100+ then tuned in on 30th with donations reaching about £500 in support of the charity. There were some convincing performances from the whole cast but the main plaudits had to go to Laura, Debs & Jono who stuck to their task for more than a year to ensure that The FPs never actually shut down at all over lockdown. Kat Etoe and Danielle Aley made their FPs debuts.