Today in 1949 was the inaugural meeting of the St John’s Church Drama Group – still going strong 65 years later as St John’s Players. Join us as we take a look back at that first crucial year in the group’s history!
Held at St John’s Infants’ School at 7.30pm, The vicar, Rev. John Mort (later to become Archbishop of Nigeria, as well as being elected the group’s first chairman that night!) led a meeting of some 27 people (with five apologies) to launch a drama group after so many in the community had shown an interest.
Among the attendees was local painter and decorator Hedley Coombs, who would go on to be a stalwart of the group’s early years, acting, producing and contributing many set designs.
An executive committee was appointed, who reconvened at the school the following Tuesday evening to decide that the group would work towards an evening of three one-act plays.
Dear Departed, Red Wax & The Lost Hat were eventually chosen and performed on 3rd and 4th May 1949. These seemed to go down very well, making a profit of £11.2.2d.
This was followed on 24th May when the Claines Drama Group visited St John’s to perform a play, followed by a social gathering and refreshments.
By now, the fledgling drama group were getting into the swing of things: Further one-act plays followed, with Hullabaloo, The Mock Doctor and Windy Wold (the latter of these performed by the St John’s Church Youth Group) being presented on 1st – 3rd November 1949. These raised £14.4.4d for the church funds, before being taken on the road, with Hullabaloo and The Mock Doctor being performed in Peopleton on 8th November 1949 and in Kempsey on 12th December 1949. In the days before everyone owned a car, a lot of effort must have gone into this mini-tour, a sure reflection on the enthusiasm and love the early players felt for the group.
From that point on, there was no stopping The St John’s Church Drama Group, with the first full-length, three-act play, Yellow Sands, being performed on 18th – 20th April 1950 in St John’s, and repeated at Ronkswood Hospital in May 1950.
Play after play followed, and in 1965, St John’s Players, as they had then become, were among the first groups to perform in the newly-built Swan Theatre – a venue we have loved returning to again and again, the main stage now the regular home to our autumn shows and smaller but incredibly atmospheric studio hosting our spring productions.
65 years and 142 productions later, it is perhaps surprising that looking back today, so much seems similar – we still meet regularly on Tuesday evenings, albeit several changes of venue later we are now able to use the facilities of Worcester Headway Trust at The Mill, Barbourne. Although our name has changed slightly over the years, reflecting our change of venues, we retain the St John’s moniker as a nod to our past. We are still a small, enthusiastic team numbering around two dozen, and everyone still rolls up their sleeves to help out with every conceivable aspect of putting on our shows – we even still build our own sets, often using techniques that have been passed down generations of players since Hedley’s time!
Indeed it is with pretty much the same ethos that work is currently underway on our next production. The Opposite Sex, an adult comedy by David Tristram, is in rehearsals now. In case you missed it, the director and cast recently introduced the play in this video (OK, perhaps they didn’t have Youtube and Facebook in 1949!)
Box office details for The Opposite Sex can be found at Worcester Live