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The Roses of Eyam (1979)

26 March 2020: In these strange times, when we are confined to our homes spare a thought for the villagers of Eyam, in Derbyshire.  Eyam is known as the Plague Village when during the plague of 1665-1666, they shut themselves off from the rest of the country, knowing that they risked death, but with the intention of sparing their fellow citizens.


The beginning was innocuous enough.  A box of old clothes was sent from London, where the plague had already taken hold, to the local tailor.  The clothes were infected and the tailor died within four days.  During the following thirteen months 259 out of a population of 350 perished.


Weymouth Drama Club presented the play, The Roses of Eyam, in November 1979, directed by Kay Thorneycroft.  It was an epic production, but unusually the cast were happy to "die" as they wouldn't be taking the curtain call and could retreat to the bar!




2 April 2020: Although we usually spend 6-8 weeks rehearsing each production, there have been some memorable productions that took just 24 hours to put together.  Starting at 10.00pm, after the normal rehearsals have finished, writers work away putting together a unique storyline, using all the actors who have signed up for the play.  By 6.00am, as the actors arrive for breakfast, there is a complete script in outline; no actual lines of dialogue have been committed to paper as it more successful when they are improvised.  During the day, lines are learnt, costumes sourced and altered, music and lighting chosen, and props and a set constructed.  Then there is advertising, front of house, programmes and catering all to be organised.  By 8.00pm the curtain goes up on a world premiere. As it ends everything is packed away before the 24 hours is up.  It's as if it never happened.  The photos shown are from a 2010 production of Torn, about a family devastated by war.

TORN (2010)

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Thursday 9 April 2020:  Between 1938 and the outbreak of war, almost 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, were sent by their parents from Germany to Britain…9 year old Eva ends up in Manchester…When Eva's parents fail to escape Germany, the child changes her name and begins the process of denial of her roots…It is only when her own daughter discovers some old letters in the attic that Eva is forced to confront the truth about her past… Dianne Samuel's play Kindertransport tells Eva's story and explores the pain and passion of mother/daughter relationships.  Weymouth Drama Club presented this play in 2015.

Kindertransport (2015)

Absurd Person Singular (2010)

 16 April 2020: Derek Sawtell directed our production of Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular in 2010; ten years ago.  You know how they say the party always happens in the kitchen?  Well this play looks at the changing fortunes of three couples over three Christmas parties.  Kitchen Craft built an entire kitchen for the production: Derek had only asked to borrow a few cupboards!  Most of the cast are still with the Club ten years on, although sadly our Dave Moore passed away a few years ago.


23 April 2020:  15 years ago the Drama Club embarked on a modern, bawdy and colourful production of The Canterbury Tales.  The excellent cast made the whole experience a triumph, right from the day of the auditions.  We had several new members in the cast - I'm not totally sure they knew what they had let themselves in for, but it's good to note that for two of them their connection with the Club continues as their children now belong to our Curtain Raisers.

Marital mishaps and misunderstandings were the Drama Club offering in April 2000 when we presented Anyone for Breakfast.  Yes, it really was 20 years ago.  The farce by Derek Benfield was directed by Derek Sawtell and featured a cast of new talent alongside some familiar faces.  Nobody was playing fair as each character was having an illicit affair and the plot confused the audience as the mice that played when the cat was away desperately tried to cover their tracks and the complicated romantic entanglements got even more tangled.

Our junior section, known as The Curtain Raisers, started in 1982, but it was not until 2009 that they got to perform in their own right at Weymouth Pavilion.  Their first production was I never saw another butterfly, a play set in WWII about the Terezin ghetto which was used as a stopping off point to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  The play centres around one child, Raja Englanderova, who amazingly survived the ordeal and returned to Prague after the war.  All the Curtain Raisers took part and they also entertained parents in the first half of the evening with fun things they had been doing in class, including a great slapstick scene from the Cheers group.  The photos show a workshop we held to create the butterflies that Raja hoped to see again one day and the cast backstage after the performance.  There is quite a contrast between their costumes and their faces!

The Curtain Raisers next major production was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The lead roles were taken by Charley Vincent and Owen Lewis, who are both now professional performers.  Peter Wheeldon, the then local representative of NODA, National Operatic and Dramatic Association, said in his report on the show " taking the big stage can be daunting enough, but add to that the task of portraying the manners and speech of the American Deep South and it becomes a real challenge- one that was convincingly met by the young cast with enthusiasm and aplomb."  A real credit to the Club and to the director, Deborah Walton, and only the second major production this group had undertaken.  Along with Charley and Owen, James Baird, Mimi Roe-White and Laura Sharpe were all singled out for praise.  A talented lot.


 It was good to be contacted by a former member with his reminiscences of Tango, directed by Gean Browning back in 1978.  It was Kevin Kibbey's first role with the Club, a role which kickstarted an acting career that has spanned 50 years.  Greville Poultney, the then local Dorset Evening Echo critic, was less than complimentary about the actual script describing it as a "basically savage play" and he remained totally unmoved, although he did mention the good acting performances from Kay Thorneycroft, Ben Grassby and Tricia Cane.  The less than kind review didn't put Kevin off though and he appeared in another Drama Club production that same year, The Male of the Species.  Kevin is still acting, though no longer in the Weymouth area and has recently appeared in The Ladykillers and In the Club. 

4 June 2020: A form of theatre that will always remind me of Dennis is panto.  I was his assistant back in the 90s and learned so much during that time.  The first drama club panto I worked with him was on Babes in the Wood in 1991.  I had appeared in many panto casts before that, including another version of Babes in the Wood in 1981 as the Dorset Fairy although the character was actually called Fairy Nightingale.


Babes in the Wood was our 13th panto to presented at the Pavilion Theatre, in what was the Drama Club's Diamond Jubilee Year.  It was also just the second of our productions to be interpreted for a deaf audience.  Chris Steadman and Amanda Nash, British Sign Language interpreters, had signed another Dennis Dunford production, Johnny Belinda, which was about a girl who could neither speak nor hear, and it had been well received.  Belinda signed herself to communicate with the other characters.  It is a tremendous skill to be able to do these interpretations, including the songs.  One mother, who had brought her deaf daughter, to see the panto said it was one of the first times she can remember her and her daughter laughing at the same time, without the delay of having to explain what had just been said.                                                                                        Jacqui Trent

The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew was the Curtain Raisers third production at Weymouth Pavilion.  Think Knights of the Round Table, a dastardly enemy, talking magpies, of course, a dragon and a magical professor.  A fantastical story brought to the stage by a fantastic team.

11 June 2020 Putting on a play, any play, takes a lot of hard work.  It's not just what the audience sees, but all the work in the background and all the rehearsals required to get a play to performance ready.  Think what added problems there are when you decide to perform the play outside, and then in two different locations on consecutive weekends.  It involves a lot of praying for good weather and an adaptable and willing cast to take that on.  But that's just what we did in 1997, with performances of Much Ado about Nothing in the grounds of Forston Clinic and at the Nothe Fort.  The dress rehearsal at Forston Clinic was abandoned due to bad weather, so we went on trusting to luck that we came on in the right places, but the weather held for the Nothe performances and we made over £1000 for the Breakthrough Breast Cancer appeal to boot.

18 June 2020: In 2014, The Curtain Raisers presented Alice in Wonderland, a colourful and magical interpretation of the Lewis Carroll story.  This was our first show using professional photographer, Richard Budd, to create some really innovative marketing material.

26 June 2020: Back in 1981, one of popular directors, Kay Thorneycroft took on the mammoth project that was Noel Coward's Cavalcade.  There was a cast of about 100 performers, including member of the Durnovaria Silver Band, and a good number of children, who then went on to be the inaugural members of the Curtain Raisers.  As a supporting member of cast, what I remember most of all is all the costume changes- at least a dozen each- as the play charted the history of one family from the Boer War until the 1920s depression.  It was absolute chaos in the dressing rooms as the play progressed serenely onstage!

Thursday 2 July 2020The Curtain Raisers like to think big,  just as they did back in 2012, when they presented a stage version of C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  The costumes were a real challenge, so we opted for a flavour of the animal, but in human form, and it was good reason to use some of the many fur coats that have been donated to our wardrobe over the years.

 9 July 2020:

All the world's a stage

And all the men and women merely players. 

They have their exits and their entrances,

and one man in his time plays many parts

His act being seven ages.                                                 And that definitely applied to our dear departed friend Dennis

Thursday 16 July 2020: In a first for the Curtain Raisers, they moved their main annual production to the Ocean Room for an exciting production of Oliver Twist.  Using an innovative thrust stage the young actors were able to get in amongst the audience and played to full houses.

23 July 2020: In a week where Weymouth was pleased to see the re-opening of The Nothe Fort after a lengthy closure due the Coronavirus pandemic, we look back to the team that represented Weymouth Drama Club at the Son et Lumiere event in 2014.  In three separate pieces we told the story of the plague in Weymouth, smuggling in Dorset and the role of the Lifeboat and Coastguard services, as part of a celebration of the Nothe Fort and the maritime history of Weymouth and Portland.

30 July 2020:  Here are the photos of Emil and the Detectives courtesy of c. Richard Budd and c. Weymouth Drama Club.

 Our throwback production this e is Emil and the Detectives, which the Curtain Raisers took to the Pavilion in 2016.  This adaptation of the much loved novel by Erich Kastner, was written for the National Theatre by Carl Miller and our production was inspired by that show.  It demonstrated the versatility of the young performers who also had to move large pieces of scenery, on wheels, to create the non stop activity of trains, trams and bicycles and we also had live singing and violin playing.  Their talents know no bounds.

6 August 2020:  The last Curtain Raisers production to appear on the Pavilion stage was Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, adapted for the stage by David Wood.  Our young actors were joined this time by a brave adult actor, Chris Walker as Mister Tom.  At least he didn't have to contend with a real dog as well, as the company used a puppet.  Again the young cast created many locations and moods using simple props and settings.  They are a real credit to the Club.

Thursday 13 August 2020: Only mad fools and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun, or so the saying goes, but we also take on the British weather by deciding to perform outdoors.  An early foray to the Nothe Fort saw us taking on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and we were actually there on Midsummer's Eve, rehearsing for a weeks run.  The director, Richard Grafton, had set the play in the late 1940s, which was perfect for the setting, as you can see from one of the photos, and he also cast the mechanicals as hapless men of the Home Guard, which was a perfect fit.  A successful week, even though it got very cold as the evening progressed and a great way to publicise the Fort's latest fundraising.

Thursday 20 August 2020:  National Portrait Service.  The play premiered at the Drama Club in June 2014.  It was written and directed by Andy Neve.  Here is what he had to say about the play:  A mental health professional colleague once defined stress to me "as being held responsible for something that you are powerless to change"

This caused me to reflect on various forms of responsibility and the uses and abuses of power by both individuals and the State.  This play formed in my mind to examine this dichotomy or the schizophrenic nature of government in its need to control everything in society while wanting simultaneously for people to take more responsibility for themselves and their lives.

The play certainly made you think and six years on, still has plenty to say about the role of government.

Thursday 27 August 2020;  How did it all begin?  Well as far as the Curtain Raisers are concerned it started with the group of children who had performed with the adults in Noel Coward's Cavalcade in 1981.  They wanted to continue their drama so a junior section of the club was formed, which was later renamed The Curtain Raisers and their first production was Mob '82, a compilation show performed at Weymouth Arts Centre.  One of the photos features Dennis Dunford, our then chairman, making a welcoming speech.

Thursday 3 September:  We're looking back just a week.  The deluge of rain that hit Weymouth on Thursday afternoon, 27 August, flooded Weymouth Drama Club throughout most of the ground floor.  A team of people have been working to clear up and we are hopeful that there is no long term damage.  Not really what we wanted, at this already difficult time.

10 September 2020:  Five years ago, the Club recreated that much loved TV show Dad's Army.  The play uses three of the original episodes, and then a fourth scene especially written by David Croft and Jimmy Perry for amateur companies.  Perry felt that there was a lot of similarity between the men of the Home Guard and amateur theatre makers- both doing their legitimate jobs during the day and going on duty at night.  Our cast certainly rose to the occasion and their photos definitely bring the original actors to mind.  Don't panic!  You stupid boy!  Don't tell him your name, Pike!

Thursday 17 September 2020:  The National Theatre run a project every year, NT Connections, which allows youth theatres across the country to perform specially commissioned plays with help from mentors. Each company performs at its home venue and then a professional partner theatre.  One example of each play gets to go to the National itself.  We first took part in the project in 2016, with It Snows by Bryony Lavery and Frantic Assembly.  Only eight students were brave enough to take part, but their success has meant that being part of the Connections team is now a rite of passage for the older Curtain Raisers.  It has helped us learn new skills and be more aware of modern playwriting.

Thursday 24 September 2020: in 2017, the Club brought to life Alan Bennett's memoir of The Lady in the Van, a true story of the genteel vagrant, Miss Shepherd, who parked her van on his driveway for fifteen years.  Unfortunately actress Anne White's (pictured here) health took a turn for the worse and never made it to the stage, but Lynn Cockerill stepped up to the plate to bring us a memorable performance.

Thursday 1 October 2020: The Northern Ireland conflict was the subject of the Curtain Raisers next foray in the world of NT Connections, with characters from the 1970s and then 2018 in the brilliantly researched and written play The Ceasefire Babies.  Snow delayed our appearance at the egg, Theatre Royal Bath, but we got there in the end even if the director was on crutches following a major op.  The show must go on!

Thursday 8 October 2020: We are never afraid to experiment and our production of John Godber's Shakers and Bouncers back in 1995 was performed cabaret style in the Ocean Room.  This was a great piece for the actors to get their teeth into as they had to constantly swap roles in front of the audience's eyes.

Thursday 15 October: 28 years ago, we were lucky enough to be able to buy our own headquarters, 7 Hope Street, Weymouth, later to become known as The Warehouse Theatre.  At that time the building was just a stone shell, with no utilities and no staircase to access the first floor.  Today it has been fitted out to provide us with a great rehearsal space and studio theatre, and plenty of nooks and crannies to store our collection of costumes and props.

Thursday 22 October 2020: One year ago this week we were performing our comedy classic, Murdered to Death, at Weymouth Pavilion.  Directed by Pete Hutton and Jacqui Trent, the stage was full of leading members of the Club, with John Cropper in the main role as Inspector Pratt, the British equivalent of Inspector Clouseau.  Our Curtain Raisers should have been performing this week, but will have to wait until 2021 to tread the boards.

Thursday 24 December 2020:  Di Noden-Wilkinson was known for her grand scale productions and one of the most joyous was " A Christmas Carol" which she adapted from Charles Dickens' novel.  With a cast of thousands- or it sometimes felt like that- this show was a great forerunner to the Christmas of 1995.


Happy Christmas to one and all!

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