Now began the
regular practice of presenting public performances each
Spring which would expand the repertoire of the Society and
give an opportunity to the growing membership to take part
in large-scale choral works.
The first of
these was Handel's 'Messiah', given in St. Mary's Church in
March, 1965. The performance was, in the event, a
considerable success, though there had been anxious moments
concerning the interest and support of the public.
Relatively few tickets had been sold prior to the day and a
really bad thunder storm just before the start raised doubts
as to whether anyone would come in 'on the door'. Then the
audience arrived in droves and every available seat,
including those in the side chapels, was taken. An estimated
800-900 people heard the Society's first Messiah' - a figure
no longer possible, sadly, under the terms of the new
came an unprecedented and literal departure when, for the
very first time, the Thespians moved from Hitchin for their
major production. Alterations were being made to the Town
Hall and, with the possibility that the work there would not
be finished by November, the Society accepted the kind offer
by St. Francis Theatre to accommodate the autumn show, 'The
Music Man'. Accommodation, however, had not been the only
problem. Owing to the indisposition of the original producer
which prevented his attending floor rehearsals, it became
necessary to find a substitute at very short notice.
weeks were lost until, in mid-August, the Society was
fortunate enough to secure the services of Margaret Boyie,
who had been a producer for Emile Littler for some years,
and who had produced the show in 1963 for the Westward Works
Musical Society at Peterborough. With just ten weeks in
which to get used to the Society and the theatre, Miss Boyle
produced this major musical to the complete satisfaction of
cast, audience and critics. The 'Hertfordshire Pictorial'
referred to the production as 'a show triumph' and in a
letter published in the Press, Mr F. A. Gommer, Chairman of
the London Guild of Singers and Organists, wrote: 'I would
like to endorse the write-up of your critic on 'The Music
Man' show in that it was a triumph for Hitchin Thespians. I
saw the show last Thursday and I was glad I made the long
trip from London ... This Company has an unusual supply of
talent, and I hope that they will continue for many years to
provide entertainment for others as well as themselves.'
There had been
serious doubts as to whether or not the Thespian audiences
would take kindly to the move to St. Francis. The larger
stage and fly-tower there meant that better productions
could be given, while the raked seating afforded patrons a
better view. Encouraged by the support given to 'The Music
Man', however, it was decided to remain at Letchworth for
the 1966 production, 'The King and I'. Meanwhile, the
Thespians had presented their second 'Trial by Jury',
together with Coleridge Taylor's 'Hiawatha's Wedding Feast'
at Hitchin College of Further Education in March, 1966.
Despite acoustic difficulties, the programme was enjoyed by
the performers and well received by the audience.
reservations about the wisdom of staging 'The King and I' at
St. Francis were swept away by the public response. The show
was the first complete sell-out for some time. All seats
were sold ten days before the opening and even the waiting
list for tickets had to be closed when it reached 130. If it
was a triumph for the Society as a whole, it was even more
so for Geoffrey Oxiey, the new producer, who had played one
of the principal roles in the previous year's production. Mr
Oxiey, like Peter Cooper, was on the staff of Hitchin Boys'
Grammar School where he was a teacher of English. At
twenty-eight, he was the youngest producer to date and the
first man to fill the post for forty years.
The King and
I' a royal success for Hitchin Thespians', declared the
'Letchworth Citizen'; 'Lavish, dazzling,' said the
'Hertfordshire Pictorial', while the Gazette observed 'The
Thespians are superb in all departments.'
knew 'The King and I' as 'the show of the crinolines'. These
were so wide that the 'wives' could not negotiate the steps
from the dressing-rooms to the stage, so the hoops and
skirts had to be brought up separately and the 'wives'
dressed on the stage. In April, 1967, the Thespians returned
to Hitchin Town Hall, where, on two nights, they presented a
concert version of Gounod's opera, 'Faust', performed by a
choir of eighty and an orchestra of twenty-eight. The
critics found 'Faust' very much to their liking as, indeed,
did the audience.
Oxiey's second production for the Society was 'Orpheus in
the Underworld', which was presented al St. Francis Theatre
in November 1967. The large cast and the enthusiastic
audiences greatly enjoyed this 'modern' production a la
Wendy Toye, who had made a great success of it at Sadlers
Wells, and were intrigued to find the 'twist' appearing in
the middle of the famous Can-Can ! The orchestra, so it is
reliably reported, were invited to 'busk it'. 'This was a
spirited, lively and disciplined performance,' wrote 'The
Pictorial', 'the result of months of hard work on the part
of the whole company, and a notable achievement for each