Sullivan apart, the Thespians had felt for some time the
need to produce a programme of essentially English music.
The opportunity came in March 1975, when Vera Mallett put
together an evening of almost entirely English music of all
kinds, with Roger Newman Turner as the narrator.
'Victoriana' was probably the most successful entertainment
of this format to date.
for Victorian entertainment seemed to match the mood of the
time. A Mrs Beeton recipe was served at the tables and the
programme of opera, operetta, music-hall ballads and parlour
music, with its finale of 'Land of Hope and Glory', was
given during the week-long run to packed audiences in the
Town Hall. Margaret Madison's second production for the
Society, in the following November, was the Rodgers &
Hammerstein classic, 'South Pacific'. There was no doubt of
its appeal, as the delighted smiles of the Box-office
Manager testified. Nor did the presentation, at St. Francis
Theatre, fall short of public expectation. The American
accents affected by the performers met with the general
approval of members of the United States Army Air Force who
attended one performance and there was a touch of
authenticity provided by the Stars and Stripes flag used in
the show, for it had once flown over the White House itself.
productions are planned at least a year in advance and,
already, serious thoughts were being given to the
seventy-fifth anniversary year and its coincidence with the
Queen's Silver Jubilee. At the same time, however, there was
the more immediate and pressing business of putting into
rehearsal and staging the 1976 productions.
First of these
was a repeat performance of 'Carmina Burana', for which
there had been a constant demand from members since the 1969
production. Once again, the Society and the audiences loved
it and, once again, the box-office was in the happy position
of sticking 'Sold Out' notices across the posters. 'Carmina',
performed at Hitchin Town Hall in March, was preceded by an
abridged version of 'The Beggar's Opera', by John Gay,
which, though of a very much lighter nature, proved an ideal
companion piece. The entire production was in the hands of
Vera Mallett who also, of course, conducted the performance.
indeed, was the order of the year for, twenty-five years
after its first performance by the Society, and with Bill
Patenall back as producer, 'Bitter Sweet' was presented at
St. Francis Theatre in the following October. The show lived
up to its title too, it the company thoroughly enjoyed it,
it was notable for giving plenty of head-aches from start to
finish. The libretto, published vocal score and conductor's
score seemed to have little in common and major revisions
and re-arrangements had to be made by the Musical Director.
Sadly, it was not an outstanding box-office success, though
the audiences showed their appreciation each night by louder
and more sustained applause than for many a year. The
critics, too, enjoyed it.
Thespians', said the 'Gazette' have set themselves a high
standard and with the much-loved romantic story of Noel
Coward's 'Bitter Sweet', they were sure of success with
their present production'. The 'Comet' declared that
'Hitchin Thespians lived up to their reputation for
performing first-class musical entertainment with their
performance of . . . 'Bitter Sweet' was a big hit with
audiences at Letchworth's St. Francis Theatre last week. The
production was of a standard seldom seen in amateur
dramatics; the orchestra was superb and the singers gave a
creditable performance... The singing versatility of the
Thespians can only be admired.' The Musical Director was
delighted after an interview with one reporter. 'For a
change', she observed 'the orchestra was not too loud even
to the most sensitive ears!'
And so to
1977. When the Committee came to consider the programme for
the year, it became apparent that the problem was to choose
works which would be truly representative of the Thespians'
wide-ranging repertoire while relating to the Queen's
anniversary and to the origins and traditions of the
Society. The opening of the new Gordon Craig Theatre in the
Stevenage Leisure Centre could hardly have happened at a
more appropriate time. For many years the Thespians have
entertained audiences drawn from all over North Herts, while
the Society's membership covers an area including Bedford,
Biggleswade, Royston, Letchworth, Hitchin and Stevenage.
Thus it was
decided that the first production of the 1977 season should
take place in February at the Gordon Craig Theatre. The show
chosen - 'Robert & Elizabeth' - the story of the romance
between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, is modern and
entirely English. Once again, Bill Patenall was engaged as
producer. After Stevenage, Hitchin, and a programme, devised
by Vera Mallett, of music illustrating the various periods
of Her Majesty's reign, entitled 'Jubilee'. This would be
staged in March at the Town Hall and would continue the
format begun with 'The Story of Gilbert & Sullivan'.
Next, in June,
a performance of Coronation music, in conjunction with St.
Mary's Church choir, to be given in the Parish Church, in
which the Society has presented sacred works at regular
intervals over a number of years. Finally, the Autumn
production, to be presented at St. Francis Theatre,
Letchworth. But which show? An English show, with royal
associations, in the best operatic traditions of the
Thespians, and recalling their earliest days. The choice was
not difficult - Gilbert Sullivan's 'The Yeomen of the
Guard', timeless in its appeal, full of colour and tuneful
music and last performed by the Society to celebrate its
What of the
future? Suffice it to say that the reasons which prompted
the Rev. Gainsford and his fellow enthusiasts to found the
Society still exist and that membership of the Thespians,
whether as singers, stage-crew, backstage or front-of-house
helpers, is still a source of endless pleasure to a large
and increasing number of people. The Society has a
widespread and devoted following, and public support
encourages the maintaining of those high standards for which
it is justly renowned.
Hitchin can be
proud of its Thespians. They, for their part, look forward
to the continued success of the Society, confident that the
achievements of the past provide a firm base upon which to
build to even greater heights. May the Centenary year find
the Society as strong and vigorous as ever, and may future
members, like those past and present, never cease to display
'their joy at being Thespians!'