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The Early Years Continued

The Gondloliers - 1907

In 1907 came the first of four separate productions of 'The Gondoliers', again at the Town Hall. The Thespians, with regular and popular principals, were now well launched and had won the support and approval of the public. 'The Mikado' was successfully produced in 1908, as was 'H.M.S. Pinafore' in the following year.

Of 'Pinafore' the 'Herts Express' wrote: 'The productions of the Hitchin Thespians during the past six years have won for this company of amateurs a deservedly high repute, and each season the announcement of their three days' occupancy of the town Hall stage awakens the liveliest anticipation of pleasures to come among playgoers in Hitchin and the neighbourhood ... they know that the Thespians will be well worth seeing in whatever piece they select for performance..... The latest pro- duction ... (is) one of the most generally liked ... comic operas... the opinion we formed was that although the company may have carried out more difficult tasks they have never placed to their credit an accomplishment so good all round.'

1910 was something of a special year for, in-the spring, two complimentary performances were given for the benefit of the conductor, William Wurr, the first at Stevenage Town Hall on April 13th and the second at Hitchin Town Hall on the following evening. The show chosen was Trial by Jury' , preceded by two short plays, 'That Brute Simmons' and Woman's Wrongs'. Great amusement was caused by members of the jury, who were made up to represent prominent Hitchin citizens.

In the autumn of the same year came the Society's most adventurous undertaking to date the production of 'Ruddigore'. This Gilbert & Sullivan opera had never been performed by the D'Oyly Carte Company since the original production in 1887 and had been attempted by very few amateur societies.

The 'Citizen' liked the piece, declaring that it was 'well staged and excellently performed.' The 'Herts Express' agreed. Not so Mr Fitzwater Wray, who had a wretched afternoon and wrote to the editor of the 'Express':

SIR, As one of the newer residents in Letchworth I have just returned from Hitchin's new Town Hall and the local Thespians' performance of 'Ruddigore'. The brief but courteous request of the management to ladies to remove their hats was, I believe, well observed. But a female who sat two seats in front of me towards the rear of the two-shilling seats regarded the description as inapplicable to herself. During the whole of the performance she retained a large turban hat of black beaver, with a bow of black ribbon at the left side, and pierced with jet pins. I trust she will recognise this accurate description (supplied by my wife), though I do not expect women of her class to regret that she almost completely shut out the stage from my view.

This unfortunate exclusion doubtless accounts in part for my impression that I have rarely spent an afternoon to so little purpose and profit. When the stars of the Savoy Theatre failed to make a decent entertainment out of 'Ruddigore', one cannot blame the Hitchin Thespians for an even worse failure. I only complain that they tried, for the piece is really not worth doing. Perhaps it was the obstructive effect of the lady's 'hat' on the hall's acoustics that made me think the chorus were generally out of tune. It is quite a new idea for the players to repeat de novo any item for which they are recalled, and the afternoon tea business struck me as an amateurish and absurd innovation.'

The 'afternoon tea business' refers to the provision of teas and refreshments between the acts at Wednesday matinees, a practice which certainly continued for some years.


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