Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Wargrave Local History Society

MEMBERS were given a talk about the history of Wargrave Theatre Workshop at the September meeting.

Villagers Joy and Joe Haynes, who run the workshop, gave the illustrated presentation.

Theatrical tradition in Wargrave goes back to 1788, when Lord Barrymore built a theatre at Wargrave Hill. It was said to be the second largest theatre in the country at that time. Barrymore later went bankrupt and the theatre was demolished.

By the Thirties amateur shows were being produced in the village and during the Second World War British and American troops were entertained by a variety show called Garrison Theatre, produced using local talent.

In the late Forties Peggie and Anthony Hannen moved to live at Ouseleys in School Lane.

Mrs Hannen had trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and was a professional director and actor. She became involved with village drama and produced plays for several groups, including the Haughty Culturist’s Review for the Village Produce Association and regular performances for the Wargrave Society.

The theatre workshop was founded in 1974 after Miriam Moore moved to Wargrave. More than 40 people attended the first meeting and a committee was formed.

The first production, part of the inaugural Wargrave Village Festival, was Oliver! and involved many children in the performance, something the group has continued to encourage.

In the same year, the first pantomime, Babes in the Wood, was also staged.

The panto has since become a village tradition, with 43 having been put on to date. Several were written specially by Mike and Leo Wyatt who sometimes deviated from the traditional story to incorporate village characters or topical political themes.

The workshop also continued to put on musicals, some of which were performed in a marquee on Mill Green instead of at the usual venue of the Woodclyffe Hall in High Street. A production of Oklahoma! used a live horse, while Peter Hearn, of Hennerton, provided chickens and a calf.

Wargrave Theatre Workshop has also staged dramas, including Sailor Beware, Spring and Port Wine, She Stoops to Conquer and Tartuffe. It has competed at several local drama festivals.

One of the early difficulties with the Woodclyffe Hall stage was the depth of just 9ft. This could be extended by adding blocks (made by Stan Callender, Bill Clarke and Dick Goodall) along the front but these were heavy and could not be left in place.

To solve the problem, Ann Roberts devised a project to make a pull-out extension, which was partly paid for with a Lottery grant and can be set up in 20 minutes.

The workshop’s productions for the village festival became open-air performances of Shakespeare on Mill Green.

The first was A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1987, when there was a thunderstorm one evening which forced the cast to rush to a nearby house and put their costumes through a tumble drier during the interval.

Two days later, a large tree fell down on the area where the children and other actors had been standing earlier.

Subsequent performances have been held on a different part of the green with better. tiered seating and a cover over the audience.

Mr and Mrs Haynes also talked about their rehearsal room in the Woodclyffe Hostel and a new dressing room area at the Woodclyffe Hall as well as backstage activities, including costume-making,  which was led by Maureen Fennemore and Judi Rowlands, make-up artists and set design.

Members of the society identified many of the workshop members in the pictures, some of whom have gone on to work in the theatre professionally.

The society’s next meeting will take place on Tuesday, October 9, when local historian and author Paul Lacey will talk about the history of Smith’s Coaches of Reading.

Meetings take place at the Old Pavilion in the recreation ground, off Recreation Road, Wargave, starting at 8pm. For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 940 3121.

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