The Wivenhoe Players 1969 to 1996
Helen Polom and Clive Dykes
Recruitment for the Wivenhoe Players began in 1968 by the writer Lady Clare Hoskyns – Abrahall (born 1900). Lady Clare had set up and run a similar group in Wheathampstead before she moved to Wivenhoe. She had a firm belief that the arts were important in boosting morale as she expressed in the introduction to the programme for the first play she produced in Wivenhoe. There were a core of players, many of whom continued to be involved for over 30 years and others who were involved for just one or two productions. Chris Cudmore, Paddy Bane and Sheila Foster were part of the core at different times and it is with their help that this article has been put together.
The core players were a mixture of people with professional experience of producing, directing and acting such as Lady Clare, Sheila, Gordon Daisley and talented amateurs such as Paddy, Chris, Phyllis Richardson and a multitude of others. Joan Hickson the celebrated actress was President of The Players until her death in 1998.
Plays were for many years performed twice a year, spring and autumn.
Click here to see a list of productions
Initially play readings took place in people’s homes or Phillip Road School, full rehearsals at Phillip Road School and the performances at The Public Hall now known as William Loveless Hall (WLH). Using the WLH was problematic as the stage was long, low and narrow and known as “the shelf”. The Players created an extension to the stage for their performances. It was created in sections that needed to be kept elsewhere and took 4 people to move each section. In fact storage as a whole was a huge problem. The solution was that props, some costumes and the stage extensions were kept at Watcham’s Barns (a former dairy farm), now demolished, on Colchester Road near The Flag. Local builder Dick Sparrow provided his lorry to move everything from the barn to WLH.
Lighting, stage props, sets known as ‘flats’, costumes and front of house required the talents of many people. The former guise of The Mercury theatre was known as Colchester Rep. Wivenhoe Players would use the sets that this company were throwing out and adapt them for their own productions. Roy Cross designed the sets in the early days, then John Rayner and Dave Sleightholm.
After 30 years, towards the end of the 1990s, productions became less frequent and eventually stopped altogether as members retired or became more deeply involved in other performing groups in Wivenhoe. The last performance of The Players is thought to have been Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare, directed by Sheila Foster in 1996 that took place in the garden of “Ten Acres” now Palmer Gardens.
Members of the Wivenhoe Players went on to join and form other theatrical groups while performing with the players and after the company folded. This included
The Arts Club production “Merry England” 1972
The Palace of Varieties first production 1982
Gilbert and Sullivan Society (now Wivenhoe Musical Theatre Group) first production 1984
Wivenhoe Pageant “The Day Before Yesterday” June 1987
Wivenhoe Pantomime Group first production “Humpty Dumpty” January 1990
Wivenhoe Youth Theatre first production “The Royal Pardon” 1994
Trapdoor first production “The Winter’s Tale” 2000
Open Air Shakespeare “Twelfth Night” first production 2004