Bletchingley Players have just celebrated their 50th Anniversary, which was originally known as Blechingley Amateur Dramatic Society (BADS), was founded in 1960 at an inaugural meeting attended by Betty Bristow, Mary Wilson, Kay Winter, Paddy Martin and Peggy Wheeldon.
Betty Bristow was a member and regular supporter of the group until her death in 2007. She was President of The Players for many years as well as both acting in and directing productions. Mary Wilson played the part of the Fairy Godmother in a mini panto of Cinderella at the grand age of 90. Paddy Martin was an actress and director for many years and both Kay Winter and Peggy Wheeldon still go along to performances. Other well known Bletchingley folk who were involved in the early days were Joyce Jones, Joan Marshall and Stanley Hurrell.
Mary Wilson’s daughter, Marian, actually met her future husband, John Buck, at the AGM in 1974 when she was home on leave from Hong Kong. Marian and John remain members and have both appeared in and directed a number of plays over the years, including Murder on the Gigantic, a murder mystery written by John and directed by Marian in 2005.
In the early days performances took place in the old Village Hall where there was a permanent stage and the audience were seated in traditional theatre-style rows. The box office was in the old post office run by Alan Bristow where Lawrence’s Auction House now stands. The old Village Hall was eventually condemned and, until the present Hall was completed, performances moved to St Catherine’s School. Rehearsals used to take place at Clerks Croft until it was closed and demolished to make way for housing. BADS then moved to an old school classroom on the bank above where the children’s playground is now situated in Grange Meadow. The building was used to store stage equipment, props and costumes as well as providing a venue for rehearsals. Unfortunately an arson attack destroyed half of the building and a great deal of equipment was lost. BADS continued there for a number of years until they were fortunate enough to acquire the old Scout Hut, now renamed The Drama Hut, at the entrance to Grange Meadow. By sheer good luck, the Drama Hut is exactly the same width as the stage at The Village Hall, so it is possible to erect a set there and rehearse using the same dimensions as for the performances.
At one time the group used to put on two plays a year, as well as entering a one act play in the Betchworth Festival and presenting a pantomime at Christmas. BADS were finalists in the local heats of the Festival in 1975 and went through to the next round at Fairfield Halls with one act of When we Were Married by J B Priestley. In the late 1970s there was a junior BADS with 23 members. They entered the Junior SE Surrey Area Amateur Dramatic Festival and won an award for “Island”.
Two authors have come to see their plays performed. John Morley enjoyed his Jack and the Beanstalk and the author of Haul for the Shore presented the cast with a cake following which their picture appeared on the cover of STAGE.
The group continues to flourish with two productions a year, in May and October. Nowadays the audience is seated at tables and enjoys fish ‘n’ chips in the interval and a bar.
We welcome new members in whatever capacity: acting, directing, stage management, construction and design, lighting and sound, costumes, props – and prompting! Or just getting involved socially and helping out front of house at the productions.