The Southport Dramatic Club celebrates 80th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 September 2017 | UPDATED: 09:48 08 September 2017
One of Lancashire’s most successful drama clubs is celebrating a special anniversary this month. Ron Ellis reports.
The Lancashire theatre where Oscar nominated actress Miranda Richardson made her first stage appearance is about to celebrate its 80th anniversary.
It was back in September 1937, after 12 months of work furnishing and decorating the interiors along with installing heating, sound and lighting, the Southport Dramatic Club staged the official opening of the Little Theatre in Hoghton Street.
The ceremony was performed by Lord Beesborough and the first production was ‘Dear Brutus’ by James Barrie, which raised £3,000 for charity. The club had 271 members and 215 subscribers and it adopted a policy to sublet the theatre to other amateur companies in the neighbourhood.
During the Second World War, the Sheffield Repertory Company moved to Southport and presented 240 plays at the Little Theatre. Among the actors who appeared during this period were Cyril Luckham and Lally Bowers, both well-known stage and film actors of the day, and local lass Jean Alexander, who went on to play Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street.
In 1950, the Club’s unique ‘Subscriber Season Ticket’ system was set up whereby theatregoers could book their seats in advance for a full season but at a concessionary price. This still exists today, with tickets available until September, and forms the backbone of the audience base.
The demise of Southport’s Scala Theatre in 1962 led to the society acquiring the Scala’s huge counterweight system, making their stage one of the best equipped in the country and so widening the scale of productions. A year later, the lighting system was completely refurbished and in 1965, the club joined The Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain.
It was in 1966 that the move into the purchase of surrounding properties began and this provided rooms for rehearsals and the wardrobe department. They also built their own scenery workshop.
As membership grew and social events became more frequent, a new bar was built and this also doubled as a studio theatre and bar productions are still held each year after the main season finishes, often shows being presented in the round.
Tragedy struck on on New Year’s Eve of 1986 when a serious fire almost destroyed the building. Undeterred by this calamity, the intrepid members set up a temporary theatre in the foyer and a series of fundraising events and donations helped raise over £50,000 for the rebuilding. September 1988 saw a champagne opening night for ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’.
In 1995, the owners of the building and the surrounding block, the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society, put the whole block up for auction. The SDC immediately made an offer for the theatre and eventually a bid of £103,000 was accepted. This was a mammoth sum to raise and a huge campaign was instigated by members.
Over the years, constant improvements have been made to the building including the installation of a lift and the regular updating of the technical equipment. The Club has also extended the premises by purchasing a derelict bistro, adjacent to the theatre, with plans for redevelopment.
The Southport Dramatic Club has come a long way in eight decades and to celebrate this auspicious occasion, an 8Oth anniversary party is being held at the theatre on Saturday, September 9 when it is hoped Kenneth Branagh, president of the Little Theatre Guild, will attend.
Who knows what future stars are currently learning their craft at Southport’s Little Theatre?