In the beginning there was nothing. At least not in the amateur drama field in Loughborough in 1954. That was the year in which a group of young people got together and decided to remedy the situation. Twenty-five years later the Festival Players had reached their century of productions with three of the founder members still appearing regularly. Two others had been members for 99 of the productions and, thanks to this continuity, the Company remains loyal to its original concept, the provision of a high level of drama at a reasonable cost with the entertainment of the audience as the primary consideration. To attempt to record all the significant events which have occurred during the history of the Festival Players would take far more space than is available in these notes. Many of the earliest events were recorded in our booklet Exits and Entrances which was written for our 21st production in 1960, and we therefore propose to mention only the most important ones at this time.
The first President of the Society, elected at the inaugural meeting, was Eric Hammond and he continued in office until his death in 1977. His influence in the early years particularly was of great significance and it was due to his encouragement and financial guarantees that the second production was staged at Stanford Hall Theatre, the first having played in the Martin Hall of Loughborough Training College. In fact, 98 of the first 100 plays were at Stanford Hall theatre, the only other exception being in 1956 when YOUNG WIVES’ TALE was re-produced at Shepshed.
Appearing in the initial production of YOUNG WIVES’ TALE at the Martin Hall was Jo Miller who remains an honorary life member of the society. Janet Fowler, another life member, appeared in the second play RAIN ON THE JUST with Pamela Ryde-Rogers also joining the Company at that time.
The first studios were above the now-demolished showrooms of Archie E. Moss Ltd. in Woodgate, and when these were no longer available, a suite of rooms was leased in Derby Square until they, too, were demolished for the construction of Charnwood Precinct. Both these sites had served the Company well for many years, but the ever-present lack of security in leased premises prompted the decision to purchase the building in Burder Street, which was acquired in 1972, and has been the Company’s home ever since. The foresight of the Committee in taking the decision to purchase was the most important single event in the first 25 years, for the Festival Players are now the owners of rehearsal, scenery and storage premises which would be the envy of any theatrical Company. Again, in the raising of the money required to finance the purchase of the studios, Eric Hammond played a major part, and several Patrons and friends made loans without interest which enabled the purchase to be made. The facilities now owned are adequate for any purpose foreseen in the future, and the security enjoyed has removed a major problem of earlier years.
In those earlier years, Hugh Bott was a stalwart performer, and had a good following among audiences, particularly in his comedy roles. Eileen Rose, for several years the Hon. Secretary, had some outstanding portrayals, notably as Madame Arcati in BLITHE SPIRIT and Harold Gorst scored heavily in PRESENT LAUGHTER, the sixth production and the first one to be directed by Louis Stanford. Jim Rees and Ryan Beecham gave some outstanding performances in these earlier plays, and Judith (Small) Razek had also joined the Company.
From the fourth production, stage management had been taken over by Ian Simpson, and he was to become a stalwart member for many years, except during his National Service when Jerry Deakin handled the staging of plays. lan’s wife, Valerie, became Hon. Secretary for many years and the magnificent work they put in led to their being made Honorary Life Members many years ago. Another stalwart of the back-stage staff was Sidney Bradshaw who designed and built 42 of the first 50 sets.