The show must go on
PUBLISHED: 09:18 24 February 2014 | UPDATED: 09:04 25 February 2014
It was 100 years ago that a group of keen dramatists first took to the stage at Cromer Town Hall to entertain the community with their inaugural production.
The advent of two wars saw the Cromer and Sheringham Operatic and Dramatic Society temporarily halted, but now as it celebrates its centenary, members are preparing for a very special year of performances.
From the singers, dancers and actors on stage to the lighting engineers, set builders and stage hands behind the scenes – the society prides itself on its role in the community which has grown stronger over the decades.
“The success of the society is based on the enthusiasm of its members,” says committee member Ruth Elliott. “Most people are in full-time work, so devoting time in the evenings and at weekends to ensure that each production reaches the incredibly high, award-winning standard that audiences have come to expect is a very necessary commitment. Leading ladies can be seen wielding paintbrushes, while members of the men’s chorus saw and hammer at the society’s workshop. A person may be the principal actor in one production, and stage crew for the next,” she laughs. “It is a labour of love and the friendships and laughs we have make it a wonderful experience.”
Members range from five to 80 years old and the society actively encourages new members to join, and works with local schoolchildren for performances requiring a young cast.
“It is a great way to boost confidence and also it is a brilliant way to engage children in the arts,” she says.
The very first show of the then-named Cromer Operatic and Dramatic Society, performed in May 1914, was called Margery Dean. The show was a big success but the group’s joy was shortlived - just a few weeks later, the threat of war became a reality. In 1923, after losing many loved ones in the conflict, they decided to return to the stage, joining with performers from Sheringham. The society flourished, putting on comic operatics, dramatic plays and their own self-written productions. World war two saw the society put on hold once more, before it was restarted in 1949 with a performance of HMS Pinafore - a show only made by possible by three pre-war members acting as guarantors to the tune of £50 each (around £1200 today).
Throughout this year, members will be marking the anniversary with special performances and events starting this month with a production of Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man at Sheringham Little Theatre.
“We wanted a programme for our special year that reflects both comedy and tragedy, that makes you think but also makes you laugh. It is a huge commitment but we always aim high,” says Ruth.
The Elephant Man will be followed by Oliver! in May at the Pavilion Theatre in Cromer and then Flint Street Nativity at Sheringham Little Theatre in October, written by Tim Firth who penned the stage show of Calendar Girls which the group performed to rave reviews in 2012.
The society is also planning lots of other activities throughout the year, including a giant cake sale, a flash mob performance and a formal ball as well as getting involved in both the Sheringham and Cromer carnivals.
The society, which recently dropped the word “amateur” from its name, raises thousands of pounds for a different charity each year and it has recently been awarded charitable status. This year, the causes which it has chosen to support through its three major productions are Changing Faces, which helps people with facial disfigurement, the Sheringham Salvation Army, and About with Friends, a Cromer-based charity which supports adults with learning disabilities.
“It is incredibly important to us all that we are able to also raise money for different charities and it makes all the hard work worth while,” says Ruth.
Over the years, the society has won many awards, including the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) Youth Award for Louise Waller’s portrayal of Beattie in Arnold Wesker’s Roots in 2011 and the NODA Best Play award for Tim Firth’s The Calendar Girls in 2012.
For details of shows this centenary year, see www.csods.com.