1924 was a special year for Shoreham. After much effort a Village Hall was built as a memorial to those in the parish who had given their lives in the First World War. Opposite the site of the hall lived H.R.Barbor (1893-1933), a drama critic, journalist and playwright who had the idea of staging a production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' with a cast drawn from among the 1,500 villagers. So, in a crowded meeting in the new Village Hall the Village Players were formed and their first production played to the delight of the locals. In fact, such was their enthusiasm that it was necessary to have two casts playing on alternate nights to accommodate all those who wished to take part.
Amongst the cast were local artist Harold Copping who, as well as designing the costumes, also played the part of Bottom. The play was repeated later in the year in the grounds of Dunstall Priory, at that time home of Lord Dunsany, who had agreed to be our first President.
Over the years the enthusiasm of the village for the Players varied, but they have survived to become one of the oldest Amateur Dramatic groups in the country.
That first production of the 'Dream' was repeated in 1964 and 1998, when the Players were approached by the Darent Valley Enhancement Programme with a view to them sponsoring an outdoor entertainment on a riverside site. And so the third and perhaps one of the most ambitious and magical productions was staged at Preston Farm.
The 'Dream' is by no means the only play by Shakespeare in the Players repertoire. 'Twelfth Night' (twice), 'The Merchant of Venice', The Winter's Tale and even 'King Lear' appear in a list of productions which includes plays ranging from Shaw to Coward, from Priestley to AA Milne. Musicals were not attempted until fairly recently, but since 'Oliver', in 1982, we have presented 'My Fair Lady', 'Oklahoma', 'Fiddler On The Roof', 'The Boyfriend' and 'Bugsy Malone'. Pantomimes, too, have been performed only in recent years, all written by our own home-grown playwright, Katie Kingshill.
The Village Hall has not been our only stage. Over the years we have several times been allowed to perform in Shoreham Church, including a candlelit (thanks to a power cut) Mystery Plays, T.S.Eliot's 'Murder In The Cathedral' and most recently, 'Lark Rise to Candleford'. We have also staged productions at the beautiful Quadrangle barn including two plays by Katie Kingshill, one on Shoreham's smugglers and another about our artist, Samuel Palmer. We also worked in collaboration with the RSC to mount a promenade performance around the village, featuring many of Shakespeare's best loved or loathed characters including Richard III in the carpark, Hamlet in the churchyard, a heartbreaking Ophelia by the river and Falstaff and Hal at the pub.
Covid of course put us to sleep for a couple of years but we have returned with vim and vigour and look forward to a bright future of fun and friendship in the Players.
2024 sees our Centenary and we are currently busy with plans to make it a real year to remember.
Come and join us.
The Winslow Boy
Much Ado About Nothing
Alice in Wonderland
Murder in the Cathedral