The photos and text were provided by the Playgoers
Amersham Playgoers, or to give them their full title, Amersham Playgoers Theatre Group, have been part of Amersham life for over sixty years. The group was formed in 1946 as an offshoot of the Playhouse Theatre Club, formed by a group of enthusiasts to aid the funds of the Playhouse Theatre in Station Road, owned at that time by Sally Latimer and now the Amersham Auction Rooms. In its heyday the Playhouse Repertory Theatre was the starting point for many aspiring actors, including the young Dirk Bogarde. One of the current Playgoers remembers attending a performance of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, which he thinks was the last Pantomime ever staged at the Playhouse. We do not have any further information about the formation of the group or the Playhouse Theatre or Club. If anyone has any memories of either, the group’s secretary would be pleased to hear from them. via their website – see below.
However it appears that initially Playgoers performed a number of one-act plays privately for the club members, their first venture was held on 5th May when they staged three one-act plays, which we assume were performed at the Playhouse Theatre. Their first full-length production was ‘Quiet Wedding’, which they performed in November at St Leonard’s Hall in Chesham Bois. The review of the play stated “They played deservedly to full houses and the standard of achievement was so high that they have set themselves no easy task if they are to fulfill their producer’s intentions of going from strength to strength.”
Another presentation of four one-act plays followed in March 1947. The first of these, ‘Ag and Bert’, featured George Marks and his wife Vera. George was a founder member of the group and was President until his death in May 2006. For many years George was the owner of the Pram and Toy Bar in Amersham, which was purchased by Gary Grant and became the first of his chain of Entertainer toy shops. The Marks family link continues today with George’s granddaughter Louise, who is regularly seen on stage and until recently was the group’s secretary.
March 1947 also saw a major landmark with the adoption of the name Playgoers, which has continued in various guises up to the present and in the same month the programme for their next full production ‘Fresh Fields’ carried that name. It still appears however that the group came under the umbrella of the Playhouse Theatre management.
In 1949 the group took to the stage of the Playhouse Theatre with ‘Lucky Dip’ although they returned to St Leonard’s Hall later in the year. In 1950 the group moved to St Michael’s Hall in Amersham, where they stayed until 1956. Between 1949 and 1951 Playgoers entered a number of drama Festivals with mixed success but culminating in being awarded a certificate of Merit for their production of ‘A Provincial Lady’ which got to the finals of the British Drama League’s National Festival of Community Drama at the Scala Theatre in London. 1952 appears to be the last time that the Playhouse Theatre was used and any reference to ties with the theatre disappeared.
Two well known names appeared in the 1955 production of ‘Thunder Rock’: David Tench who later became popular for his involvement with The Consumers Association, and Dorian Williams who became television’s voice of show jumping and who spent some time as the group’s President until 1960.
1957 saw another change of venue, with performances taking place in the hall of Raans Road school. In play after play the name of George Marks appears on the cast list and progressively as Director. There was a brief return to St Michael’s Hall in the early 70’s, until in February 1973 Playgoers took up residence in their current home, the Drake Hall at Amersham Community Centre. In 1982 Derek Jacobi became President of the society, a position he held for a number of years.
By now the group was staging three productions a year, and the high standard that had been set back in 1946 continued to receive critical acclaim by the local press. In recent years they have also received acknowledgements from NODA (The National Operatic and Dramatic Association). The first was in 2001; ‘Swansong’ written by Playgoer Doug Elkins, which received a nomination for best set in the London Region. Since then five more plays have received, in total, eight nominations and in 2009 ‘Dangerous Obsession’ claimed the Flame award for the best overall production in the area followed in 2011 by the Pat Redhead Drama award for the best drama in the entire London region for their production of ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. The group’s latest success was with their November 2011 production of ‘Happy Families’, which again won the area Flame Award.
Playgoers pride themselves on the fact that they have always constructed all of their own scenery, built their own sets, and that members have handled the lighting and sound for all of their productions.
In December 2004 the society name was changed from the long standing Amersham Playgoers Dramatic Society to Amersham Playgoers Theatre Group, which was considered to be more suited to the modern generation. However to most members the group will always be known as just Playgoers.
As each decade passed an anniversary celebration was held and recorded in the ever growing scrap books that have been built up over the years along with photos from most of the productions. It was thought that the Spring 2011 production marked their 200th play however this is a little difficult to tie down as some productions were made up of a number of one-act plays and some plays were not staged publicly so it is unlikely that the total number of plays they have staged will ever be known.
You can find out more about the group by visiting their website or contacting the secretary Janice Talmer on 01296 614431.
A postscript from Vincent Morris, an ex-member:
- George Marks (founder) died on 19 April 2006
- Three productions a year were in force in 1975
- John Bennett, professional actor (The Forsyte Saga) gave rehearsal advice in the 1960/1970s
- Bruce Bould (Vice President), professional actor (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) gave post production criticism
- Michael Denison, who saw us in an Ayckbourn play, was approached to become our President, but declined because his actress wife (Dulcie Gray) had to be consulted first. Meanwhile, she had enrolled for the presidency of a Birmingham dance group, without consulting her husband Michael!