All about the Westovian Theatre Society - Pier Pavilion South Shields

The First Thirty Years

Present day productions of the Westovian Dramatic Society are a far cry from the first production in the old Westoe Secondary School hall on an improvised stage with old red serge curtains, but progress has ever been the watchword and much of the present success is due to the pioneers of the past.

The stars of the first production included George Sylph, Jane Renwick, Robert Dinning and Billie Usher, then a schoolboy.

The season of 1921-22 saw the advent of Helen Charlton, Stella Newton, Winnie Parker, Ursula Reid, Doris Bain and Frank Ramsey, with Charles Hare and Harold Newton (schoolboys) pressed into service to take small parts in She Stoops to Conquer.

In the early days we gave one play per year which was rehearsed one night per week in the Westoe Secondary School.

Increased membership brought us Billie and Grace Charlton (our stage manager), Johnny Parker, Elaine Cervin, Norah Ord, George McIntyre, Norman Kemp, Ina Elles, Gilbert Collins, Madge Hunter, Helen Smedley, Reg. Smith, Gladys and Given Loman, Tom Forster, Duncan Balfour, Vera Johnson, Mabel Ellis, Bill Slee, Phillip Ward, Lander Burn, Harry D. Welch, Jean Craigie, Doris Sutton, Edith Forster and Ella Russel, Alf Golding, Washington Tate and Olga Kay.

When the British Drama League was formed we affiliated and found ourselves competing in One Act Play Festivals against such teams as the peoples Theatre, Durham Dramatic Society and the Sunderland Drama Club.

We also took part in the Newcastle Musical Tournament when medals were awarded to Helen Charlton and Lander Burn, Ella Russell and Tenerson Salkeld, Stella and Isabel Newton and Robert Dinning.

About this period we attended week-end Drama Schools at Hensham Settlement and gained practical knowledge from such well known names as Edith Craig, Margaret MacNamara and Norman Marshall. On one occasion George Sylph was awarded the prize for the mime 'Getting into the bath'. I am sure he will still treasure the cigarette case presented by Edith Craig.

On two occasions we ventured to seek advice from professional producers and were spellbound at the technique of Charles Crabbe of Sunderland and Harry Hulbroth of the Denville Players. Incidentally, the experience gained by several of our members acting with the Denville Company proved very valuable. Some of us also enjoyed Walking on with Sir Frank Benson in Julius Caesar at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle.

Other great names of the past include Harry Morgan, Dorothy Hunter, Billie and Robert Parker, Dorothy Bradley, Alf Jones, Temple Young, Wallace Coxon, Jim Scott, Dorothea Gibbs, Freda Lambert, and Marjorie Rippon.

Between 1923 and 1946 we used to have incidental music and we remember with gratitude, Isobel Forsyth, Fred Pickering, Ronald Lamb, W. Newton Lindley, J. Parnaby, The Majestic Orchestra, The Tyne Dock Orchestra, The Westovian Ladies Orchestra, The Westoe Secondary Orchestra, The Cadet Band, Mildred Ellis and Greta Boal.

In 1939 we started regular Play Readings in the County Hotel for non acting members. These were very popular and lasted several seasons.

During the War, from 1943 to 1945, we were invited to become a unit for entertaining the troops under Northern Command. We toured with the plays ‘to Kill a Cat’, 'Suspect', 'The Late Christopher Bean' and One Act Geordie Comedies. Our team included Harry Morgan, Lorna Atkinson, Steve Webster, Norman Park, Reg Winlo, Walter Oldroyd, Lucy Grimes, Madge Hunter, Mildred Ellis, Freda Lambert, Dorothea Gibbs, George Sylph, Jim Fell, Connie Falconer and Stella Newton. We had many interesting experiences and became masters of the art of adaptation.

Our first Members Evening was started in 1945 and later our Junior Section. It is interesting to see several of our original Juniors now seasoned troupers particularly Ian Carmichael and Helen Ironside.

In 1948 Angus McGill gave us the first Poetry and Music Evening. Later he gave us our first Pantomime which has now become an annual event.

As time went on, increased membership enabled us to give several plays in the season and we came to specialise in one Tyneside Comedy per year with the old wartime team Norman Park, Helen Charlton, Stella Newton, Freda Lambert and Harry Morgan. This team has now been augmented by new and enthusiastic members.

No record of the first 30 years could be complete without expressing gratitude to the long list of regular subscribing patrons we had in our earlier years, many of whom are still ardent supporters. We remember the late Mr. And Mrs. Parker (Caterers) who gave us free use of their café in Ocean Road for rehearsals, Mrs. Sylph who allowed us to rehearse in The Havelock Inn and Mrs. Coxon who put her home at our disposal for money making Whist Drives. Mention could also be made of the successful Bridge Drives run by Helen Charlton in the Dorset Café and of our successes in winning the Helen Chapman Trophy in the South Shields Drama Festivals.

The story of the last 20 years (1948 - 1968) will tell of new names replacing most of the old, of greater concentration on lighting under the capable direction of Wilfe Clarke and the construction of more elaborate sets under the influence of Alan Knox, Douglas Dryden, The Scraftons and a willing team. This could be the theme of a future programme.

(Compiled in 1968 by Stella Newton who was one of the stalwarts of the early society and one of our predecessors as Honary Secretary of the Westovians. Brian Johnson)