Getting started, Swain Hall and The Hut
Having clocked up a remarkable 50 years – and still counting – with West Bridgford Dramatic Society, Tony Vokes is our longest serving active member with an impressive track record of acting and directing. We took the opportunity of having a little more time than usual to talk to Tony about his time at WBDS.
We began at the beginning – how did Tony come to join WBDS in 1968?
“Having always been interested in drama at school, I joined the St Giles Church drama group and I must have done about eight years of panto, which was really enjoyable. But I’d always had a hankering to do straight drama. Pauline Ogden, who belonged to our church, was also a member of WBDS and she mentioned me to the chairman at the time, Bill Connell I was invited round to meet him and his wife Ev who was also a leading light in the society. I went along to the meeting the following Tuesday, which happened to be auditions for The Importance of Being Ernest and came away with the role of Algernon, Jack Worthing’s best friend. And that was it – I became fully engrossed and went to everything.
“We used to perform in Swain Hall, which was where the Larwood and Voce pub behind the cricket ground is. Swain Hall was the headquarters of the 8th Company of the West Bridgford Boys Brigade had this smallish stage, suitable for dramatic performances.”
He thinks back and laughs. “I have very fond memories of Swain Hall, but looking back, it was highly dangerous. You had to climb onto the wings to get onto the stage and then duck, otherwise your head would hit the hot water pipes.”
Swain Hall had an impact on WBDS in more ways than one.
“We did two or three full-length plays a year, depending on the availability of Swain Hall. We would get into the hall on a Sunday after their morning service, take all the flats down to the hall, build the set and have a technical rehearsal on the Sunday. It wasn’t available to us on the Monday – the Boys Brigade had their sports night – and we’d do dress rehearsals on a Tuesday and Wednesday and then perform on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And we’d usually strike the set on a Saturday night, so there were a few late nights!”
What about rehearsing, painting flats etc? “We had The Hut – literally a hut, it was tiny – where we used to meet, rehearse, paint sets and run a very successful children’s workshop on a Saturday morning just off Abbey Road. And then, in the 1980s, we were asked to move and that’s when we built The Studio on Stamford Road.”
While membership numbers were similar to today’s, there were a number of other flourishing drama societies in the area. “Of course, there was All Hallows Dramatic Society, St Giles, and the Baptist Church Players and the Friary Players. With the exception of the All Hallows group, the others sadly no longer exist. I think WBDS continues, mostly because we are independent, and we’ve got our own facilities.”
Next week we’ll get Tony’s reflections on some of the characters, both written and real, and the experiences that have made his time at WBDS so memorable.