Wick Theatre Company – 70th Anniversary

Wick Theatre Company   (30th May 2018)

Back in 1948, a stage-struck young lass named Betty Carpenter persuaded the leader of the Unity Youth Club to invite two members of the Southwick  Players – Elizabeth Penney and Peter Elder – to speak on the subject of drama.  This generated such interest that a group called the Unity Players was formed, soon to become the Young Wick Players.  Ten years later, when original members weren’t quite so youthful, the title was changed to the one used today.

Elizabeth Penney, known as Molly, was to be Wick’s lady bountiful for many years until her death in 1972.  She became president, taught, encouraged and directed the young members, while husband George allowed the company to keep their scenery at his coal- merchants yard.  It was Betty’s enthusiasm that was responsible for the Company’s formation, and right up until 2016 when she sadly went into hospital for the last time, she was still very much involved.   Betty was Wick’s president for many years, and since her death, husband Ralph Dawes, another founder member, has taken over the position.  Wick has many long-serving members including Treasurer Ray Hopper, who in 2007 directed a 50th anniversary production of “The Happiest Days of Your Life”.  This play saw his very first appearance on stage as the school-boy Hopcroft Mi.  Ralph Dawes, also in that cast playing Dick Tassell, appeared second time around as Rainbow the groundsman.  An even more impressive re-run happened back in 1979, when almost the entire cast of ”Sailor Beware”, first put on in 1959, came together to reprise the show, marking Wick’s 100th  production.   One member came over from Austria where she now lives.  More amazingly still, some members of the very same cast (including the lady from Austria) linked up once again for a scene from the play in a special memorial concert held in 2017 to celebrate the life of Betty Dawes.

In 2004, Wick Theatre Company staged its first World Premiere, an action-packed historical mystery play entitled “Ciphers”, written and directed by Nick Young, Artistic Director of Rainbow Shakespeare.  The same year saw the Company making a foray into repertory, running Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and Dennis Potter’s “Blue Remembered Hills” alternately, with mainly the same cast…  Wick has produced many seasons of award-winning drama, enjoying successes in various local competitions, both for one-act and full length plays.  Four or five plays providing a good mix from comedy and farce to more serious fare are featured each season.  This anniversary year includes Happy Family by Giles Cooper, Disappeared by Phyllis Nagy, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Plaza Suite by Neil Simon.  In 1951 a 200-year old Barn in Southwick was converted into a theatre, and became the Company’s permanent home.  It has been much improved over the years, and now, after a substantial lottery grant, boasts a good-sized stage and retractable raked seating.

Since its inception, Monday has been Wick night, and members keep in touch with coffee evenings and play readings.  To celebrate this anniversary a very glamorous party was held at the Barn, with a sit-down meal and dancing to the strains of a great band called Reload – the percussionist is the President’s son – and members past and present were able to catch up and reminisce.  Keeping it all in the family, our President’s daughter headed a team in charge of the arrangements, and is also working on an exciting exhibition charting the company’s history, to be held in a 15th Century cottage in Southwick in June/July (see Arts Diary entry).

Find out more at www.wicktheatre.co.uk