The Dulwich Players - the later years by Mike Foster
The Dulwich Players is the largest of the three societies currently performing for Dulwich audiences. It has more than 100 members and stages three main productions a year, plus fringe productions, making a total of 170 since its foundation. Its website (www.dulwichplayers.org.uk) gets 250 hits a month, according to Brian Burch, who created it ten years ago.
Main autumn and spring productions are staged at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College, which holds an audience of 120, with facilities which mirror those offered by small professional theatres. Since 1998, the Players have also staged five Shakespeare summer plays in the grounds of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the majority directed by Jan Rae. This year it returned to produce The Adventures of Alice, co-adapted from Lewis Carroll’s stories by Jill Alexander and Jill Kevan.
The Dulwich Players likes to think big on occasion. Its larger productions have included Amadeus, Animal Farm, Oh! What a Lovely War, Return to the Forbidden Planet and Toad of Toad Hall. Productions last season were Daisy Pulls it Off, The Rivals and Waiting for Bono .
The Players often funds small-cast plays in fringe venues and regularly performs as part of the Dulwich Festival. Well-remembered productions include No Way Out, Shakers Restirred, The Real Inspector Hound, The Last Yankee and Painting Mrs Jones. Its productions have been entered for drama festivals and have won several awards. One noteworthy award winner was Brokenville, directed by Tracy Brook and staged by junior members of the society.
The Dulwich Players prides itself on encouraging new talent; it is not unknown for a new member to walk straight into a lead role! It gives an annual award to new members who have contributed most to the society, with special regard to back-stage work. It is named after the late Pat Evans, renowned for making each and every new member feel welcome.
Some members have sometimes found fame, on and off the stage. One actor from the days of the Dulwich Dramatic Society was Robin Butler now Lord Butler and the costumes for the Village Players were once put together by Norma Johnson who later became wife to Prime Minister John Major. The current collection of costumes is maintained by Jane Jones. The society’s longest-standing actor is Frank Ralfe, who played the frog footman in Alice this summer at the age of 80. He has performed for the Village Players and Dulwich Players for 60 years.
According to society records, a majority of Dulwich Players members can expect main or fringe production parts in any given year. Many of the actors help behind the scenes, and the much-valued minority devote themselves entirely to back-stage work, including lights, sound, publicity, make up, production management and set construction.
Lasting friendships, even marriages, have built on shared experiences. Social events are frequent. The society organises quiz nights, social readings, theatre outings, jumble sales and theme evenings. Its 40th anniversary dinner is to be held at the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club in September.
The society primarily owes its continued success to the efforts of key individuals prepared to sacrifice valuable time for it, including those who serve on an elected committee which manages and co-ordinate activities. Particular thanks are due to the pioneers who set up the society forty years ago, many of whom are still active. More work than you might think goes on behind the scenes to give actors their 15 minutes, or more, of fame.
As it moves into its 41st year, the Dulwich Players has found rising costs are starting to pose problems. The society is currently looking for a new home, at a reasonable price, for its costumes, sets and props. However, despite the need to tighten belts, the society is continuing its tradition of making a donation to a charity favoured by the director of each of its productions.
In October 2009, the Dulwich Players are putting on ‘Art’, thirteen years after it opened in the West End going on to win the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy of the Year. This is a special production for the Dulwich Players for it not only coincides with our 40th anniversary but for the first time in our history we’ll be doing a signed performance of the show on the opening night, making it accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people
Written by the French playwright Yazmina Reza in 1994, the show was translated by Christopher Hampton for English speaking audiences. The play explores themes of friendship and the degree to which we are defined by these relationships. The question is: Are you who think you are or are you who your friends think you are?
When the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s collection of paintings was sent for safety to be stored in a mine in Wales at the outbreak of the Second World War, it was not possible to send all of the reserve collection. Many of these were badly damaged when a V1 Flying Bomb exploded in Gallery Road in 1944 and destroyed the Gallery. In 1988 an Adopt an Old Master scheme was launched to conserve the collection and over 120 paintings have been adopted. A display of rarely seen Gallery paintings in need of conservation will be exhibited this autumn in the hope that people will come forward and adopt some for conservation. What the conservators uncover during conservation provides both a context for scholarly research and for visitor enjoyment.
The Art Gallery of Ontario has put together a great collection of drawings. This group of a hundred of its best works ranges from Renaissance Italy to modern times. It includes Guercino, Boucher, Gainsborough, Ingres, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, Turner, Léger, De Kooning and Canada’s remarkable Tom Thomson.