Early days of the Wychwood Players
By John Drew
Although I was in at the birth of the Wychwood Players, the credit for the original conception must go to Daphne Waugh. Her tireless work on the new Hall Committee in promulgating a suitable platform (literally) for theatrical projects resulted in a New Beaconsfield Hall with a proper stage and fittings. No easy task as I recall that even stage curtains were regarded by some as unnecessary luxuries! You can imagine the reaction when I tentatively mentioned electrically-operated curtains!
I was on the same committee as Daphne and I remember that she received significant support from John Hartley and Tom Jordan.
To make use of this forthcoming asset Daphne envisaged a group to perform their own productions and at the first meeting to discuss this I volunteered to be on the committee and as a Chartered Accountant I suppose it was inevitable that I duly became Treasurer.
I remember fellow members of the committee: Daphne Waugh (Chair), Eileen Jessey (Secretary) and Margaret Nicolson. Later, I think, we were joined by Charles Marshall, Pat Bannister (Sets and Costumes) and Les Knightson (Lighting and Sound) as well as Andrew Pitman but I am not sure of the time scale.
I do recall that the name “Wychwood Players” immediately came up as the obvious but appropriate title without further discussion.
When Daphne subsequently brought in actors such as Rob Gorton and Phillip Croxson I actually thought that they were semi-professionals volunteering to appear as “guest artists”. How wrong I was, they were (and are) completely professional.
In the early days the Players were viewed as a natural succession and a vehicle for the WI pantomimes which Daphne had established as a very popular community production.
The first ever production at The New Beaconsfield Hall was Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple which was directed by Tony Butterfield. I did think that this play, although virtuous, was rather esoteric and un-commercial as a premier event but this was Tony’s choice and he had directed the play before. So the director had his way, not for the first time, but this production did establish the Players as a serious player in amateur theatre.
I do remember advocating Dudley Thompson for committee membership because of his vast experience in am-dram and I felt vindicated when I handed over my chairmanship to him much later. He has since adroitly developed modern communication methods. It seems ridiculous now to recall that I used to physically deliver by hand the newsletters to members.
The more recent years of the Players are no doubt well-documented and this story should be told by others. The progression from the Daphne/WI pantos via the construction of a new Hall to the sophisticated operation that the Wychwood Players is today is surely a tale worth telling - call it: continuing drama in the Wychwoods.
A huge part of this story is now the devastating effects of Covid-19 and in these times of safe social-distancing theatres are facing severe problems. However, the Players are already embracing the internet to display their talents and Mandyrae Jessey is spearheading the creation of a store of new information and entertainment for their website and their own You Tube channel.
The Wychwood Players are fortunate that new Chairman, Phillip Croxson, has assiduously kept records of all the productions spanning 23 remarkable years but now the emphasis is on the future with its numerous unknowns. Rest assured that the Players will continue to be a generous source of entertainment for the Wychwoods and to slightly adapt the well-known phrase: THE SHOW MUST GO ON………LINE