A Brief History
In the years between the wars the Warwickshire
Bill's energy, drive and enthusiasm were infectious and under his leadership a dozen or so would-be actors and stage hands were soon recruited. By kind permission of Mrs Jaques, who herself had a great affection for the theatre, scenery was built and stored in the roof space above the coach house at her home, The Woodlands in Vicarage Lane. With such limited space available, simple sets were the order of the day. Everything had to be transported by hand cart to the parish hall on the day of the dress rehearsal. Set erection had to be completed before the commencement of the evening rehearsal.
'The Ghost Train' was selected as the first production and it was staged in the parish hall early in 1938. The stage was small, so an extension had to be constructed and erected (a task that continues to this day), tickets were sold in great numbers at a cost of one shilling (five pence), villagers were delighted: a drama group at last!
Throughout the war years daily life was subjected to considerable disruption but despite the hardships and restrictions the group continued to present their plays.
Rehearsal and storage space remained a problem but in 1944 thanks to the generosity of Mr & Mrs Beckerleg, the group's first Greenroom was established in two unused rooms above the stables of Long Leys, their fine house in
During and just after the war several productions were taken on tour to local villages and to venues as far away as
In 1946 membership grew rapidly and the Company was put on a constitutional basis. There was a need for an identity for the group and by adopting the name of an Elizabethan theatre company, "The Company Of The Curtain" was born. That year saw the staging of 'Victoria Regina' which was to be the first in our long tradition of costume dramas.
The next dozen or so years saw several landmarks: three productions a year was established, a disused air-raid shelter at the rear of the hall was converted into a dressing room, four night runs were introduced due to demand, a "First Nighter" coffee bar was introduced and club nights with guest speakers were held monthly.
In 1952 the purchase of 170 chairs for the hall (at a cost of 270 pounds) was sponsored by the Company.
We were to lose our Greenroom in 1954 when sadly, Long Leys was demolished to make way for the housing development bordered by
Alternative accommodation was needed as a matter of urgency and it was the Military that ultimately came to the rescue. A large ex Army hut was purchased and erected on the playing field. This was to become the Company's centre of operations for the next thirty seven years.
Five night runs and three productions a season were now the norm and in coming of age in 1958 the Company presented its 50th production, 'She Stoops To Conquer'. A celebration dinner party was held in the hall in May of that year.
Record seat sales of 860 for 'The Corn Is Green' were achieved in 1965, closely followed by 854 for 'The Warriors Husband' in 1968. Due to the introduction of seating restrictions these numbers were never surpassed.
With great sadness and through ill health, Bill Difford retired in 1970 after 33 years dedicated service to the Company. Bill personally directed a remarkable 83 consecutive plays. His passion determination and persuasive manner are legendary. His legacy lives on.
Following Bill's retirement, direction of plays was shared by a team of directors. That practice continues to this day.
One Hundred Productions And Beyond.
The Company's Youth Theatre known as The Studio Group was founded in 1973. Many senior members have come via that route and some have even gone on to forge careers in the worlds of television and theatre.
'Dear Octopus' was staged in 1976, the Company's 100th production.
In 1977 after 26 years, founder member Win Wilkinson stepped down from her role as secretary.
'Twelfth Night' from the Bards pen was performed in 1978.
1981 saw the retirement of the hugely influential figure of Norman Smith and after 33 years as chairman. Another Shakespearean offering, 'The Dream' was also presented that year.
During the eighties we witnessed some memorable productions with 'Jane Eyre', 'The Browning Version', 'Pardon Me Prime Minister', 'Mansfield Park' and the immensely complicated 'This Happy Breed' being but a few.
The nightly raffle was introduced in 1982, followed by the inclusion of interval refreshments in the ticket price in 1984.
A formal dinner at the Cameo Suite in Coleshill was the focal point of the celebrations to mark the Golden Jubilee in 1987.
The play 'Just Browsing', a comedy written by Company member Mary Norman was presented in 1991.
Stalwart member John Boucher stepped back from the treasurer�s calculator after 32 years in 1992.
A new syle of programme was introduced in 1993 to commemorate the 150th production, the Victorian thriller 'Gaslight'.
The 1994 production of 'A Christmas Carol' included the Company's first ever Saturday matinee.
The nineties will be remembered equally for activities away from the boards. The aging Greenroom was demolished to make way for a modern more suitable structure. The shell of the building was constructed by trainees on a government training scheme. Sadly the project was to be the last of its type, as funding for such initiatives was subsequently withdrawn. All ground works and fitting out was completed by members and friends of the Company. The new facility was in use by the end of 1991.
New stage curtains were purchased thanks to a donation from local company Powergen and from the Company's own funds an investment was made in new sound and lighting equipment. Some of this was to become a target of the criminal fraternity and with a play about to open, only the loan of equipment from the Company's friends at Central Television saved the day.
During 1995/96 there was much talk of a new village community hall with modern stage and dressing room facilities. Unfortunately any feelings of excitement proved to be premature as the plan was later scrapped.
1997/8 was the Company's 60th season and in May 1998 members and patrons past and present gathered at the Stonebridge Golf Club for a Diamond Jubilee Dinner.
A New Century.
As the Company eased into the 21st century it remained on a sound footing. A variety of plays were being staged and Studio Group activity continued to produce good young talent.
In order to save valuable 'set up' time prior to a production, the Company's technical team installed a new lighting distribution network in the hall in 2001.
The 2002 production of 'Curtain Call' saw the appearance of a brand new set of scenery flats. Their construction and the installation of a revised fixing system in the hall had been undertaken by our back stage crew throughout the previous summer.
Plays continued to be presented with normal frequency throughout the decade but in 2007 the Company was informed that its spiritual home, the parish hall, was to be demolished at the end of the following year. This was serious news and threatened the Company's very existence.
With all feelings of sadness and concern temporarily put to one side, members came together at the Cameo Suite in Coleshill in April 2008 for a Platinum Anniversary dinner to celebrate the Company�s 70th season. Despite the serious situation, a full programme of plays was presented in 2008 as planned.
The End Of An Era.
The play 'Trivial Pursuits' was the last play ever staged by the Company in Water Orton parish hall.
The curtain finally came down on seven decades of uninterrupted drama and after 194 productions on Saturday 29th November 2008.
A New Beginning.
The Company was faced with the prospect of certain closure unless another venue could be found.
The nearest village to Water Orton was to save the day. Curdworth, a community with an excellent hall facility but without a drama group of its own, presented itself as the ideal solution to the Company's impending homelessness. A warm and enthusiastic welcome from the local residents was the catalyst for the decision to transfer operations to what was to become the Company's new "home".
A range of installations were required to prepare the hall for stage productions. Working to a tight project timescale the work was completed by Company members and local tradesmen during the early part of 2009 and just in time for the Curdworth "premier".
Willy Russell's famous play 'Blood Brothers' was chosen as the first offering in the new venue and was performed in March 2009. This was followed by 'Daisy Pulls It Off' in June of that year. The 2009/2010 season opened with a production of 'And A Nightingale Sang' in November 2009.
A new chapter in the Company's long history had begun.
In the run up to the November 2009 production, major construction work was carried out in the stage area. A considerable capital investment by the Company saw the widening of the stage and the installation of stairs on either side. November of that year also saw the introduction of a new style of Company corporate wear, black with white embroidered logo. March 2010 saw our presentation of the play 'Oliver Twist'.
A new season opened in November 2010 with the comedy 'Family Planning' for which the Company were to be awarded the Best Regional Drama Production of 2010 by NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Association).
The play 'Laying The Ghost' staged in March 2011 was our 200th production. The milestone production was chosen to introduce our new style of programme and advertising literature.
'A Letter From The General' was staged in November 2011 and was the first to be played before a new set of redesigned scenery flats. The investment in this equipment also included for the manufacture and installation of a quick release fixing system to streamline the set erection process.
(A big thank you goes to our Chairman, Chris Woodfield, for putting together this history summary)