The Story So Far
Towards the end of the 1960s, Pamela Greta Stevens (Pam), her husband Dr Tony Stevens and their young son Vivian settled in the parish of Marden. They purchased the Old Vicarage in 1970 and settled into the sizable old building with its ample gardens. Pam, being interested in amateur dramatics, enquired after the drama group that she had been told operated in the village, but despite numerous enquiries, no contacts could be found regarding an active drama group.
Time passed and then in February 1974 Pam placed an advertisement in the window of the Marden Post Office inviting like-minded people to a social gathering at ‘The Old Vic’ with the stated intention of forming a local drama group.
Thirty-two people turned up to the meeting, Marden Theatre Group was born, and in the June of that year MTG performed its first play in the West End – the West end of Marden that is, at the Memorial Hall.
The play performed was the comedy “The Rape of the Belt” by Ben Levy, produced by Pam Stevens. At the time, the title was a subject of some controversy in certain areas of the village. The play by was chosen by Pam because it was based on a well-known Greek myth, was easy on the eye and only required two men in the cast. (This shortage of men brave enough to ‘tread the boards’ persists to a lesser extent today.)
What obstacles were there to overcome?
Money – MTG had none other than the subscriptions of its members and some generous donations from several local people who became our first Vice President and Patrons.
Staging – The Memorial Hall did not have a stage when MTG began, so to provide a platform for the performances apple boxes borrowed from local farmers were placed on end at the northern end of the main hall. These boxes supported a layer of scaffold boards, and the final stage floor consisted of 8 x 4ft sheets of chipboard which were screwed to the boards. This provided a rigid platform that took local cabinet maker Chris Hoad and his able-bodied helpers the best part of a day to construct but it proved so successful that subsequent stages were built that way with the only improvement to the basic format being the substitution of the apple boxes with much larger apple bins to give a higher platform. This method persisted until the group was able to buy portable staging panels, and then these were finally superseded in 1999, when the extension to the Memorial Hall with its purpose-built stage went up.
Lighting – The group’s lack of equipment meant that lights and sound equipment had to be borrowed or hired; local electrician Cyril Collins was on hand to assist Pat Roche and Chris Hoad.
Scenery – And other things! Many items came from village businesses. John Sutton kindly lent us a new pale blue tarpaulin to use as a background sky cloth. Unfortunately, it possessed an odd reflective quality that became apparent when illuminated for the first time by stage lights at the dress rehearsal… some hasty rearranging of the sky took place so as not to dazzle the audience. Curtains and track large enough for the stage were kindly donated, which caused some moments of panic or amusement (depended on your point of view) as the pulleys would sometimes lock then the curtain would not open or worse still not close, requiring frantic ad lib’s from the cast to cover exits.
Stage flats were also constructed from the 3/4 inch 8 x 4ft sheets of chipboard and supported by lengths of 2 x 1ins un-planed pine. Looking back in the present environment of safety regulations, the health and safety gnomes would have had apoplexy had they witnessed our early set building techniques. That said, to my knowledge none of the actors were ever seriously injured by failure of the set…
Costumes – These were made by Pam and her assistants from old clothes, curtains, sacks, pillowcases, sheets, bits of old rope – in fact anything that she could sew or glue together into a period costume. Meanwhile, Tony Stevens produced props such as armour, shields, spears and swords using papier mache and numerous pieces of cardboard, wire and timber.
The Rape of the Belt was a great success and the audiences were wonderful, and MTG went on to perform a second play later in 1974 (Murder at the Vicarage). The staging of at least two productions a year is a target MTG continues to aim for.
In 2005 Marden Theatre Group added the members of Marden Young Players (MYP) to its numbers. MYP was started by Adrian Smith with the assistance of his wife Helen, Sue Scott and others to provide the opportunity for children of school age to perform plays, many written or adapted for them.
When Adrian and his family moved away from the village the members of MYP were invited to form the Marden Youth Theatre under the umbrella of the MTG, and in 2005 MYT performed its first production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the garden of the Old Vicarage under the direction of Victoria Jones, herself a former member of the Young Players and a member of MTG. After a few years of ‘downtime’ for the youth group, we are excited to be looking at resurrecting MYT, and introducing a new generation of youngsters to the joys of theatre.
We are forever grateful to those few people who, right at the beginning, had faith in what we were trying to achieve, and our heartfelt thanks goes out both to them for their generosity and support, and to the many people who continue to support the group, whether practically or as a member of the audience. Thank you all.