In Recent Times (1988 – 1998)
In March 1989 it was discovered that the Licence to sell alcoholic beverages had expired 18 months previously. Following a mad panic and a short spell of serving only non-alcoholic drinks, Brian Cox and Ray Gorbing took over as joint Licensees. The Arts Club, under which the bar had previously operated, was re-organised and a Lytton Players’ Bar Committee was formed.
The Lytton Youth performed ‘Grease’, at the Gordon Craig Theatre, directed by Keith Pitts with Mike Payne as Musical Director. The hard work and dedication put in by all concerned was rewarded with a highly successful show, reflected in the high ticket sales which yielded a profit of £2,209, and gained a great deal of recognition for the Youth Section.
During that season a Special General Meeting was held to once again discuss a change in the name of the Society to include the word ‘Stevenage’, and accordingly the Players became ‘The Stevenage Lytton Players’.
A 40th Anniversary Dinner Dance of The Lytton Players was held at the Hertford Park Hotel on Friday October 6th 1989, with tickets costing £14.50 each and many members attending.
In May, Roger Scales produced an updated version of ‘Iolanthe’ subtitled ‘The Triumph of the Greenies’. Starring John Dunleavy as Strephon and Annette Andrews as Phyllis it was very much in tune with the environmental issues of the times. Although the music remained largely unscathed, the lyrics, dialogue and settings were totally revamped by Roger, with for example, the opening scene taking place, not in a woodland glade, but in a room full of exercise bicycles and rowing machines!
‘Blithe Spirit’ directed by Maxine Holmes in November 1990 at the Sishes was an excellent production, enjoyed by all who came to see it. The Lytton Youth staged the musical ‘Bugsy Malone’ at the Gordon Craig Theatre, by all accounts a highly regarded production reflecting well on the cast of almost 70. The rock musical ‘Godspell’ was staged at Barclay School to great artistic acclaim.
The most spectacular production of the season however was ‘The ‘King and I’ performed at the Gordon Craig Theatre in May. A rip-roaring success both financially and artistically, it boasted a cast of over 70, with 30 of them children split into 3 groups, each having to be rehearsed separately.
In October the Players staged a musical compilation entitled ‘For Your Delight’ dedicated to the memory of Dr Deneys Swayne who had died in 1990. Deneys had been Chairman of the Society between 1950 and 1972 and was one of the founder members of the Society
The Lytton Youth staged the popular ‘West Side Story’ at the Gordon Craig Theatre in July, bringing together a total of 29 Youth and 12 adult members. Despite some early concerns that the production was too ambitious, the production team dispelled all fears and went on to produce a first class show.
This was a disastrous season for the Players financially. The two GCT productions ‘Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ between them made a loss of £7,500. A concert version of ‘Carmen’, held at the Church of St Andrew and St George, contributed a further loss of £1,500. Despite in-house shows and Music Hall generating a joint profit of £5,000, an overall loss for the year was incurred.
The auditors, Wagstaffs, wrote a letter to accompany the accounts for the year. A quote from the Managing Partner stated:-
‘I wish to forcibly make the point this year concerning the precarious financial position of The Lytton Players. Losses suffered over the past 3 years have totalled £23,000, and with no cash reserves, and the assets represented by the Sishes being virtually un-realisable, the Society is almost at the point of being non-viable. Radical action needs to be taken or the Society will not survive.’
At a Special General Meeting in September 1993 proposals were put forward to try to resolve the financial crisis and also to re-structure the committee organisation as many posts were unable to be filled. It was accepted that no shows would be performed during the 1993/1994 season at the Gordon Craig Theatre. The proposals were accepted at an Emergency General Meeting in January 1994 and new committees were elected in February.
The planned Autumn production of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ at the GCT was cancelled, and a musical compilation entitled ‘Westenders’ was staged as a table show at the Sishes. This proved a wise decision generating a profit of £974.
Thanks to the hard work of many, the end of year accounts for 1993/1994 indicated a turnaround in the Players’ fortunes. A profit had been generated, the balance sheet was stronger, and a small cushion of cash held in the bank. The treasurer stated that he felt that a path had been found leading out of, rather than further into the woods.
In tribute to Peter Walker who sadly passed away in 1993, a production called ‘A Chorus of Approval’ was performed in October 1994. Peter joined the Society in 1962 and had been a stalwart member appearing in many productions. The show featured a complete performance of ‘Trial by Jury’ followed by semi-staged excerpts from ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Calamity Jane’, ‘Brigadoon’, ‘Pajama Game’, and ‘Oklahoma’
The spring production of ‘Blitz’ coincided with VE Day Commemorations, with everyone getting into the spirit of the 40’s and performing to packed houses.
All shows for the 1994/1995 season generated a profit.
The musical ‘Carousel’, staged in the autumn, saw a welcome return to the GCT for the Players. However, although an undoubted artistic success, and despite extensive publicity and a low budget, a loss of over £3,300 was made. High theatre hire and orchestra costs, plus low ticket sales were the prime causes.
Fortunately, ‘Nasty Neighbours’, a very funny and successful play performed at the Sishes, made a substantial profit of over £1,200. This was a very ambitious project and a breakthrough for the Drama Section. It was a brand new play, sponsored by BT Biennial and contained adult themes with adult language. BT supported the Players, assisting with fundraising, by organising a raffle with proceeds being kept by the Players.
Both Music and Drama sections were involved in the Stevenage Festival of Arts and Leisure held at the GCT in which the ‘The Mikado’ and ‘The Mechano’ were performed.
At the AGM in 1997 members heard the good news that through the hard negotiations of the treasurer, Linda Friis, a VAT refund had been made to the Society of £27,460 by HM Customs and Excise. The Lytton Players have been diligent in the use of this windfall and have stashed away £18,000 for a rainy day. The rest was spent on much needed capital purchases, repairs and improvements. The Centre has been redecorated, a new photocopier, lights and a vacuum cleaner purchased, and the technical team bought new tools and equipment.
‘Annie’ was staged in the Autumn of 1996 at the Sishes with a cast of 15 adults, 22 children and 1 dog. With a lot of hard work from the cast and production team, a profit of just over £700 was made.
The Cole Porter classic ‘Anything Goes’ was staged at the Gordon Craig Theatre in May. It proved to be a well presented show, with many excellent performances.
In October 1997 ‘Cabaret’, with Mike Payne as Emcee and Tracey Gwynne as Sally, proved a huge success and a credit to all involved, generating a profit of over £1,160. Letters poured in from people who had seen the show with most making very favourable comments.
‘Murder in the Cathedral’, a joint venture between the Players and St Nicholas Church was staged in the Church in the autumn. The show made a profit of £1,600 split 50/50 between the Church and the Players. The choir and organ enhanced the religious setting, and the whole show was a credit to the Director David Slade, and Producer Laurence Arnold.
In Times to Come (1998 and onwards)
At the AGM on the 26th July 1990, the President Ray Gorbing, delivered his address in song to the tune of ‘My Object All Sublime’ from ‘The Mikado’ , and the lyrics are still appropriate today.
‘I’m sure you will agree, how Lucky it is to be, a member
of this family, this great family.
So let us all give heed, when our Chairman stresses the need.
For each of us to play a part, to play a vital part’
The success of the Society has been due to the efforts and dedication of many people over the past 50 years, too numerous to mention individually. So to all those individuals, from past and present times, we raise our glasses and say THANK YOU!.
As we reflect on the last fifty years we harbour the hope that the Stevenage Lytton Players will continue to flourish, and will continue to provide entertainment for the good citizens of Stevenage.