Indeed it has, and with showtime luck it will continue. I am talking about Wimbledon’s Carlton Theatre Group (formerly the Carlton Dramatic Society) which has been in existence since the late 1920’s. Their very significant 100th birthday is looming which is quite remarkable given these busy times and lots of competition over the years from other local theatre groups. The writer has been a member since 1993, and throughout the subsequent years many happy memories have been retained. The group have performed a wide variety of theatrical productions from the comedic to the thought provoking with good old Shakespeare in between. And of course, like any theatre group there has been lots of drama on stage and off!
Back in 1963, the group performed the morality play “Everyman” in Windsor’s St George’s Chapel in front of Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the Royal family. In more recent years, the group’s home has primarily been the New Wimbledon Studio, and while the membership can revel in their productions, the group would not be able to function or continue without the input from its members in the form of The Committee! Having been fortunate enough to sit variously over the years as Chair, Vice, Treasurer, and Stage Manager, the Committee has waxed and waned in terms of its success in keeping the group afloat. This is perfectly normal when it comes to getting the membership to volunteer for quite often tedious meetings and undertaking the various attendant responsibilities. However, within the group, it must be said that the joy is the acting and the directing and being involved with the play production itself. As Simon Callow has said: “to enter a theatre for a performance is to be inducted into a magical space, to be ushered into the sacred area of the imagination”.
As with any local drama company there is sometimes the challenge of matching high artistic merit with commercially successful productions. Good audiences always result in a happy Treasurer! However, I am pleased to see that there is currently a very vibrant Committee in charge bringing lots of youthful enthusiasm into the group and its membership. I believe that working with the stalwart core of seasoned members with their experience will contribute to a vibrant future for the Carlton.
Two recent productions under the new Committee have been outstanding in my opinion. Back in the summer months, a double header at Merton Abbey Mill’s Colour House, produced “Henry the Tenth (Part Seven)” and “Bull”. The latter was so very true to life – all about a visceral look at workplace politics and the effects of aggressive behaviour on the lives and mental health of the individual. Many of us have been there. The former play, as you can guess, was on the surface, a farcical, jolly-natured poke at coarsely acted, ill-prepared performances where actors attempt to hold it all together! Has a theatre group ever been there? Never.
The Carlton’s recent Autumn production was Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” – Or “What You Will” – and has as we all know been performed countless times. It is a credit to the Director and her team as to how this version played out. Can you imagine an attic set of draped sheets, a bird cage, old suitcases etc timeless with the remnants of lives lived repurposed as a stage for the play? The Director’s imagination allowed props and costumes all for the audience’s viewing. And the cast, some in boxer shorts and silk waistcoats, were wonderful!
The U.S. classically trained actor, playwright and director Natasha Tsakos said “We are reaching levels of high experiential comfort and our standards will keep rising. We want to feel, we want to experience, we want to connect. We want intelligence and we want to play. Ladies and Gentlemen, a new theatre is on its way.” And whilst it is early months, I have to say that the refreshed Carlton Theatre Group has arrived!
Written by Kathie Arundell