WOMBWELL THESPIANS AMATEUR DRAMATIC SOCIETY
The Wombwell Thespians was formed in 1926 to bring theatre to the people of Wombwell and to provide entertainment to local audiences. Today the Society is still doing just that. Their first play was Jerome K. Jerome’s four-act farce, “Robina in Search of a Husband” which was presented in the old Parish Hall.
Like the Windmill Theatre, the Thespians “never closed” and in conjunction with Wombwell Operatic Society, continued to put on plays throughout World War II as in the following press report:
WombweII and District Amateur Operatic Society and Wombwell Thespians have decided to suspend normal production during the war period and to pool their resources for the joint organisation of (entertainment in the district).
Published: Saturday 21 October 1939
Newspaper: Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express
This wasn’t without a few problems. Plays were often cast and rehearsals started when some of the men were called up for the forces. This would put the play back to the casting stage. However, performance dates were fixed to coincide with a full moon so that audiences were able to see their way home in the blackout.
Besides the old Parish Hall, the Society has staged plays at several other venues in Wombwell including the Baths Hall, the Empire Theatre and Wombwell High School.
In 1969 a former chapel on Park Street was bought for the Society by a local businessman, Mr. P.J. Burke, for the princely sum of £800. Between 1969 and 1973 members of the group and their friends, with the help of many other local people, converted the building into a theatre. The old pews were used to build the stage and the proscenium arch and seats were purchased from the Civic Hall in Barnsley, when it was renovated. The seats later were replaced by ones from the Globe Theatre when it closed.
The Playhouse Theatre opened in 1973 and the first play was “Spring and Port Wine.” The Thespians look on the theatre as “home” and consider themselves lucky to have their own premises.
In 1976 the Society celebrated its Golden Jubilee by presenting the J.B. Priestley comedy, “When We Are Married.” Several members who belonged to the Thespians in the early years were in the cast. They were Bessie Charlesworth, Walter Young, Jack Guest and Bill Grant, who produced the play. Sadly, these stalwarts are no longer with us.
Work was carried out in 1984 to install inside toilets and a tea/coffee bar area situated between the foyer and the auditorium. To provide the necessary space 60 seats were lost but the work improved facilities for our audiences.
More recently the windows have been replaced, the electrical system improved to meet modern regulations and a hearing loop installed. Like the Forth Bridge, it is an ongoing task maintaining such an old building and work continues as funds and manpower permit.
Over the past few years, the Thespians have welcomed two other theatre companies who regularly present at least two productions each year in The Playhouse. These are “The Break-a-Leg” Theatre Company and the Wombwell “Real Music Centre Theatre Company”. These groups add a diversity to the range of theatrical experience available in Wombwell.
A former Vice-Chairman and one of the longest serving members of the Society, Ian Cartwright, comments: “The Thespians has been part of my life for over 50 years. The companionship, working together with like-minded people and the building of many friendships has made being a member of the group both enjoyable and memorable.”
Until the advent of the Covid Pandemic in March 2020 the “Thesps” had an unbroken record of producing 2/3 (and occasionally 4!) plays every year. But now The Thespians look forward to seeing our regular audiences and welcoming new theatregoers to our future productions and hope to continue keeping theatre alive in Wombwell for many years to come and look forward to celebrating our Centenary in 2026!