Beginning: The Seventeenth Century Village
1984, the English Civil War Society came to Gosport to stage 'The
Battle of Stokes Bay'. Gosport Borough Council gave them a
at the Council Nurseries for the duration of their stay, where the ECWS
constructed an authentic seventeenth century hamlet, with a tented
encampment for the soldiers, a wattle and daub inn and other buildings,
and huts for various crafts essential to the soldiers' trade.
Battle was a great success, as were public visits to the hamlet, and
the ECWS agreed to come back in 1985.
following year was even more successful, but the ECWS indicated
that they would not be able to return in 1986. Local support
'The Village', as it was known, was great, and the suggestion was made
that a local volunteer group could be set up to run the Village, and
allow schools and members of the public to continue to visit and learn.
Borough Council was keen to support this idea, and a meeting was
organised, to be to be held in the Council chamber of the Town
Hall. The meeting was well attended, and the outcome was a
decision to form the Gosport Living History Society, to run the Village
each summer for public visits.
Villagers: The Idea Starts
At the end of the
main meeting, two people stood up and announced that,
having visited the Village, they felt that it would be an ideal site
for performing Shakespeare in the open air, and would be setting up a
drama group to do so if there was sufficient interest. Those
people were husband and wife Austin and Carol Hicks, and their first
recruit from that meeting was James Doyle.
friends were soon recruited - Aussie and Carol knew Glyn and Ian
Wright, and Blyth and Julia Crawford, through other drama groups in
Gosport. Together with Nigel Dean, these formed the nucleus
the first Villagers production.
First Production: Labour Pains
meetings were held at Ian and Glyn's home in Strathmore Road,
Gosport. The name, The Villagers, was
quickly agreed on, and A Midsummer Night's Dream
seemed an apt choice for a play to stage. The end of July was
chosen for our production as this fell at the end of school term, a
good time for the many teachers in the group. Glyn had just
baby, David, who attended many of the early meetings (albeit in a
non-speaking part), and he can fairly be said to have absorbed
Shakespeare from as early an age as is possible.
twisting the arms of various friends and relations, a cast was
assembled. Some people who had expected to be working
suddenly found themselves with parts; others, who had thought they
would be offering moral support to relatives, found themselves making
costumes, gathering props, and generally far more involved than they
great Villagers' tradition began with Dream:
that of the major part that doesn't get filled until the last
minute. With Dream
it was Oberon; a steady stream of actors turned up, read for the part,
promised their participation, and then disappeared. Titania
(Glyn) began to worry that she was scaring them off, but eventually,
her saviour arrived. Morley Alexander, our first 'loan' from
Southsea Shakespeare, had played the part fairly recently, and still
knew most of his lines. Joining a matter of a week or two
opening night, he fitted in perfectly.
concern at the time was obtaining an ass's head for
Bottom. Various possibilities were pursued, but all turned
be dead ends. Luckily, this gave us a hook to hang some
on, and our first mention in the local press gained us both more heads
in the audience, and also a head for Bottom!
Queen's - God Bless Her!
Villagers' tradition was instigated by Nigel and
Aussie. Both partial to the odd drink or several, they were
regulars at The Queen's Hotel, a Gosport pub famous for its real
ales. The tradition of dashing to the Queen's after each
performance (and rehearsal) for a well-earned drink was
enthusiastically adopted, and the staff and regulars at the pub quickly
got used to a bunch of oddballs in seventeenth century garb turning up
at 10.30 every night. It's amazing how much beer you can get
through in half an hour.
pub has proved a useful recruiting ground in the years since, for
both cast and audience, and the Queen's is definitely the Villagers'
the scenes, there were numerous problems to overcome, often not
the sort of thing a drama group would have to overcome. The
village was too far from civilisation to get power for lighting, and so
a generator had to be hired; not many plant hire companies get asked
for a 'quiet' generator! This also meant that providing hot
drinks at the interval relied on a huge array of vacuum flasks being
brought along with hot water. We had to conduct our own
negotiations for a theatre licence, and for fire safety approval (of
which more later).
Them Wanting More
the end of July, A Midsummer Night's Dream
finally happened, to the amazement of many of us. It began
brilliantly, establishing another tradition of great weather during our
productions, and the audience were very enthusiastic. The
was variously described as 'magical', and 'perfect for Shakespeare',
and the ambience was fantastic, despite competition from Air-Sea Rescue
helicopters from HMS Daedalus, the army firing range, and everything
else that outdoor theatre has to cope with!
general feeling among the members of the group that was it had been
very worthwhile, and nearly all, including some of the reluctant
volunteers, were ready to do it again next year. We had made
enough money to make donations to local charities, including the
nascent Living History Society, and still have enough seed money left
for another play. A second production was getting serious,
however; for a one-off play we could afford to be a little
happy-go-lucky in our approach, but doing it again meant getting
organised and professional. At least, in theory it did...