Farnborough Dramatic Society has been entertaining the people of Farnborough Village and it’s surrounds for 75 years. Born in 1941 as a result of a Kent Education Committee evening class, the membership was largely sourced from the Farnborough Boys and Girls Clubs. The appointment of Dorothy St C Shadwell, a speech and drama teacher to run the class was, in the words of one founder member, “inspired!” She created the nucleus of what, in 1950, was officially named Farnborough Dramatic Society. During the early days, the group focussed on reading one act plays then performing them at social events for friends and groups. They advanced to three act plays and by the end of 1942 Miss Shadwell was sufficiently confident to put on their first public performance of a three-act play.
That production, in 1943, was Arnold Ridley’s ‘The Ghost Train’. Men and materials were scarce during the war, but FDS, ever resourceful, acquired grave digger’s boards from the local undertaker to extend the tiny stage and build the set, a series of light bulbs in coco tins became the footlights and two of the male parts were played by the ladies. ‘She was, as they say, “up and running!”. Productions remained at one a year throughout the 1940s, the in 1951 expanded to three. The society reduced to two between 1952-1960, before picking back up to three in 1961, which has continued to the present day.
In 1983, they revived ‘The Ghost Train; as their 100th production, coinciding with their 40th anniversary. Although none of the original cast members performed in the production, several appeared on stage at the final curtain call, to help celebrate that terrific milestone.
Farnborough Dramatic Society is first and foremost a family of friends with a mutual love of theatre and performance. The societies longest standing families the Abbotts and the Walkers have provided three generations of members to grace the Farnborough stage and are still going strong! Some past members have been so bitten by the theatrical bug, that they have gone on to turn professional and make it their careers. Peter Sowerbutts left in the mid 1970s and in 1979 took the lead in ‘The Mousetrap’ in the West End. Jill Burrington appeared in the West End in ‘Rainbow’ and toured ‘Shirley Valentine’ working extensively for impresario Bill Kenright. Lynda Goddard is a very successful singer and musician with several gold discs to her name, and Nic Gasson after more than 20 years with FDS, finally decided to turn professional in the mid 1990s and has since appeared on TV in ‘Doctors’ ‘EastEnders’ and ‘Merlin’, as well as sharing a TV advert with William Shatner!
The rest, however, enjoy squeezing this wonderful hobby in between day jobs and families.
That’s not to say they don’t have a competitive edge, especially when it comes to the Bromley Theatre Guild drama festival. FDS has been fortunate enough to win a number of awards over the years for acting, direction and stage presentation and indeed were outright winners in 2000 with their production of ‘On Golden Pond’. Nevertheless, they remain friendly with their fellow ‘am dram’ groups in Bromley and as well as past BTG combined shows, our members have trodden foreign boards on numerous occasions. And of course, likewise, other groups have returned the favour.
FDS is one big family and has on occasions, been the breeding ground for families! Eyes met across a crowded stage, romance, and then marriage follows! At least it did for Mr and Mrs Schofield, Mr and Mrs R Walker and Mr and Mrs Hollidge.
Nobody has ever counted how many actors have trodden the FDS boards. Some stayed for one play, others a great deal longer. Both Edna Walker and Wendy McDonnell have celebrated over 55 years of active membership, a truly astonishing achievement, rewarded in 2016 with the Bromley Theatre Guild Rosebowl for services to drama. The same year the society celebrated its 200th production with ‘The Enquiry’, a performance which saw every current member of the society taking a role.
Since 1943 FDS has put on a wide variety of plays, from farce to thriller and comedy to drama, not to mention 3 pantomimes, the odd sketch show, one act plays and a radio show; and all for the dedication and delight of their loyal audience, without whom, there would be simply be an empty hall.
The society is now looking forward to the next chapter, and hope to continue performing for many years to come. However, with membership numbers in decline across the ‘am dram’ community, are on the hunt for new members. If interested, please visit www.fdsfarnborough.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org