The History of Marlow Amateur Operatic Society 1955 - 2015
Marlow had an Operatic Society in the 1920s. It performed in the Masonic Hall in St. Peter’s Street. However, the Second World War intervened and it was not until 1955 that the current society was reformed. The members were gathered together after a public meeting was convened by three local businessmen; Cyril Chalk, Robert Brown and Clifford Jefkins, together with Herbert Habgood and Tommy Dunham. In fact, early membership consisted almost entirely of local inhabitants, which is not the case nowadays as the popularity of the society has spread its net further afield.
In the autumn of 1955, 41 members began rehearsals for “H.M.S Pinafore”. The show was performed over four nights in April 1956 in The Public Hall, now known as Liston Hall. It had a small stage and very basic dressing room areas, notably for the men’s chorus below ground in the boiler room, but the first season was a sell-out as the audience relished the return of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operettas.
The Liston Hall has served as one of our main rehearsal locations, minus the stage, but in the first few seasons M.A.O.S. made good use of the large “Assembly Hall” at the rear of the “George and Dragon” Public House for their rehearsals. Marlow’s own brew of Thomas Wethered’s beer featured prominently in the after-rehearsal relaxation! It is to be noted that of the 13 adverts in the first programme, the “George and Dragon” is the sole surviving business in the town. All of the other small businesses, which belonged to many of the original cast, have long-since closed. (Robert Brown and Philip Dorsett, Grocers; Cyril Chalk, Ironmongers; Hatton Shoe Repairs; Asplin, Butchers; MacFisheries; Helene Conyer Hairdressers; and Norman Heal, Furniture)
Since 1976, the Society has performed its main show in the Shelley Theatre at Court Garden. Improved facilities would be welcomed by the membership as the “temporary” stage size, scenery storage and basic lighting and sound systems have come almost full circle to the problems experienced in the old Public Hall days.
For many years, the Society has extended its season to include fund-raising concerts and Liston Hall, with its improved community facilities, has become a popular performing venue once again. Concerts have been an essential method of supporting the increased expenditure of the main shows. Hiring sets of costumes, scenery sets and an orchestra may have become a thing of the past, but, by using contemporary staging and imaginative directors, the end result is just as successful. Our National Operatic and Dramatic Association (N.O.D.A.) critiques confirm this.
For more than 50 years, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas were the favourite choices of performers and audiences, but in 2009 a major decision was made to leave the traditional nineteenth century productions behind and venture into the world of modern musicals. This change of direction was not made lightly and could have sounded the death-knell of the Society, but, at that time, many older members had decided their stage performing days were over, audiences were dwindling and a campaign was launched to attract younger people who would enjoy a different musical genre. “A Slice of Saturday Night”, with its 60s based music, costumes and dance, was a huge hit and the Society entered its new era.
2015 – 2016 is the Society’s Diamond season – 60 glorious years of musical fun and friendship.
Congratulations to all members past and present.
Jo Bird (nee Chalk) – President M.A.O.S.