The History of Marlow Amateur Operatic Society (M.A.O.S.) 1955 -2022
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 re-formed. The first 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 continued to be 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 Room 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 recreation! It is to be noted that of the 13 adverts in the first programme, the 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.
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 more. Concerts have been an essential method of supporting the increased expenditure of the main shows. Hiring sets of costumes, scenery sets and a large 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 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 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 the time, many older members had decided their stage performing days were over, audience numbers were dwindling and so 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.
From 1976, the Society performed its main show in the Shelley Theatre at Court Garden. 2015 -2016 saw the Society celebrate its Diamond Jubilee, but the increasing expense and disappointing and continuing poor facilities at Court Garden, meant the search
for an alternative performance venue became necessary. In March 2020, “Chicago” was presented in the Arts Centre in High Wycombe. Previously a church, the stage and seating arrangements were not ideal. However, the show proved to be one of the Society’s most ambitious and successful with well-deserved ticket sell-outs. Little did we know that a week later the Society would be facing two uncertain years as the Coronavirus pandemic swept round the world.
During the two Lockdowns, when face-to-face meetings were cancelled or postponed, the Committee worked hard to maintain the members’ interest and participation with, for example, Zoom quizzes and talent “shows”, until, eventually in July 2022 the cabaret, “Musicality” finally reached a live audience back in M.A.O.S.’ original venue, Liston Hall! Full circle and gratitude from audience and cast alike.
It's been a roller-coaster ride but congratulations and thanks to all members, past and present, for keeping our wonderful Society alive for so many years. Long may it continue.
Jo Stuart Bird (nee Chalk) – President M.A.O.S.