'The show must go on' - Theatre group celebrates 70th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 08:00 23 February 2019
A Clevedon theatre club celebrates 70 years of making music and entertaining audiences with slapstick comedy and thrilling dramas.
The Clevedon Light Opera Club (CLOC) has witnessed all the highs and lows which come with the theatre.
After marking its 100th performance last year with Fame The Musical, this first show of 2019 is Chess The Musical.
It will see members old and new come together to mark 70 years of the club.
Following a chance meeting between three like-minded people – Arthur Hill, Len Willmot and Herbert Chairman – in Six Ways, Clevedon, in 1948, the journey of CLOC began.
Over the next 69 years, the club has risen to become one of Clevedon’s most prominent drama groups.
The trio, who had all originally been members of the Clevedon Choral Society, decided they wanted to do something different and formed the club officially in 1949.
Rehearsals were launched in late-1949 for its first shows, Merrie England and Trial By Jury, which premiered at the Salthouse Pavilion in May 1950.
Finding a home
Present chairman Rob Frazer-Cann said: “The fledgling club rehearsed wherever it could and for a period of the 1950s, this was in The Blue Room at Christchurch.
“In the 1960s, Victor Smith – the then-editor of the Clevedon Mercury – arranged for the club to use warehousing connected to the print works.
“This was immediately nicknamed The Albert Hall where rehearsals flourished and scenery was created and stored.”
All of CLOC’s shows were held at the pavilion and were performed in May as the venue had no windows so performances could be put on at any time.
However it lacked lighting fixtures and equipment necessary for the show and the stage was only nine feet high.
But, in true theatre fashion, the show must go on and three performances were put on there in 1952, 1957 and 1961.
Mr Frazer-Cann added: “The pavilion proved to be pivotal in establishing the early roots of the club.”
By 1953, the club already had an active membership in excess of 40 people.
Changes in Clevedon
In 1961 the construction of the New Hall, which later became Princes Hall, began and CLOC was quick to see the potential in the well-designed new venue.
It was the first club to perform at the hall with its production of The Desert Song in 1962.
From the pavilion’s lack of space, the new hall had a full-size stage and orchestra pit and space in the wings.
Allowing for the show to have eight scenes, five more than the standard three which were achievable at the pavilion.
Mr Frazer-Cann added: “This was an incredible feat at the time and looking back it is almost impossible to imagine the blood, sweat and tears which went into making it possible.”
However, the big move did not come without some difficulties and challenges.
The shows had to be pulled back to March from May since the hall had multiple windows without curtains.
More venues created
The 1970s saw a major event take place for the club.
East Clevedon Hall, owned by All Saints Church, became vacant after the construction of the new church hall – they dubbed it The Little Theatre.
The club formed a group of four trustees and obtained a 16-year lease.
The hall was in a state of disrepair after years of neglect but the club, being resourceful, completely remodelled the space and make a provision for a bigger stage, two dressing rooms, new toilets and a split-level storage facility for sets.
While in the new hall, the club launched its summer shows, beginning with Carousel in 1985, Guys & Dolls in 1986 and South Pacific in 1988.
This also saw the formation of the junior section of the club which was later closed and reformed at the turn of the millennium.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the light opera club made a move towards popular musicals, and in 1989 the Princes Hall became home to the club with a major production of Annie.
By the 1990s, the group was performing at least twice a year, putting on a number of ambitious productions.
Now with more than 90 members, the club hopes to celebrate 70 more years of success in the town.