Listeners to BBC Radio Suffolk may have tuned in to the Breakfast Show on 31st August, and heard Matthew Lockyer, co-founder of the Walsham Drama Group, being
interviewed by Mark Murphy. Radio Suffolk were aware that the Drama Group had donated £5,000 to the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, and Mark was keen to give Matthew the opportunity to talk about how the money had been raised, and why the group had chosen the Theatre Royal as beneficiary.
Walsham Drama Group was founded by the Hall and Lockyer families in 1994. Funded
by proceeds of a jumble sale, a troupe of 24 villagers presented a homespun version of
Cinderella in the Memorial Hall. This proved so popular, with both the group and the
audience, that they went on to perform annual productions of original or adapted
pantomimes until 2016.
Characters such as the Wise Woman of Walsham, the haplessly wicked Ron and Reg, Daisy the Cow, Flash the Tortoise, and Walsham’s very own Elvis, appeared in many adventures set in the sleepy hamlet of Walsham le Pillows. With up to sixty members aged from five to seventy-five, the Drama Group also performed variety shows, music hall, Christmas entertainments and a murder mystery evening, to keen and appreciative audiences.
The group were blessed in every support department from costumes to artists and, of course, being Walsham, refreshments. The acting was elevated by the fact that the team created a real little theatre in Walsham. The group has never been a charity, and has no constitution. It has always been open to anyone who wanted to join in, on stage or off. Auditions were never held; anyone who wanted a part was given one.
Over the years, many people have been introduced to the heart-stopping but oh-so-addictive moment of stepping out in front of a live audience. The group believe strongly in the ability of drama to enhance confidence, and to bring people together. Young children were first given the role of “curtain-raisers” who were whisked off to bed once the show had started. They progressed to their first few lines, and then, as they gained in confidence, helping with choreography, leading roles, or as sound and lighting technicians. Several members have since gone on to pursue careers in the performing arts.
Over the years, strong, multi-generational friendships were cemented, memories created, good times had by all, and much laughter generated. The group used profits from performances to buy or make equipment. Costumes, sets, lighting, curtains and even a stage have all been added to our collection, acquired as surplus goods from other theatre groups, or made by members of the team. After each production, enough money was always kept back to cover the next show. Surplus funds were donated to village causes: benches for the school, equipment for the play area and crockery for the Memorial Hall.
In recent years the Drama Group has been, like the Norwegian Blue, not dead, but
members of the group have come together for evenings of Letter Readings and other events, raising significant funds for charities such as Alzheimers Research, the Epilepsy Society and the Poppy Appeal.
To put on another major show, the Drama Group needs to attract some fresh faces (the group has too many pensioners for a panto) and new inspiration. With the outbreak of Covid-19, and the devastating impact it has had on the performing arts, it will be some time before the Group meets again. The difficulties being faced by the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds have been well-reported, and so it was decided that money from the Drama Group’s funds should be used to support this worthy and appropriate cause. Needless to say, the Theatre Royal were delighted to receive this donation, and as a grateful gesture, plan to lay (not throw) a brick in the Theatre with the Drama Group’s name on it.
Enough money has been kept in reserve should anyone wish to take the reins for a new
show, and for now, all staging and equipment is safely stored. Following the interview on Radio Suffolk, the Group have been presented with a ‘Making a Difference’ certificate; fitting reward for a group whose aim always has been… ‘to make a difference’.
There are still a long list of names on the Drama Group’s mailing list, some of whom
have been members since day one (including the Editor of the Observer), and others who have joined us along the way. Anyone interested in finding out more, should alert the Observer, who will contact Ron and Reg at HMP Slade.