ONE of the oldest amateur theatre companies in the country is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with an all-singing all -dancing production of Cole Porter’s upbeat musical Anything Goes.
The production by Plymouth-based theatre company PGS Theatre Productions takes place at the Devonport Playhouse from June 7 to 10.
The company was founded in 1923 and originally concentrated on the light-hearted operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan — the company’s original name was The Gilbert and Sullivan Fellowship. The new name reflect a move into a more broader output of musical theatre.
Chairman Ross Ayling, who lives in Tavistock like many others in the company, said: ‘We were founded in 1923 and in the last 15 to 20 years we have started moving away from Gilbert and Sullivan, more into musicals and opera.
‘We moved into those other genres because we felt that Gilbert and Sullivan was a dying art and to appeal to new audiences and broaden our horizons.
‘Most recently, we have performed in the Devonport Playhouse and we do concerts which we take to other venues, including The Atheneum in Plymouth and The Wharf in Tavistock. We come to Tavistock a lot, especially with concerts, and quite a few of our members come from Tavistock.’
Ross takes part in performances as well as being chairman of the company. Like the whole company, they embrace the musical theatre mix. ‘I sing and act and do a bit of dance,’ he said.‘Musical theatre is a big thing. We are trying to do musicals that aren’t often done by amateur groups in the area, some things more avant-garde. For example, last year we did The Hunchback of Notre Dame. We were the first company in the South West to put that production on. It sold really well and was the most popular show we had done, artistically and financially.’
For their centenary, they are going back to the traditional roots of musical theatre with Cole Porter’s 1934 hit musical Anything Goes.
‘With Anything Goes, we have reverted to an old traditional musical, because it has had its revival on the the West End and it is a popular musical.
‘It is based on a cruise ship and we thought that was fitting, the fact that it is our 100th year and we are based in Plymouth, which is the Ocean City.
‘To celebrate our 100th year, the Theatre Royal in Plymouth have also offered us the chance to hold a Gala Concert, which takes place at the Theatre Royal on September 24.
‘This will be a celebration of our whole history, a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan and musicals, opera and the theatre, showcasing Plymouth and the theatre which will look back over those 100 years in the city of Plymouth, so it will be something for everybody.’
The company is close-knit, with members becoming close friends with one another and even finding their life partner through treading the boards together.
‘It was originally the Plymouth Gilbert and Sullivan Fellowship and it is a fellowship,’ said Ross. ‘That friendly family environment is what we have always had.
‘We do this to get away from the stresses of life and it is a very sociable and friendly group. People have met their husbands and wives through the company. We have got members who have been in the company for 30 or 40 years. With our 100th anniversary concert we have got people in their 80s and 90s who are coming back to perform in it, just to do that one last show.’
Ross, whose job is front-of-house manager at the Theatre Royal. will himself take on a starring role in Anything Goes, in the role of Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a typical upper class character to find in a Cole Porter musical. He is very upper class, a naval gentleman and a bit silly.’
The theatre company rehearse once a week and then every night as the clock ticks down to the day of the performance, with rehearsals taking place at venues across the city of Plymouth, among them Stoke Damerel Church.When the company was founded back in 1923, the music hall tradition which began back in the Victorian times was still very much alive. That the company is now celebrating is 100th birthday, still being part of that tradition is something its members are very proud of.
‘We are one of the oldest companies in the UK that are still going strong and have a really strong membership and following and we want to shout about it,’ said Ross.
See pgstheatre.com to find out more on the upcoming shows and the history of the company.