In 1980 a former Taunton thespian, Stephanie Easton, gathered together a group of like-minded friends to put on a play at The Plough Community
Centre in Torrington. She convinced her husband, Tony, to use his business connections to their benefit, and as a ‘reward’ he was elected
Chairman – and The Torrington Players were born! (NB: By a happy coincidence, Tony was elected Chairman again for this our Silver Jubilee year).
The first ever meeting was held in the canteen of Dartington Crystal on Monday, 10th March 1980. With the assistance of local businesses, enough funds were raised to stage the first production. But what play? Definitely a comedy; something with a catchy title; something that could be cast; but no-one could decide. So Stephanie was despatched to the County Performing Arts Library in Exeter to come back with THE PLAY.
She searched the library shelves from top to bottom, and although there were all the famous plays she could ever wish to find, there was nothing that fired her imagination. Feeling very despondent she began to make her way out, thinking she would come back another day – when a very strange thing happened, and she has never forgotten it. Stephanie recalls:
"As I cast my eye along one particular line of meticulously arranged scripts, I noticed that one was falling out, so being a tidy soul I made my way to the shelf to put it back in. However, I thought I would just glance at its title. It was a play called Mad About Men by Peter Blackmore and was all about a mermaid. I thumbed through it and found it amusing, the title was good, we could cast it, and above all in a small town at that time, it was family entertainment. In fact it was everything I had been looking for! My mission had been successful!"
So The Torrington Players set about producing their first production, Mad About Men, on 20th & 21st November 1980, with a cast of ten. The scenery was made and erected by the Torrington Cavaliers and the play was an outstanding success, and thus began a society which has entertained theatregoers, both local and visitors, for 25 years. The Plough became the home of the Players and has been used for all their productions since that time.
The Plough, as with many Arts Centres, is always fighting for survival, and over the years the Players have provided money to the Plough for various fixtures and fittings, some of which are still in use. One member, Berenice Kendall-Goodeve, even staged a sponsored day-long reading of the works of Charles Dickens. She raised over £800, which provided a much-needed toilet for the disabled. Over the years many actors have appeared for the Players, and some have gone on to perform with larger theatrical companies in the area. One young lad who first trod the boards with us later found his way onto the West End stage!
Like most societies we have ‘captured’ raw novices who have caught the bug and become excellent performers. There have been setbacks along the way, of course, but we are still going strong.
Recently our acting strength has increased and, would you believe it, we now have a choice of young men! But the Players are never complacent and always put out a special ‘welcome’ mat to anyone interested in acting, set building, make-up, lighting, sound, or indeed any aspect of live theatre, whatever age or gender.
Past productions include not only ‘straight’ plays, but also musicals (Oh! What A Lovely War, Oliver! etc), pantomimes and Music Hall. Fortunately, one of our members, Ray Ridgwell, writes plays as a hobby, and over the years we have been very proud to present several of his masterpieces, the latest being a thriller called The Illusion.
The Torrington Players are members of NODA (National Operatic & Dramatic Association), and have been successful in being presented with several awards, one for their production in 1994 of Oh! What A Lovely War, the NODA Regional Award for Excellence, this production also saw the Players win the Stage Electronics Trophy for Technical Achievement. The Players again won the NODA Regional Award for Excellence for the special performance at The Plough in 2004 of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads in aid of the Mayor’s Appeal. This particular production was one of several taken on a mini ‘tour’ of outlying villages in North Devon.