Celebrating 90 years of drama
Updated: May 23
Upper Norwood amateur dramatics society, the Downsview Players, is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year starting with a fundraising campaign to support local charities.
From baking 90 cakes to doing 90 fitness activities, the Downsview Players’ 90 Challenge - launching today (April 1) - will feature a variety of events raising money for both community and mental health charities.
The group, who were founded at Downsview Methodist Church in 1931, has been meeting online throughout lockdown. In its 90-year history, the only other time the curtain was called for an extended time was in September 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. Undeterred by the restrictions, the group is keen to mark this epic milestone with some charity work.
Club Secretary, Michele Charles said:
“Lockdown has been such a difficult time for many people. I’m so proud of the way the Players have kept in touch, meeting every week online to keep bringing a smile to each other’s faces with quizzes, chats and even fancy dress competitions. While we can’t put on any productions for now, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to mark such an important milestone in our history.”
The Players voted to raise money for two charities: one supporting young people’s mental health in Croydon, Off The Record; and The Trussell Trust, a nationwide network of food banks that works in Croydon.
Martin Parham (pictured below) is organising the 90 Challenge and will be attempting to do 90 different fitness activities in April.
“Whether walking your dog or making something for a friend, taste testing snacks or making hats, each of the Players taking part has chosen a different activity to celebrate our anniversary. It reminds me of when we were putting on our productions and how each Player brought a different skill - I can’t wait to see how much we raise for these charities.” Player Carolyn Potts, who joined in 2019, will be walking 90 minutes with her dog Sadie (pictured below) every day in April. Sammi Canning, who joined in 1997 will be stepping out daily in her Kangoo Boots.
With restrictions still subject to change, the group has had to put any other plans for actual productions on hold for now – but ideas are already developing for their expected return later in the year.
“We know that some of our audience members will have been isolating for much of this recent time, so we’re going to focus on a gentle re-introduction to communal events for them,” Michele added. “First, we’ll be putting on a decades-themed quiz night in the autumn with Players recreating famous game show moments and fun."
"We’ll be working on our pantomime which I’m excited to announce will be The Little Mermaid for January 2022.” Michele Charles
The pantomime will include special performances for adults and children with learning disabilities and/or autism as well as some outreach performances for older people. The latter, of course, will be subject to the latest restrictions. Director, Anne Bassi, has been a member since 1991.
“So, we are coming out of Lockdown with a bang, or should I say panto? I cannot wait for the moment rehearsals begin. It is always so much fun putting on a panto. I am particularly looking forward to reuniting with the Boys' and Girls' Brigades. It is always a privilege to work with children and we are honoured that the Brigades will be taking part in our next panto, carrying on our tradition of collaboration with the local community.”
Meanwhile, as part of the anniversary, several Downsview Players are creating a short film to capture the Players’ history and celebrate the group’s many achievements. In the past 90 years, the Players have performed many well-known productions including My Fair Lady, Scrooge, An Inspector Calls, Blithe Sprit and Jane Eyre to name but a few.
Member of the Players since 1994 (after a young debut in Scrooge, 1980, for the Church's 50th anniversary celebration), Simon Peyton has been looking through photos and programmes to capture the best bits of the Players’ history in a celebratory film due to be launched online later in the summer.
“It’s made me even more aware of the impressive tradition and history we have of putting on great plays. What’s evident in the early days and is still true today is the wonderful friendships the Players have and the drive they have to put on ambitious and professional productions that have been entertaining the local community for so long. Whether you laugh, cry or sit on the edge of your seat, there’s something for everyone.”
The membership of the Downsview Players today includes over 25 people from across the local area and beyond. Lighting Manager John Cooke is the longest-serving member at just over 42 years. Newest member Emma Payne joined just before lockdown and had landed her first role in the play The Thrill of Love which had to be postponed due to COVID-19.
“Being a part of the players has given me so many new friendships. Getting a part in a play within the first month of joining was a real honour and gave me confidence, but we've had to put that on hold. It has been strange being part of something when you haven’t been able to show what you can do, but on the positive side I’ve had a lot of laughs on our Tuesday night Zoom meetings and I’m looking forward to being part of future performances."
A new page dedicated to the Players' history will launch later in the summer.
Pictured L-R: A View from the Bridge, 2016; Confusions, 2017; The Deep Blue Sea, 2018; The Wizard of Oz - the panto, 2017; Humble Boy, 2016; The House of Frankenstein, 2015; A View from the Bridge dress rehearsal, 2016; Humble Boy just before curtain-up, 2016; Stopped Interrupting, 2015; A View from the Bridge, 2016; Alice in Wonderland - the panto, 2015; Dick Whittington - the panto, 2019.
See more of our recent productions in our gallery.