Way back in the dark ages, or so it would seem to us, brought up with radio, television and cinema, the 'Live Theatre' reigned supreme, and the 'Actor/Manager' took his cast and shows all over the country. However, small towns and villages off the beaten track were not visited very often by these players, and so formed their own amateur societies to provide local entertainment.
So it was that in 1928, four prominent businessmen in Boston, Lincs. decided to form Boston's first Amateur Dramatic Company, known as 'The Boston Playgoers Society'. It formally came into being on February 10th 1928 and today, in the 21st century, the society is still going strong.
The four men who started it all were; George Robinson, proprietor of the local newspaper the 'Standard'; George Comer, headmaster of Tower Road School; Leslie Deal, head of a local seed firm and Frank Smith, a local Customs and Excise man. The first president of the society was George L Nussey, a former chairman of the North Holland Magistrates, and vice-presidents were Ethel Henry, headmistress of Boston High School, theatre owner George Howden, and music teacher Connie Gregory.
The first production by the new society was an acted reading of 'Pygmalion' early in 1928, but the first serious production (where the actors had to learn their lines, rather than just read them) was in November of that year. The play was 'Hawley's of the High Street', by Walter W Ellis. Described as 'An eccentric comedy in three acts' it was performed in Shodfriars Hall (a theatre in which Arthur Lucan, famous as 'Old Mother Riley' also appeared). The play was a great success, and the society attracted a membership of over 200, rising to almost 300 in the following year.
In 1929, the society repeated 'Pygmalion' as a full scale production, and in the autumn of 1930 put on two productions, 'The Man from Toronto', and 'Bird in Hand'. From these beginnings, the society went from strength to strength, putting on two productions a year until the outbreak of the second world war. The last full scale production was 'The Two Mrs Carrolls' in the spring of 1940, although the readings did continue during the war.
In the spring of 1945, the society produced 'Dangerous Corner', and in the autumn of that year performed '9-45', a play written by a member of Playgoers, Dr G R Usmar. During the action of the play, a baby had to be born on stage. It is quite a compliment to the skill of the actors that during every performance people in the audience fainted during this scene, and on one night as many as five had to be carried out.
By this time, Playgoers had moved from Shodfriars Hall to perform in the 'New Theatre', which was on the site of the present Marks & Spencers store, and from there to the Memorial Hall close to the Boston 'Stump'.
This was the venue until 1966, when 'Blackfriars Little Theatre' came into being. The building was a derelict medieval friary in a back street in Boston. Playgoers contributed in many ways towards the building of Blackfriars. They helped to raise money for the project and actively assisted in the building work. Anne Cartwright, for many years the secretary of Playgoers and now an Honorary Life Member, helped mix cement during the preparation work.
Blackfriars was the first of several projects which helped transform a rather run-down area of town into what is now known as the cultural centre of Boston.
In December 1966, Playgoers put on their first production in Blackfriars Theatre. This was 'Dear Charles', a three act comedy by Allan Melville, and in 1967 we celebrated Playgoers 40th anniversary with the Anthony Kimmins comedy 'The Amorous Prawn'.
Performing at Blackfriars was very different from the venues that Playgoers had become used to. This was a proper theatre with professional facilities, and the audiences now expected a professional standard of performances, and Playgoers proved more than equal to the challenge.
At about this time, the acted play readings were dropped and replaced by highly successful club nights. The society decided to actively encourage the involvement of young people in the 14 to 18 age range and so formed a group known as 'The Strolling Players', run by Betty Lovell.
Betty coached the youngsters and organised basic acting workshops. With her help, 'The Strolling Players' performed 'The Great Cross Country Race', 'Trudi and the Minstrel', and 'Come In Captain Jacko' with great success in the theatre.
This continued until 'Blackfriars Arts Centre' took over the youth side and the Boston Youth Theatre (BYTe), and Theatre in Education (TIE) were formed. Their members are very talented and enthusiastic, and some of them have taken part in Playgoers productions, and have more than held their own with the adults.
The Society performed the annual pantomime with great success for many years, until it was decided to employ a professional company.
Thanks to the expertise and enthusiasm of ex-BBC engineer Paul Gibson, Playgoers have been able to extend their range by producing short videos of plays written by members. These have been very much enjoyed by members, who have had to learn the different acting technique for the screen. Anyway, it's nice to see yourself on 'telly' isn't it?
As Lincolnshire was known as 'Bomber County' during WW2, the society performed 'Bomber' written by a member, about life on an RAF camp and the nearby village during the early years of the war. The first night was a Gala night, with food of the period available for the audience, and wartime memorabilia and photos in the foyer. This proved to be very popular and a significant contribution was made to RAF charities.
Playgoers have regularly taken part in the 'Skegness Play Festival' and have been very successful. The festival takes place in June in the Embassy theatre before professional Adjudicators and draws entrants from all over the country. Up against the best amateur groups in the country, Playgoers have over the years won the 'Best Play' award, and our members have won cups for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Character Actor, Best Character Actress, Best Lighting, Best Set, and 'The Adjudicators Special Award for Acting'. Phew! Against fierce competition that 'aint bad and we are very proud of ourselves.
Boston Playgoers perform three plays a year and thanks to the enthusiasm of our hard working and very talented members the society is going from strength to strength. Our productions include drama, farce, comedy, murder mystery, and costume drama. And we look forward confidently to many more successful and enjoyable years.