Old favourite marks 80 years of musicals

This year Scarborough Musical Theatre Company, formerly Scarborough Amateur Operatic Society, celebrates its 80th anniversary. In the first of a two-part article reporter Kirsty Beever speaks to the real people behind the make-up and costumes and takes a sneak preview at this year's performance of South Pacific.

Sisters Elaine Allcroft and Angela Stewart have been dedicated members of the company for nearly 50 years.

There are now three generations of the family performing in the company’s productions – Mrs Allcroft’s daughters Claire Maw and Louise Mclaughlin are both members, and Mrs Maw’s son Joe, who is just 10, is starring in his fifth production this year.

Mrs Allcroft joined in 1959 and her sister in 1960.

They have sung and danced their way through countless musicals, the first on the stage of Scarborough’s former open air theatre in Northstead Manor Gardens. In its heyday the theatre would attract thousands to its unique location across a lake from its captivated, and often wet, spectators.

Mrs Allcroft said: “There was something magic about it. On a summer’s night it used to be packed. Every seat was taken. They even used to sit on the bank sides.”

Dwindling audiences in the late 60s forced the theatre to close in 1968.

Mrs Allcroft said: “West Side Story, in which Hi-di-Hi actress Ruth Madoc had played a leading part, was the last show there for the operatic society. The weather had been really bad and they thought they had picked a show which people didn’t like.”

Despite the closure of the theatre and the end of the society’s summer productions, its winter productions continued. Today’s performances are at the YMCA in St Thomas Street at Easter and are enjoyed by audiences young and old.

Mrs Allcroft, who was first involved in the 1959 production of The Merry Widow, said said: “I joined the society with my friend. We had always sung and danced ever since we were little. I was in the chorus in my first production and from then on I have always been a dancer.”

Mrs Stewart, who has always taken a dancing role, said: “One of the highlights for me was being a principle dancer in the King and I when we did it at the open air theatre. The dancing was fantastic. The choreographer was from London and she was a task master. But the results were

really good.”

The first production of the King and I at the theatre in 1965 was so popular the company did it a second consecutive year.

This is the fourth time the company has performed South Pacific, and Mrs Allcroft’s grandson Joe has taken a role very close to that played by his mother in 1980. Mrs Maw played Njana when she was just 12 and Joe plays Njana’s brother Jerome.

Mrs Allcroft was president of Scarborough Musical Theatre Company in 2005 and 2006, and she said: “It was really nice to be asked and a real honour.”

She added: “I have enjoyed every show I have done. Sometimes we used to do nothing but laugh, and even after all these years I still get nervous when the curtain goes up, but it is very enjoyable. It is a lovely company to be a part of.”

l Next week Kirsty speaks with Terry Johnston-Chatten, who celebrates 50 years in the theatre and company president Don Kynman.