In 1942 a brave band of men and women from Sutton Coldfield, just north of Birmingham, started work on building a theatre to serve their community. They requisitioned a Mission hut, that had been used by trainee soldiers in Sutton Park during the first world war and, under the visionary leadership of John English, diverted their talent and energy, brick by brick, towards the project. It was one of several Little Theatre's created during and immediately after the second world war as Britain repaired and reconnected.
Sixty six years on Highbury Little Theatre is still thriving and I was privileged to be given a tour by the twinkly Brian 'Dickie' Bird, one of two survivors from the original 1942 company. He joined as a fifteen year old and now in his eighty third year is not only the president but chairs the finance committee, advises on each seasons plays and sells programmes for the evening performances. He's excited, magnanimous and positive about the theatre's future.
From modest beginnings the building and the Highbury's activities have expanded slowly, but surely, over the last six decades. It is still run by a 175 strong membership, all are volunteers and all fully invested in the well being of the society. The original intimate 108 seat auditorium is now complimented by a second studio, a workshop, a fantastic wardrobe, an active youth theatre, new rehearsal facilities, a coffee shop and dining club. Everywhere we went there was industry, sawing, sewing, rehearsing and above all else the kind of camaraderie that both values and encourages friendship and well being.
The original theatre was driven by a need to establish a strong community venue as an escape from austerity. It's testimony to the great things that may be achieved when no one person claims the credit.
Amateur theatre, at it's very best, has always offered a touch of blue sky and the selfless investment put in by Dickie and his pals all those years ago continues to provide a place to which people of all ages are proud to belong.
Tuesday 20th March 2018
2 days ago