A B O U T
In the beginning.... Manor Theatre Group was formed in 1980 by enthusiasts who worked for the RSPCA, formerly headquartered in the Manor building in Horsham Causeway. Founder members are long since gone but Jean Newton, Ken Clark and Ken and Pat Atkinson were original leading lights. Jack and the Beanstalk was the first show in 1980. Our current membership are so indebted for the past enthusiasm, hard work and expertise of so many (Terry and Heather Swoffer, John and Marion Fenton but there are many others!) in laying the foundations to enable us to keep improving as a group.
We perform annual Pantomimes at Christmas and in the summer we produce musicals or comedies.
Our ambitions in the early years were limitless: Fiddler on the Roof, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma, Wizard of Oz, Hello Dolly, as well as every traditional Panto you can think of. To reflect the current talent in our membership we now do more farces than musicals and also more thought-provoking plays, as well as our mainstay, the annual Panto.
In 1996 we produced our first self-written Panto, Aladdin (mainly to save on Royalty fees!) Since then we have encouraged and put on self-written comedies, musicals and murder mysteries and in the last 15 years nearly all our Pantos have been self written.
In 2008 and 2009 we participated in “Scene-it” productions sponsored by West Sussex Arts at the Minerva in Chichester and Horsham Capitol with three other groups where we showcased our own sketches, music and playlets.
More recently we won an award at the Leatherhead Drama Festival for “Private Wars” and in 2018/19 two awards at the West Chiltington Drama Festival and one from NODA for “Keep the Home Fires Burning” written by one of our members, Suzanne Page .
It isn’t easy keeping an amateur drama group going. No one is paid, and our only income is from shows that has to cover our costs, such as rehearsal and hall hire, set building, costumes, music, indemnity insurance, royalties, sound etc. We must choose the right play, be able to cast it, then direct/produce it so it is good enough to maintain and increase audience enjoyment and numbers. It is also reliant on a number of largely unseen supporters staff who direct, stage manage, prompt, help front of house, manage tickets, provide sound and lighting etc.
In 2005 we felt confident enough to hire the Horsham Capitol Theatre and performed an epic version of “Allo Allo” which attracted record audiences (for us) of over 700! However after all the costs and Capitol’s commission had been worked out we made only £13 on the event. We have not been back! Nonetheless in the last decade we have built up support, assets and with some really talented backstage members are able put on more technically adventurous shows.
In our 40 years, we have rehearsed in pretty much every hall in and around Horsham and in 40 years we have put on some 320 performances of around 90 different shows at various venues in the Horsham area. These include: Millais and Forest schools, North Heath Hall, Holbrook Club, Novartis Social Club, Horsham Capitol, the Town Hall, Warnham and Billingshurst Village Halls, Ifield Barn, Fishers Farm Park, The Minerva Chichester, Leatherhead Theatre, and Leatherhead Museum and outside performances at North Heath Hall and Ifield Barn. We have played to over 30,000 people.
The show must go on. Unlike the workplace we can’t put it off if we aren’t ready. We have to go ahead, we can’t let it get derailed by anything, no cost over-runs, no absences, no hold ups. Expensive work consultants queue up to see our can-do approach! (Creative licence there, but they should!)
[OK we did have to cancel one show in 2010 because the local roads to the theatre were impassable because of snow]
Our current “home” is North Heath Hall where we have had to adapt our sets, lighting and sound to cope with the layout and acoustics of a hall not really designed as a theatre. We have invested in equipment to make the venue work for us and hopefully be a good experience for you as an audience.
We do it for the love, the comradeship, the fun of rehearsing, the sense of achievement, the adrenalin rush of being on stage, on a cliff edge when trying to remember our words, and all the while not bumping into the furniture! But mainly of course for the applause and laughter, and lots of it, please!