History of CDS

Starting in 1938, Claygate Dramatic Society has been delighting audiences and providing opportunities for self-expression for four score years. After an enthusiastic beginning, there was an inevitable gap for the duration of The Second World War. The post-war era saw a re-start and a pattern soon emerged of three productions a year one of which, in January, was often a traditional pantomime with enthusiastic audience participation.

The rest were a mix of light comedies, thrillers and more serious pieces. Originally performing at the King George’s Hall in Esher, the Society later began putting on shows at the then new Claygate Village Hall, built in 1959. With a large stage, dressing rooms and with a seating capacity of over 200, as well as its location in the village, this proved a most welcome amenity.

Until about 25 years ago, a couple of the original members of the Society were alive, though neither of them lived in Claygate. One of them sent in a set of minutes of an early committee meeting of the Society. They were revealing if not surprising, with concerns over casting, finance and ticket sales occupying the attention of committee members in much the same way as they do its successor, the “Hub” today. However, un-minuted accounts of proceedings in the middle years, relayed by word of mouth, tell of one member in the 1970s whose sole contribution was to deliver his impression of Elvis Presley at each meeting! (Today’s Hub members each have defined responsibilities, so that any dramatic impulses can be channelled to where they belong – on the stage.)

The Society has twice presented the works of Shakespeare with The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1979 and then The Tempest in 2012.The latter rather reversed the practice of the bard’s time by having several of the male parts played by women as opposed to the Elizabethan convention of female roles being taken by men and boys. However, the reversal was not quite complete as, rather than the women cross-dressing, the male characters in question were re-named, with the magician “Prospero” becoming “Prospera”.

In programmes often featuring the comic muse, work by Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, Alan Ayckbourn and J.B. Priestley have all been put on, while thrillers have been represented by the likes of Daphne du Maurier. Dramatizations of Jane Austen have also been presented and serious topics addressed as in “Whose life is it anyway” about a paraplegic and “Inherit the Wind” concerning the Tennessee anti-Darwinian “Monkey Trial” of 1925.

Over the years the Society has adapted and developed. In the 1980’s it began to run a licensed bar to accompany its shows, which has proved a popular addition to the drama. Table seating with light meals, such as fish and chip suppers, have also been used for some productions. Recent years have seen the introduction of new format shows , such as a First World War commemoration of readings, songs and a dramatic extract from famous local playwright the late R.C.Sherriff.

The very latest production broke the mould again, taking the form of a 1950s radio thriller drama performed as if in a recording studio before a live audience and including on-stage sound effects. (Some of those had visual impact, too, such as the ingenious manipulation of a log in a dustbin of water to simulate a boat nudging a river bank.) With enthusiastic audiences, players and supporting crew, we are looking forward to many more anniversaries.