... keeping the tradition of village hall plays for the community alive
Every year, during the second week in November, the Village Hall is booked for the Milton Abbot Players production. The Players always perform a comedy or farce to bring some fun to the long, dark evenings of winter.
They have produced a play since 1928, when Mary Kelly, with the support of the Vicar, started a pattern which has lasted for over seventy years. In the early years, the play was performed in the vicarage barn, above the stables. Later, when the Village Hall was built, the Duke of Bedford had a stage installed to provide a more theatrical event and often provided costumes for some of the more adventurous productions. The lighting in those days was by acetylene gas!
During the Second World War the emphasis was on Variety and the group, renamed "The Gasbags", were unable to produce plays, but put together shows with whatever talent was around at the time. After the war, the Players emerged again as a company and have produced a play annually ever since.
In 1949 Victor Ward took on the job of producer and pulled the company back into shape. John Spurr, Arthur and Jean Vigars were founder members of the post-war Players and are still very much involved with the productions. The Players often toured their productions. Sets were packed onto the back of tractors and trailers and transported to various venues such as Launceston Town Hall, Tavistock, Lamerton, at Broadwoodwidger in a marquee, Chillaton Hall and Luckett.
The practice of rehearsing in September and October, and holding the performances in November, is due to the fact that, traditionally, the farming community were the main providers of cast members and helpers. There was less work for them at this time, when the harvest was in and the farming year was slowing down.
The first week of November is a hectic time. The stage set has to be built and put together by all willing hands, paint and curtains go up, and the hunt is on for furniture and props. Wardrobes are rummaged through for costumes for the production. On one occasion a local garage owner built a whole suit of armour which had to be worn by one of the Players. It was not unusual at the time to be served petrol by a lad wearing various pieces of metal armour in the process of being tested for mobility!
A break during rehearsal for an early 1930's production of "The Dogs of Devon"
Keith Rattray and Eileen Taylor in The Continental Quilt 2001