Anniversary for Marlowe Players

Exciting times are ahead for one of the oldest amateur drama groups in Derbyshire which is celebrating sell-out performances in its 70th anniversary year.

The Marlowe Players have had a dramatic history and there were lean years when the group did not have enough members to put on plays. But a move almost 13 years ago to a permanent home at Darley Abbey Village Hall led to a resurgence in the Marlowes’ fortunes which has continued ever since.

The Marlowe Players were founded on January 15, 1948. A small group of people met around a fireside in Chaddesden to discuss the formation of an independent drama society.

The first play was Robert’s Wife by St John Ervine, presented at the Railway Institute, Derby, in September of the same year. Since then the group has staged more than 150 major productions.

In the early days budding actors applied to join and were vetted by a committee. If a member was unable to turn up for a rehearsal, he or she had to post a letter to the secretary as few people had telephones at the time.

The group’s constitution stipulated that people were not able to join other groups at the same time as they were members of the Marlowes. The only exception was that they could take a role with Derby Shakespeare Society which at the time produced only plays by the Bard.

Since then the Marlowes have performed at a number of different venues including Rykneld School and Derby Playhouse Studio. When the Playhouse went into administration the Marlowes were forced to look for a new home. 

Darley Abbey was the ideal choice because it means rehearsals as well as performances can take place on the village hall stage. 

Professional actors who started their careers with the Marlowes include Gwen Taylor who is the group’s patron, James Bolam and Rachel Dale, who recently performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and at the National Theatre as well as appearing in two television dramas written by Kay Mellor.

Marlowes’ chairman Martin Illston said: “We do a variety of plays across different genres, plays that are performed by few other amateur groups.

“Our last production, The Weekend by Michael Palin, has been produced only a couple of times since its premiere in the West End in 1994. But our audiences loved it and four of the five nights were sold out. We were having to turn people away. 

“Our varied programme will continue in November when we present A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde.”

The Marlowes perform three plays each year and are happy to meet anyone who would like to get involved.

Martin said: “We’re always keen to welcome new members who want to act or take a backstage role and we have a thriving social calendar too.”

However, the Marlowes have little time to celebrate their 70th; they are busily rehearsing Arthur Miller’s All My Sons which will be presented at Darley Abbey from July 24-28. 

Pictured above are photographs from the group’s 1953 album of a performance of A Murder is Arranged.

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By Steve Orme