East Lane Theatre, Vale Farm, Watford Road, Sudbury, Middlesex, HA0 3HG Registered Charity Number 1183134
Part 4: A New Beginning (1990-2009)
A third building, shared with the Council’s Accident Prevention Unit was put up adjoining the Theatre, and served as a makeshift dressing room and storage area in the first instance.
Refurbished seats from a West End Theatre were installed, all sponsored by members past and present, and the carpet was rescued from the theatre of the Ibis Dramatic Society in Holborn, when it was pulled down the previous year!
Work went on until the very last minute, but, on 19th October 1990, the Theatre opened with a Gala performance of Alan Ayckbourn’s ABSENT FRIENDS, directed by Rosemary Hourihane. The Mayor of Brent, Cllr Roger Stone cut the tape across the stage and, declared the 57 seat theatre open. Five more performances followed with full houses every night.
The advantages of having our own theatre became immediately apparent, rehearsals and set building could now start on the stage, a facility not available to most professional actors, even today.
As Bryan Hourihane commented in his 1991 Chairman’s report, the first season, which also included ONCE A CATHOLIC, which he directed, and A MONTH OF SUNDAYS, directed by Simon Winkler, had been a resounding success, both artistically and financially; but it is fair to say that without Bryan’s leadership and expertise it is unlikely that the project could have been carried through. The next stage, funded by a grant from the Edward Harvist Trust, was the fitting out of the third building to provide dressing rooms and converting the loft over the café into a wardrobe for the Club’s costumes.
In 1992 the foundations were laid for the café extension, and over the next two years the triangular area between the three buildings was roofed in, and the Box Office and Foyer areas were completely rebuilt.
Most of the work was done by Club members; in particular Trevor Cass and Barry Serjent who gave up many weekends for several years to carry on with the fitting out, while Danny Popkin as Stage Director, and later as Theatre Manager, looked after the regular upkeep of the buildings.
In 1994 extra space was acquired when we swapped space with the Accident Prevention Unit who moved to a portacabin, which enabled the backstage area to be extended to include a gentlemen’s wardrobe and a properties store. Fundraising remained one of the Club’s necessary activities; members continued to be generous, and Wembley Stadium donated £750 to pay for the main stage curtains, but the real breakthrough came with a grant for £30,000 from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, which enabled members to convert the old white-washed brick walls of the tennis pavilion into the café/bar that you see today. A plaque commemorating the grant was unveiled by Life Member Sir Rhodes Boyson in 1996, during an Open Day which was part of the Club’s 60th anniversary celebrations.
Sadly, in March that year, John Hobbs died. He was our President and Treasurer, and the last active founding member. A special evening was held to remember him, and his portrait hangs in the foyer. With the café complete we could now begin extending the audience seating. Another 18 seats, rows G & H, were added where a temporary bar had been, and matching carpet was specially woven for the new areas.
Over the next ten years improvements were made to the existing buildings, adding air conditioning, emergency lighting, fire alarm and audio loop systems, as well as refurbishment of the patio area and a small offstage extension.
The club was now presenting four productions every season, covering almost every aspect of the theatre from drama to music hall. Classic plays like ALL MY SONS, TARTUFFE and THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, appeared alongside JEFFREY BERNARD IS UNWELL, SONGBOOK and THE MUSICAL COMEDY MURDERS OF 1940.
In 2005 Planning Permission was granted for an extension to the south side
of the cafe/bar, and, largely funded by a generous legacy from Sid Lee,
a former life member, the new wing was built and now includes a disabled
toilet, an additional one for the ladies and storage space for costumes and
props. Following on from this, the old wardrobe and props areas were
opened up to form a much needed third dressing room and office space.
The season 2006/2007 marked the Club's 70th birthday, which was celebrated with revivals of past productions of A DOLL'S HOUSE, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE and a specially compiled "deja revue" by Barry Serjent.
The Club has now staged over 90 productions during the twenty four years in its own home, and has built up a loyal following in the local community. The story that began in 1936 in the school just across the playing fields, still goes on.