The Hospital Players were founded in 1943. Still going strong after 80 years and 230 plays, we are Scunthorpe’s oldest amateur dramatics group. Read all about our interesting history here.
During the Second World War, firewatching was a system designed to keep watch for falling bombs during air raids and to extinguish them. Scunthorpe suffered little bombing, so the firewatchers at the local hospital looked for a more fruitful way of passing the time. They decided to read some plays, and The Hospital Players were born. Another objective was to raise money for the Hospital which, before the introduction of the NHS, depended on voluntary contributions for its upkeep.
The Hospital Players’ first play, J.M. Barrie’s ‘The Admirable Crichton,’ was performed on Saturday 19th June 1943. This and other early plays were presented at the Savoy Theatre for one performance only. The Savoy was located on Cole Street, where F. Hinds Jewellers now stands. During the War, performances were also given at nearby Army Camps and Air Force Stations.
For some time a minimum of the proceeds was taken for expenses, royalties and taxes, so that as much as possible could be given to the Hospital. For example, we presented £500 to provide a cot for the children’s ward. Following the introduction of the NHS, our proceeds went to the Hospital League of Friends. We make donations to the League of Friends to this day.
A new theatre
By the 1950s, plays were usually put on at the Technical School in Cole Street (where Sports Direct now stands). We also performed several plays at the local Youth Centre and Frodingham Parish Hall.
In 1954, Scunthorpe Council formed a Drama Federation to work towards building a theatre. The Federation was formed under Bill Plowright, editor of the Scunthorpe Star and father of Joan Plowright, and consisted of members of local amateur dramatics groups (including Joan Brown from The Hospital Players) and other interested people.
In May 1958 the Civic Theatre opened. The Hospital Players’ first production at the new theatre was ‘The Reluctant Debutante,’ and we played to full houses for three consecutive nights.
In these early days many of our shows were taken round to local village halls, which allowed us to play to different audiences with minimal props and lighting. As recently as 2011 we performed ‘Ladies’ Day’ at Kirton Lindsey Town Hall.
1960s to 1980s
By the 1960s, the steelworks provided a regular supply for young men, allowing The Hospital Players to stage plays with all or predominantly male casts, like 'Seagulls Over Sorrento,' ‘Journey’s End’ and the musical ‘Irma La Douce.’
In 1963, we staged our first children’s play, ‘Toad of Toad Hall,’ and went on to stage a series of children’s shows through to the 1990s. These shows, with their large casts, offered newcomers a chance to ‘tread the boards.’
However, by the late 1960s, we only had about seven active members. A successful production of the Alan Ayckbourn play ‘Relatively Speaking’ (featuring just 4 actors) began to restore the Society’s fortunes. Since then we have performed another 11 Ayckbourn plays, and we reprised ‘Relatively Speaking’ in 2009.
During the 1970s, the Country Arts Association contracted ‘travelling directors’ to promote theatre in the country. Several of these directors worked with us, resulting in productions such as ‘Hotel Paradiso,’ ‘Saturday, Sunday, Monday’ and ‘Canterbury Tales’ (1979).
By the 1980s, the group's membership had increased again. This enabled us to present a number of classic plays, including 'Maria Marten,' 'The Rivals,' 'Charley's Aunt' and 'Joseph Andrews.' The large casts and elaborate sets and costumes (designed by members of the group) made these ambitious choices for an amateur group.
We have welcomed guest directors from time to time - some professional, some from other local amateur dramatics groups. We have welcomed guest actors from other groups, and some of our members have guested in other groups’ productions.
We have also worked with other groups on joint productions. We jointly presented ‘East Lynne’ and ‘The Crucible’ with Little Theatre Club, and have taken part in several Drama Federation productions (plays involving members of the groups making up the Federation). Early Drama Federation presentations were:
'Peer Gynt' (1958, staged to mark the opening of the Civic Theatre);
'Jack Adams' (1960);
'Troilus and Cressida' (1963);
'The Captain of Kopenick' (1967); and
'A Gown for his Mistress' (1976).
In 1978, the Drama Federation groups took part in a Festival of Amateur Drama, celebrating the Civic Theatre's 20th anniversary. The Hospital Players performed 'Two and Two Make Sex' as part of the Festival.
The Drama Federation then staged 'The Threepenny Opera' in 1979 and 'Bridge Over the River, Why?' in 1981, the latter to mark the opening of the Humber Bridge. Members of The Hospital Players were again involved, both onstage and backstage.
The Hospital Players hosted two Drama Federation productions in the 1980s. 'Lark Rise' (1983) commemorated the Civic Theatre's silver jubilee, and 'Tiddy Mun' (1985) was the world premier of Jack Gale's historical drama. Both these productions were directed by professional director Alec Mortimer.
The Hospital Players participated in another Drama Federation production, 'Tom Jones' in 1990. We then joined forces with Little Theatre Club to co-host a Drama Federation production of 'Canterbury Tales' in 2008. This play was in celebration of The Plowright Theatre's 50th anniversary (the Civic Theatre was renamed The Plowright in 1993).
2018 saw the Drama Federation present another play, 'Underneath the Arches,' directed by Darren Johnson. This marked the 60th anniversary of the Plowright Theatre, and involved several members of The Hospital Players.
Our first meeting place was the garage/boiler room complex at the Hospital. We then used a consulting/examination room before moving to the basement. As the NHS needed more space, we decided to find premises of our own. In 1950, we bought an ex army Nissen Hut for £200 and had to borrow another £100 to transport and erect it in East Common Lane.
We rehearsed at the Hut for 13 years. The first winter we rehearsed in coats and gloves before we managed to purchase a coke stove. Gradually the building became ramshackle, and in 1963 we accepted the Council’s offer to rent us rehearsal rooms in the old Library on High Street East, alongside Little Theatre Club. Here there was room to rehearse and build and store scenery.
As the 1970s progressed these premises deteriorated, and in 1982 we moved to the new Activity Centre on John Street, this time alongside Group 62. We left here when the area was due to be redeveloped and, after a period of uncertainty, moved to the Grange Farm Community Centre in 2000.
We performed our first production, 'The Admirable Crichton' on 19th June.
Having rehearsed at the hospital since our formation, we moved to a Nissen hut on East Common Lane.
We performed ‘The Reluctant Debutante,’ our first production at the newly opened Civic Theatre.
We moved to rehearsal rooms at the old Library on High Street East.
We performed 'Two and Two Make Sex' as part of a festival of plays marking the Civic Theatre's 20th birthday.
We presented our 100th full-length production, ‘Canterbury Tales,’ directed by Phil Partridge. This year also marked the 21st anniversary of the opening of the Civic Theatre.
We moved to rehearsal rooms at the Activity Centre on John Street.
We hosted a Drama Federation production of ‘Lark Rise’ to mark the 25th Anniversary of the opening of the Civic Theatre.
Reg Mitchell O.B.E. directed Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Season’s Greetings’ for our 50th anniversary production. We had previously performed the play in 1986.
Also this year, The Civic Theatre was renovated and renamed The Plowright Theatre.
We marked our 150th full-length production by performing Noel Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit.’ The play was previously performed by the Players in 1950 and 1962.
We moved to our current rehearsal rooms at the Grange Farm Community Centre.
Our 60th Anniversary season was marred when a fire destroyed most of our sets and costumes. Through the determination of our members and the prompt and generous help of our fellow groups and members of the public, we were able to carry on.
The following year we staged ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ directed by professional director, Roberta Morrell.
We co-hosted a Drama Federation production of ‘Canterbury Tales’ to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of The Plowright Theatre.
We marked our 200th full-length production by performing our first-ever Shakespeare play, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ adapted and directed by Jan Gregory.
We celebrated our 70th Anniversary with a Platinum Ball. We donated the proceeds of the Ball to the Hospital League of Friends and enlisted one of our original members from 1943, Keith Nuttall, to help present the cheque.
Members of The Hospital Players took part in a Drama Federation production of "Underneath the Arches," directed by Darren Johnson, to mark 60 years of The Plowright Theatre.
We celebrated our 75th anniversary by reprising 3 of our favourite costume plays from over the years: 'Charley's Aunt,' 'Blithe Spirit' and 'Post Horn Gallop.' In June 2019, we held a celebratory dinner.
The Coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures meant we had to cancel our planned April 2020 production, Who Dies Wins. This was the first time in our history that we had to cancel a production. We were subsequently unable to stage plays in September 2020 and January/April 2021.
21 months after our last play, we finally returned to the Plowright Theatre in October with The Merry Widower.
We celebrated our 80th anniversary.