THE GAGE PLAYERS
ENTERTAINING THE TADWORTH AND WALTON COMMUNITY SINCE 1950
The Gage Players? So – what’s in the name? You could say that sexual equality is at the root of it all! In 1950 the local Women’s Institute, with their usual radical fervour, got into all sorts of trouble when they dared to cast MEN into the men’s parts of a play production they entered for a competition! It was none-so-tactfully suggested that these reforming spirits might like to set up a separate amateur drama group in Walton on the Hill, and then were told: ‘You’ll never succeed – there’s not room for two drama groups in the same area.’
That was the challenge – the gage, or gauntlet, had been thrown down – and that gage has remained our symbol ever since. All these years later, here we still are, putting on shows three times a year. We’re very proud of our roll of past productions listing plays, authors and directors, which takes centre stage on our website home page, and proud of our reviews, too.
Our theatre venue, The Riddell Hall, Dean’s Lane, Walton on the Hill
In 1911 the late Lord Riddell transformed a gravel pit into a drill hall for the Territorial Army, complete with miniature rifle range and a Mess, which later became Walton’s Men’s Social Club. The hall was used for training during The Great War but on Lord Riddell’s death it was put up for sale – and then generously offered by Lady Riddell to the village as a memorial to her husband.
Local fundraising ensured that the hall could be restored for public use, and it was officially opened in October 1936. However, it was taken over by the War Office in 1940 and used by the Canadian Army troops until 1946. Once again the hall had to be restored – a teak floor was laid in 1940, a new boiler installed, kitchen and stage facilities improved and a false ceiling introduced to aid acoustics – and The Young Vic Company performed here in 1950 to celebrate the fact. Aspects of the hall are upgraded regularly, and many local clubs, organisations and private hirings make use of it for daytime and evening events.
Early days – the 1950s and 1960s
In our first years it was not common for everyone to have television for entertainment or to think of travelling up to London to a play. So from the start we aimed to give our audiences the opportunity to see a wide range of productions – classic plays, whodunnits, thrillers, comedies, even musicals – we do them all.
Our first review for our first production in 1950, The Chiltern Hundreds by William Douglas Home was uplifting, to say the least: ‘The Riddell Hall was filled to capacity. Encouraged by a receptive audience, the cast, some of whom were making their first stage appearance, gave a performance which fully justified the entry of these newcomers to the field of amateur theatricals.’
In our first two decades, our productions included:
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare (‘The most spectacular success achieved by this comparatively young society in the post-war years of its happy existence . . . a production of almost professional level in presentation and performance.’); The Chalk Garden by Edith Bagnold; She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith (‘achieved just the light, scintillating touch needed . . . an enjoyable and fast-moving production.’); Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier; Separate Tables by Terence Rattigan; and Hay Fever by Noel Coward
The 1970s and 1980s highlights
Boeing-Boeing by Marc Camelotti (, . . nothing but high praise can be meted out for the polished end-product . . . The Gage may well be proud of this outstanding production.’); How the Other Half Loves by Alan Ayckbourn; Dracula by Ken Hill (‘The cast really sank their teeth into the parts they played . . . superb lighting and sound effects . . . the whole thing was splendidly done.’); The Beaux’ Stratagem by George Farquhar; The Diary of Anne Frank, dramatised by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (‘The Gage Players performed with such powerful immediacy . . . People come from long distances to see The Gage Players, and for this they were well rewarded.’); Sweeney Todd by Brian J. Burton; The Odd Couple by Neil Simon (‘The Gage . . .presented a powerful production with forceful, well-rounded and marvellously funny performances.’); A Murder has been Announced by Agatha Christie; An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley; Cabaret by Christopher Isherwood; Habeus Corpus by Alan Bennett; Trelawny of the Wells by Arthur Pinero; Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore; and A Chorus of Disapproval by Alan Ayckbourne.
The 1990s and the Noughties
1990 was our Ruby Anniversary and that year we celebrated with, among other things, The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Ken Hill; The Slipper and the Rose adapted by Pip Burley; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; and Vanity Fair by William Thackeray, adapted by Constance Cox; Dangerous Obsession by N. J. Crisp. From 2000, our Gold Anniversary, the next decade included Dear Octopus by Dodie Smith; The Hollow by Agatha Christie; A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, dramatised by John Mortimer (with The Heath Players) – ‘All the ingredients for success – and full houses proved it was . . . a brilliant production.’; Daisy Pulls It Off by Denise Deegan; The Railway Children by E. Nesbitt; Toad of Toad Hall (with the Heath Players), 2006: ‘ . . . gave young members the chance to show their stagecraft . . .’
Up to the present day
2010 was our Diamond Anniversary, and we produced two winners that year: The Weekend by Michael Palin and Come on, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton. Then we went on include The Titfield Thunderbolt by Philip Goulding; The Drunkard by Brian J. Burton (with The Heath Players); Dangerous Corner by J. B. Priestley; Yes, Prime Minister by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn; Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene; The Teahouse of the August Moon by John Patrick and Vern Sneider (in which we famously cast a dog, and had people turning up on the night for tickets asking ‘Is this the play with the dog in it?’); Murder in Play by Simon Brett (‘The cast interplayed with one another exceptionally well, a true ensemble, and the effects and pace of the play were admirable . . . the audience clearly relished the fun, and the buzz in the interval and at the end of the evening showed how much they had got into the spirit of the occasion.’); Bedroom Farce by Alan Acykbourn; and Over My Dead Body by Derek Benfield.
More recently, our hits include A Touch of Danger by Francis Durbridge; Waiting for the Train by Pip Rolls; Vintage Hitchcock: a live radio play by Joe Landry (‘. . . an interesting and innovative production that includes three classic stories from Hitchcock films . . . I would have to rate this as one of the slickest productions I have seen from the Gage’); and Ladies Who Lunch by Tudor Gates.
We like to challenge ourselves . . .
Over the years we’ve supported numerous theatre festivals, with all the extra commitment that involves for casts and crews. So we’ve supported the Tadworth and District Arts Festival, the British Drama League Festival, the National Festival of Community Theatre, the Banstead Arts Festival, and done rather well at some others:
At the 1954 Betchworth Drama Festival, The Gage won the Festival cup for Barbara’s Wedding Day by J. M Barrie, and in 1988 won the Committee’s Cup for stage presentation (The Pool by the Dragon Gate by E. G. Andrews). And in the 1991 All-England Theatre Festival, Robin Sebastian Hunter, in our production of Come into the Garden, Maud by Noel Coward, won Best Supporting Actor. Robin has gone on to make a successful career in theatre, television and radio.
Theatre people are sociable people, and we like to enjoy ourselves off the stage as well. So we have a range of things to appeal to one and all – it could be a murder mystery evening, a Mid-Summer Day lunch, a pub quiz night, taking part in the Walton May Pageant, a rehearsed play reading with supper, or a Twelfth Night Supper – at which Gage members, their family and friends are all welcome. So when you see something you fancy joining in with on our website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – just contact us.
Our charitable work
As well as regularly contributing the upgrading of The Riddell Hall, The Gage has given donations to organisations like the local air ambulance service, and our production of The Drunkard in 2011 enabled us to donate £1,500 to Help for Heroes.
In September 2016 we launched The Gage Invitational Trophy, a charity quiz championship held between a local grouping of a dozen amateur drama societies, known as The Public Forum (which we also started up). The Forum helps to publicise each other’s events, enlarge our audiences and even share actors from time to time.
Gatton Community Theatre were the 2016 trophy winners, and together the groups’ teams raised £150.00 for our chosen charity, The Invictus Games Choir. Gatton held the trophy until 2018, when it was won by St Mark’s Players of Reigate and a cheque for £230 was sent to Combat Stress. St Mark’s Players will host the next quiz competition in 2020 – watch our website for updates. If you want to join the quiz but don’t belong to one of the drama groups, don’t worry – just get in touch with the contact person to see about fielding a team, or joining one.
The unsung heroes
It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot put on a great show without a great crew of backstagers, the people who do sets, lighting, sound, wardrobe, makeup, props and ‘front of house’ – oh, and make the tea at rehearsals, of course! We hold three open auditions each year, not just for actors and actresses but for people who’d like to learn and try out new skills, or offer existing ones, to help each production work – see our website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for details through the year, and get in touch.
And into the future
Just think how far technology has changed entertainment options since we started in 1950; these days you can watch what you choose more or less when and where you like on any number of platforms.
BUT – actually being at live entertainment gives a buzz like nothing else, so come and enjoy the fun of living theatre for two or three evenings a year! Not too much to ask, we hope, to help keep The Gage Players on-stage in your community. We look forward to welcoming you.
Our Spring 2019 play is the thriller Curtain up on Murder by Bettine Manktelow, playing on 2nd, 3rd and 4th May at 8pm. Tickets £10, box office 01737 812 703, doors and bars open at 7.30pm.