East Lane Theatre, Vale Farm, Watford Road, Sudbury, Middlesex, HA0 3HG Registered Charity Number 1183134
Part 3: Putting Down Roots (1971-1989)
The seventy full-length productions in this third instalment of East lane’s history, give the overall impression of business as usual, but, like the swan sailing along serenely, there was a lot of furious paddling going on underneath.
At the beginning all seemed well, the Society had 78 members, the Building Fund and General Reserve stood at £200, and ticket prices were a modest 5/- for Thursdays and Fridays and 6/- for Saturdays.
There was a new musical from Barry Serjent, BRING BACK YESTERDAY (1971), John Hobbs directed the famous French farce AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT (1972), and the Society entered into the Theatre of the Absurd with Eugene Ionesco’s EXIT THE KING (1973), directed by Peter Osborn. But in 1975 something of a crisis developed, with a disheartened Committee and no-one willing to take on the post of chairman. It looked as though the Society would not be able to continue, but John Young was persuaded to step into
the breach, and his first season, co-inciding with the 40thAnniversary, proved to be a great success. In addition to a new revue LOOK NO BATHCHAIRS!, the 1975/6 season included the Francis Durbridge thriller SUDDENLY AT HOME, in which Bryan Hourihane made his East Lane debut.
In January 1974, the Society was warned that it might have to vacate the space at Vale Farm House, where a lot of the scenery and props were stored, and this became fact the following year. With the old tennis pavilion already full to overflowing, set building then had to take place in the open air, and it was clearly essential to find more space.
Trevor Cass, the Society’s Maintenance Officer, made enquiries which resulted in the purchase of a second hand building 48’ x 24’, previously used as a canteen. Fund raising, and an application for planning permission to erect the building alongside the pavilion, were immediately put in hand, and work on the site got underway on 2nd June 1979. With professional help to dig out the foundations and deliver the concrete, members, friends and even parents turned out in force, and by Sunday 10th the first stage was complete. Two months later, the walls and roof were in place, and work continued for the next two years, masterminded by Trevor, who was made an Honorary Life Member in recognition of his efforts, and by September 1980, enough work had been done to hold a Grand Opening Day; the Mayor of Brent did the honours, and there were sideshows, stalls and refreshments which helped to raise over £500 to carry on fitting out the building.
It was the climax to three years of planning and hard work, demonstrating the loyalty and commitment of the members. In return, they now had a permanent place to build scenery, store costumes, and perhaps most importantly, to rehearse without worrying about booking halls and classrooms, and coping with un-cooperative caretakers.
During all this the productions continued. A double bill of AFTER MAGRITTE and THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND (1981), directed by John McGee and Hugh Wolfson respectively, introduced the Society’s audiences to the work of Tom Stoppard. Another member of the Society, John Howard, turned author and wrote two revues AT LAST IT’S 1980 and A BIT ON THE SIDE (1983), before collaborating with Barry on FIFTY-FIFTY (1986) to celebrate the Society’s Golden Anniversary Year.
It was just over two years later, in November 1988, that a critical point in the Society’s history was reached; the Elms Hall, where we had staged our full length productions since 1961, was scheduled by the Parish Council for redevelopment, and we were given notice to quit. Work began immediately, not only to find alternative premises, but also to investigate the possibility of converting the workshop into a small theatre. A number of local halls were visited, but there was no ideal successor and so, at an Extraordinary General Meeting on 23rd May 1989, it was overwhelmingly decided that this was an opportunity to realise the long cherished dream of a home of our own. Rosemary Hourihane, who had been such an important member of the team that built the workshop, was appointed Theatre Project Manager, and immediately applied to the Council for permission for change of use. This was by no means a foregone conclusion, but planning and fund raising went forward with great enthusiasm. A continuous reading of Joe Orton’s plays raised £1000, and seat sponsorship added another £3000. Grants were applied for from the Council and the Edward Harvist Trust, and there were many individual donations, loans and imaginative fund raising schemes.
The final production in Elms Hall, in May 1989, was Joe Orton’s LOOT, directed by the Society’s Chairman Bryan Hourihane. Although the condition of the hall had deteriorated in recent years, there was an element of sadness in leaving it, and similarly when, in November 1989, at another Extraordinary General Meeting, it was resolved to change the Society’s name to the East Lane Theatre Club, in readiness for its new and very different way of life.
It was on 6th March 1990 that Brent Council granted permission for the Club’s workshop to be converted into a theatre, but, in anticipation, planning and fundraising had already been going on for several months.
It is difficult now for audiences and newer members to appreciate the changes that have occurred over the years, and the work that had to be done. The workshop, a second hand building purchased in the late 1970s, became the theatre, looking much as it does today, linked by a temporary foyer to the old 1930s tennis pavilion, which was to become the café/bar.