St Albans Company of Ten still going strong 75 years on

PUBLISHED: 10:57 22 August 2009 | UPDATED: 14:22 06 May 2010

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MANY local drama groups have come and gone over the years but not so the Company of Ten. It notches up 75 years in existence this current season and has come a long way from its beginnings in a garden shed in Mount Pleasant to its current location at the

The Queen Mother at the Abbey Theatre's opening night in 1968

MANY local drama groups have come and gone over the years but not so the Company of Ten.

It notches up 75 years in existence this current season and has come a long way from its beginnings in a garden shed in Mount Pleasant to its current location at the Abbey Theatre at Westminster Lodge.

When the Company of Ten was first established, St Albans was a small quiet city of just 30,000 inhabitants and Verulamium Lake was being established as part of a scheme to provide work for Durham miners during the Great Depression.

A group of young people met in the aforementioned shed in 1934 and literally counted heads to create the name The Company of Ten (CoT) - probably a wise choice as one of the options was the Dinkey Doos.

Their first play was Emlyn Williams' A Murder Has Been Arranged which was performed in Culver Hall - now replaced by flats - on November 2, 1934.

It was a great success and the Herts Advertiser was there to record it, resulting in the prophecy that the drama group would "forge ahead".

Three hundred seats were sold and the takings were £23 - a not inconsiderable sum in those days.

Once the production was finished, it was back to the shed to work on the next production - and the next, and the next, and the next.

Play followed play, tragic and comic, pantomime and home-written reviews. More members came forward to make costumes and scenery, sell seats and provide the creative back-up that makes live drama possible.

Even during the war, the CoT continued to perform, mounting weekly rehearsed play-readings in the Mayor's Parlour in what is now the Town Hall.

After the war Culver Hall, which had been requisitioned by the army, was found to be unusable so CoT embarked on a series of touring productions before, in 1949, a new home was found in the Conservative Hall in Waddington Yard.

But it was far from ideal with the CoT having to build their own theatre within the hall every time a play was staged and there was great relief all round when the drama group moved to Abbey Mill House which had been bought by one of its members.

A barn in the grounds was transformed into the Abbey Mill Theatre but 12 years and over 70 productions later, a tragically early death meant the house had to be sold and the theatre demolished.

It soon became clear that the Company - now numbering 200 members - needed its own theatre and when land became available at Westminster Lodge, the Abbey Theatre was built.

Michael Redgrave laid the foundation stone and the Queen Mother attended the first night of the first production.

That was over 40 years ago and CoT now has its own 230-seat theatre and 78-seat studio space, an extensive wardrobe department, fully-equipped workshops, a comprehensive props and furniture store and state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment.

CoT puts on 10 productions each year ranging from Ayckbourn to Chekhov, Shakespeare to Coward. The building is also busy seven days a week with local schools, visiting companies and education drama groups all using it.

As it has been throughout its 75 years, the CoT is entirely self-supporting and receives no support from public funds. Main stage productions are typically seen by up to 2,000 people.

The 75th anniversary season opens next month with the female version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, the appropriately-named The Anniversary by Bill MacIlwraith in November and Treasure Island as the Christmas show.

For the full programme visit www.abbeytheatre2.org.uk or call the box office on 01727 857861.

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