The following article was published in the January 2011 edition of Your Local Link Magazine
The Joseph Rowntree Theatre is full of magical memories – thanks to the hundreds of shows it has staged over the years. Now, to mark the venue’s 75th anniversary, volunteers have put up a permanent exhibition of archive photographs, adding a touch of nostalgia to the stairwells.
They include a scene from the theatre’s first play – Ambrose Applejohn’s Adventure which was presented by the Rowntree Players in 1935. Another photo shows TV personality Jimmy Savile being on stage with members of the Evelyn Witcombe School of Dancing during a show called Dance Rendezvous in 1975. Evelyn herself graces a 1948 picture of the Lorna Tutte Dance School while another features David Bradley (Argus Filch in Harry Potter) in the Rowntree Youth Theatre’s 1964 production of West Side Story.
The exhibition was officially unveiled at an open day where people were invited to have a look round the theatre.
© 2010 Richard Foster, Your Local Link Magazine
Peter Jackson, aged 76, and his wife, Sheila, battled through heavy snow to get there from their home at Crambeck, a village near Malton. He’s been delighted by the theatrical aroma of greasepaint for most of his life. Even when serving as an air defence radar operator with the RAF in the 1950s he used to pay colleagues to do his shift so he could work backstage at Nottingham Playhouse. “I used to get 10 bob (50p) each performance,” he recalls. As this moonlighting was taking place during the Cold War, it was fortunate for Peter that the balloon did not go up when he was at the theatre rather than watching his radar screen at the RAF base!
After 12 years in the RAF, he left to train as a teacher at Ripon and spent 17 years at Joseph Rowntree School, eventually becoming head of drama. He recalls one particular year of students, a golden generation, that included three pupils who went on to enjoy showbiz success as adults – actor Mark Addy who found fame in The Full Monty, TV actor Nigel Betts and Patrick Murphy who worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Really Useful Theatre Company.
After retiring as a teacher Peter became stage manager at the Rowntree Theatre, an unpaid labour of love that took up a great deal of his time. He says: “I worked eight nights a week and all day Sunday. It was hard work, but great fun as well.”
After 11 years he decided to bow out. He recalls: “I was doing 12/13 hour days and when my wife realised I was climbing 20ft ladders to change light bulbs at the age of 70 it was time to call it a day.”
Ten years ago the theatre was in danger of closing, until a group of enthusiasts banded together and, backed by Nestle, succeeded in keeping the venue going. Dan Shrimpton, managing director of the Rowntree Theatre, says: “Our watchword for 2011 will be consolidation to ensure the theatre gets through a tough climate with people spending less. We will continue to improve facilities at the venue. Having spent around £11,000 on 12 radio microphones, we now want to raise about £5,000 to pay for a new lighting control system.”
Original January 2011 article from Your Local Link Magazine (in PDF format)