|The Ridware Theatre|
Following the heady business of the Society's AGM, a large audience of members was treated to a fascinating talk by Alan Williams about this intimate little theatre. Alan was introduced by our chairman as "The man behind the Ridware Theatre". This was a fully justified title, for it was Alan and his wife Margaret, who had a vision in 1984 of the potential of the redundant little Church of St James in their home village of Pipe Ridware. Alan started his talk by retracing his steps back to the late 1940s and to his home county of Yorkshire - where he was first bitten by the acting 'bug'. From there a work move to Derby meant an association with the Derby Playhouse and a subsequent move brought him closer to Lichfield; acting, directing and writing with the Highbury Theatre at Sutton Coldfield. So the scene was set. By 1981, the church authorities decided that St James's Church was no longer required for worship. It was up for sale. Someone said to Alan, "why not start a theatre there" and as they say, the rest is history.
Against the odds, Alan and Margaret leased the church for 25 years and have slowly turned it into a comfortable and intimate performance venue. Over the years, a stage has been built, the pews removed and the auditorium raked. Redundant cinema seats were sourced from a cinema in Hull ("have as many as you want"). By 1992, they felt confident enough to fund the installation of running water, the provision of toilets, doubtless easing the audience's psychological problems during lengthy performances! Dressing rooms were installed with funding from the government Youth Training Scheme. At the turn of the millennium, growing problems with a deteriorating roof were resolved with substantial funding from the Staffordshire Environmental Fund. Paying performances got underway in 1985 with 'Ex Cathedra', generating much needed income to ensure the theatre's survival. Since then the theatre has gone from strength to strength, its 66 seat auditorium often sold out. However we are in difficult times. Currently running at a small annual loss and faced with the withdrawal of grant support from local authorities, Alan and Margaret cannot take a complacent view of the future. The fight to sustain the theatre continues.
Let us hope that this 'little gem' in our countryside continues to provide pleasure with the high standard it sets, attracting performers from far and wide. The audience at our meeting certainly value it and many tributes were paid to Alan and Margaret for their commitment and for the quality of performances staged there. Information on the theatre and the programme can be found at www.theridwares.co.uk