A long and distinguished history

Sutton Amateur Dramatic Club has been in existence longer that any other amateur drama group in the London suburbs and we believe it to be the 13th oldest in the UK. It was created in 1902 from the merger of Sutton Histrionic Club, a South Sutton group, which had been in existence since 1896, and a friendly rival from the Benhilton area that was also staging productions at the recently built Sutton Public Hall. It is a mark of the snobbery of the era that there are references in early accounts to the problems caused by mixing ‘the chalk and the cla’, a metaphor for the two ends of the town from which the groups came.


School, 1902

The first official SADC production was in December 1902, a comedy called School by T W Robertson, a playwright rightly unknown nowadays but a major figure in the London theatre of the late Nineteenth Century. The Club's performance won the first of many good reviews from the local press, who said, “The club produced an entertainment of which they may congratulate themselves for School requires a great deal of playing.”


The Diary of Anne Frank, 1980

At the time Sutton was a small town consisting mainly of one long, straggling High Street surrounded by open fields. The Public Hall, which in 1905 was the venue for the five-year-old Noel Coward’s first public performance, was an attractive brick building on the corner of St Nicholas Way and Hill Road. At the beginning it was lit by gas. The programme credits for School include “Gas arrangements by Mr C Palmer, Cheam Road”. Technology overtook Mr Palmer when he was replaced in 1905 by Leolyn Hart Ltd of Old Kent Road, who supplied “Scenery and Limelight”. For our twelfth production, The School for Scandal in 1907, we leapt into the modern world with “Electric Lighting by Mr Bert E Major of Russell Square”.

All of our main productions were staged at Sutton Public Hall until 1980. Our last show in the theatre, which had been our much loved home and to some extent exclusive domain for 78 years, was a memorable The Diary of Anne Frank. After several years without a fixed abode, during which time we mounted productions at Carshalton Public Hall, The Secombe Theatre and St Elphege’s Centre, we have been happily staging the majority of our productions since Hay Fever in 1993 at the Charles Cryer Studio Theatre.


The Heiress, 1950


Good Companions, 1949

In the early years SADC put on two shows a year but from 1906 that was increased to three with just two gaps – from 1914 to 1920 and from 1939 to 1945, when most people were otherwise engaged. A hundred and five years later we have staged 273 major productions, as well as numerous others such as workshops and festivals.

Over the years SADC has had many thousands of members. The largest number at any one time appears to have been 335 in 1950, when austerity put a premium on local entertainment, there was little competing television and the Club’s production of The Heiress was about to win the Howard de Walden Cup, the nationwide prize for amateur groups. Many of our members considered themselves local socialites in those days. There are stories of chauffeurs being sent to Dewey’s, a music shop in Grove Road that acted as our box office, to queue for the best seats when they first went on sale. There was a terrific demand for tickets and the ‘House Full’ boards were in regular use. Although inevitably smaller, SADC remains a large and thriving club; today we have about 70 members, most of whom are Full (acting) Members, the remainder being Associates, who benefit from free seats at our shows.


Jack Warner in
Middlewatch


Look Back in Anger, 1960

The Club’s Golden Age was around the First World War, when an extraordinary number of members went on to achieve fame on the professional stage. Gladys Young, who on her debut for SADC "at once made her reputation as a player of the first rank”, progressed to earn the title "The First Lady of the BBC”. Sometimes the successes may have been more of a surprise to their contemporaries. As Herbert Strudwick, the Assistant Hon Secretary, wrote in the programme for the hundredth production in 1949 (The Good Companions), "Nor could we surmise that the tall young stripling in The Passport [1914] would become that universally loved actor Leslie Howard [a star of Gone With The Wind], or that the little lady playing with him [Mabel Constanduros] was later to immortalise the Buggins Family. And the immaculate and silk-hatted lead in Leave it to Psmith [1933] could hardly have been expected to emerge as that far-famed ‘Bunger-up-of- ratholes’ – Jack Warner [now better known as PC49 in The Blue Lamp and as Dixon of Dock Green]”.


The Comedians, 1985

The Club’s productions have often been extremely ambitious. Before World War II shows were supported by a large orchestra. Directors were professionals and the sets, which the archive photographs indicate were often magnificent, were professionally constructed to our own designs. A variety of amazing ‘props’ was hauled on to the Public Hall stage (not a simple matter as anyone who has crewed a show there can confirm), including a live horse in The Calendar (1932), a taxi in 77 Park Lane (1937) and a car in The Good Companions (1949). Many have been theatrically daring too, like Look Back in Anger (1960) and Amadeus (1987). A few have been very controversial, such as A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1970) and Comedians (1985). Although we have built a reputation for being willing to stage adventurous work, we have always maintained a balanced programme of comedies and dramas, light and serious, classical and modern but continually striving for the highest standards achievable within the constraints of amateur theatre.


Our Town


Arcadia

Recent productions have included classics of the theatre like Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, challenging drama like Arcadia, Tom Stoppard’s convoluted mystery, and Sarcophagus, a portrayal of the aftermath of the Chernobyl tragedy, together with comedies like The Man Who Came to Dinner by Kaufman & Hart and whodunnits like Trap for a Lonely Man. For our centenary production in 2002 we commissioned the well known writer, Simon Brett, to pen a play especially for us - A Bad Dream has subsequently been published by French’s with ours detailed as the first production.A fuller history of the Club, entitled The Drama Unfolded, can be obtained for 10.00 from its author, Dick Bower, by e-mailing him at dick [dot] bower [at] btinternet [dot] com.






Sarcophagus








The Man Who Came to Dinner






Trap for a Lonely Man








A Bad Dream

Sutton Amateur Dramatic Club is a registered charity, number 259484 and a Member of the Arts Council of The London Borough of Sutton