Welcome to The Castle Players

Chair's Report - September 2015

Thank you all for coming to our AGM.

I’ll start this report by running through our main productions for the year, three of which had either a first world war or early twentieth century setting.

Kicking off what we hope will be a new production slot in the year, was Journeys End, directed by Steven Bainbridge in his first production for the Castle Players. We have of course known Steven for many years through his long association with the Turrets and previous Castle Player productions so it was a delight to see his directing skills bring the evocative play to capacity audiences in the Witham. Steven utilised his very strong cast to admirable effect, bringing out the tensions and fear of trench warfare. A very moving play of a style which we haven’t attempted since Mother Courage in 1995 but which I believe shows the wide range of talents we have in the Castle Players and was also an outstanding directing debut.


Journeys End was then followed by Thirty Nine Steps in what has been billed as Simon Pell’s directing finale. I truly hope this isn’t the case as I think this was his best Winter Show yet – it had everything – cod German accents, model planes, cod Scottish accents, under the cover scenes (literally), wee stops – what more could you ask for? As always it was well received in village halls across Teesdale and further afield, as such goes a long way to fulfilling our charitable objectives of encouragement of the arts in the public.

Stepping back slightly in time was the setting of Merry Wives of Windsor in the Edwardian Period. Again this was a directing debut, but this time by Mary Statsny, who of course has some experience in this field after being assistant and co-director to Simon in a number of productions. This, however, was her first show where she was completely in charge. She did this beautifully, highlighting the strong female characters in the play and their parallels with the suffragette movement. Simon ably built the streets of Windsor with a happy house (The Page’s) and a gloomy house (The Ford’s) plus a very large pub – though who would have thought that Peter would have been cast as Mein host? We had first motorised prop – who can forgot the bus – and also probably the largest number of frilly knickers seen in a Castle Players production. I’m sure you will all agree an excellent show.

Finally in terms of productions Sarah Fells has successfully lead a team reinstating the rehearsed readings which used to be a staple of our winter shows. These were a much loved feature of our repertoire and I personally am glad that we able to take these small scale productions to people who may not be able to see our normal shows.
Moving onto other significant events of the year, 21st June was an exciting day for us as the RSC unveiled its Play for the Nation project, featuring amateur groups from around the country who will be working with the RSC to stage Midsummer Night’s Dream in both regional theatres and also at Stratford. After a fairly onerous selection process the Castle Players have been picked as one of two companies in the North East, represented by Jill as a Director plus Andrew Stainthorpe, Peter Cockerill, Harry French, Graham Fewell, Ben Pearson and Ian Kirkbride. The BBC will be following the project and showcased it on Look North with a lovely item switching between the Old Well and the ground of the Museum.

Oh yes the People’s Theatre was also briefly mentioned.

We continue to remember Fred Traice both by the planting of a walnut tree in his memory at Greta Bridge and the Fred Traice Really Useful award, which this year went to Claudia Jevons for her sterling work in acting as Props Mistress and bossing us around to make sure we returned and didn’t break any of her props. Although she will be sorely missed I’m pleased to say that Claudia has been accepted on an Arts Course in Glasgow but I hope she will carry on her links with us whenever she is back home.
We’ve had a number of changes in key personnel over the last few months. After many many years Harry Robinson and Bob Blyth have hung up their generator keys. They will be sorely missed as they have been with us since 1989 in Harry’s case and 1991 in Bob’s case. In that time have built up an immense technical knowledge of how to set up the lights and sounds of our major outdoor shows. Although they have offered to act on a “consultancy” basis they will a hard act to follow and we are currently on the search for replacements to help Vaughan (who I hope will be back next year). In terms of the Board of the Castle Players we are also losing a long standing Trustees, Andy Moorhouse who has been with us since the early 1990’s. His input will be sorely missed, but I’m pleased to say that he will remain with the Castle Players, albeit not on the board. Happily we also have new blood on the board with Steven Bainbridge and Adele Tyler joining. Their fresh ideas and input will be greatly appreciated.

So what does the future hold for us?

Well we have yet another new Director producing plays for us. Laurence Sachs has really bitten the bullet by offering to direct both the Winter Show, Pride and Prejudice, and the Summer Show, Henry V. The latter will be our first outdoor historical play and promises to be a very exciting production. Watch Chris’s newsletter in January for the dates of the first read through. In the meantime the Pride and Prejudice audition and rehearsal process has just started, with the tour starting in January.
Socially, as ever, we continue to meet in our spiritual home - the Old Well. Steven is also on the look out for a team to plan a funding raising dinner event which should be great fun. I hope we will also have trips to Newcastle and Stratford to see our Mechanicals, supported by the RSC.

So the coming year promises to be a very exciting time – that’s not to say it will not be without its challenges.

The board is very conscious that our Articles of Association are almost 25 years old. To that end we have decided that they will be reviewed to determine whether they are still fit for purpose. We will also instigate training for the Trustees to ensure that we are fully aware of our responsibilities and also to make sure that we too are fit for purpose!
One thing that has become apparent this year is that there are a number of people in the company who do a large number of unsung jobs that other people are not aware of. Teresa has therefore offered to pull together a DIY Manual of how to run the Castle Players ,with input from all and sundry. This Manual will also be used to ensure we have continuity of experience and also to share out work to make sure that the burden doesn’t fall too heavily on a few individuals as it does at the moment. At the same time the team organisations will be reviewed with closer co-ordination between the team leads planned.

Repeating my call from last year we also need more young members of the Castle Players, particularly those who will stay in the area. We have made some progress in this area but we need to continue the search, to continually bring in fresh blood, new ideas, new acting and new technical talent.

A final challenge is accommodation in the medium to long term. Only through the ongoing generosity of Gill Carter were we able to keep our prop store and we know the long term future of Greta is not secure. So - if anybody knows of a rich benefactor willing to give us a large store – please let us know.

Finally I just want to express my thanks to all the members of the board and yourselves for all the hard work you have given over the last year. It because of your dedication and support that we able to put on such excellent shows – year after year.

Thank you.

Angus Wheeler
September 2015


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