Take a look behind the scenes
Take a look behind the scenes
Durham Dramatic Society is an amateur dramatic group which has been in existence since 1924. The Society presents its performances in the City Theatre, a bijou city-centre venue with an audience capacity of 71. Usually five main productions are presented each year, in January, April, June, September and November, with an additional studio production in August. Each production is given seven performances (a Sunday matinee, then Monday through Saturday evenings), all of which are bookable (see “tickets” below). As a group which actually owns its own theatre, Durham Dramatic Society qualifies for membership of the Little Theatres Guild of Great Britain, of which it has been a member since 1994.
The City Theatre is down by the riverside in Fowler’s Yard. It was originally the British Restaurant: from 1950 it became the Society’s Club Rooms and finally, in 1986, it was fully adapted to become the City Theatre. The story of the design and building of the City Theatre is told in Tom Gardiner’s little book “The Story of the City Theatre” (which is available at the Theatre, price £2.50). It is fitting that Tom should be the author of this story, because he and he alone led and inspired the whole project from beginning to end: certainly it would never have happened at all were it not for his unstinting and unselfish effort. A plaque on the wall of the Theatre Lounge Bar (which is named after Tom) pays tribute to his remarkable feat.
Durham Dramatic Society was born in the Health Department of the Durham County Council, but in 1929 the doors were opened to the general public, and the first production by DDS was staged in October of that year. In its early years, the Society had great success participating in various national one-act play competitions, reaching the Divisional Final of the British Drama League Festival in 1933,1934, 1936, 1937 and 1939. The 1934 entry was Tragic Nesta, a play written by Clifford Box,the well-known playwright, which he had specifically entrusted to the Society for its first-ever performance.
The war years 1939-45 were really the making of the Society, after the Voluntary Entertainment Service was established in November 1939, and Margaret Marshall (who, over a long career, produced over 100 full-length plays and many one-act plays for DDS) was made responsible for the Durham area. If anything put D.D.S. on the map, it was the war-time experience of its active members (one of whom, Joan Hall now shares the joint Presidency of the Society with her husband John!). In all Margaret Marshall organised 934 shows (variety and plays), of which 228 were three-act plays, almost all of which were performed by D.D.S., and included over 100 performances of Gaslight – a winner with troop audiences – with Margaret herself playing the role of Mrs Manningham.
In 1946, the Society became a Company Limited by Guarantee, and used Whinney Hill School as a venue for most of its productions, and in 1949 the Society’s one-act entry in the British Drama League’s Festival, The Crown of St. Felice, was chosen to compete in the National Final at the Scala Theatre in London’s West End!
In 1950 the Society acquired the old Civic (British) Restaurant in Back Silver Street: these premises were used as Club Rooms for rehearsals, set building, property and costume storage, committee meetings and social meetings, but not as a theatre until 1984. From 1968, the Society began to perform plays in The Assembly Rooms in Saddler Street, and this continued until the middle of 1986, when our final production was The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan.