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Origins

The society was formed in the drab, austere post-war years by Beryl Gray, a local teacher. On the wet winter's evening of Sunday 3rd November 1946, budding thespians gathered at Beryl's home in The Lynch.

In spite of the continuing food rationing her mother plied them with coffee and home made cakes and plans were made to stage a first production of three one act plays.

In the spring of 1947 performers and audience temporarily forgot one of the worst winters on record; the fuel crisis, a reduction in the meat ration and a 50% cut in beer production and revelled in the antics of Great Aunt Jemima and two other short plays.


The Lecture Hall


Since the first production Mere Drama Society has been indebted to the goodwill and generosity of the Lecture Hall Trust in providing it with a home.

The wide proscenium arched stage has, over the years, been transformed into a variety of sitting rooms and bedrooms in homes and hotels, into the peaceful villages of Melstock in Under the Greenwood Tree and Llareggub in Under Milk Wood; into the strife torn country of The Caucasian Chalk Circle and into the land where the Bong Tree grows in The Voyage of the Jumblies.

In 1953 the Society began renting the Drama room, conveniently situated within the Lecture Hall complex.
For our 50th Anniversary the room was cleared and redecorated and thanks to a generous donation of paint from Dulux, the help of committee members, and 25 hard working local youngsters, the project was completed in just one weekend.
Many local thespians have climbed the narrow staircase to the room above the Salisbury Street office of Gilyard Scarth, Estate Agents and Chartered Surveyors, formally Walworth & Co.
On performance nights they emerge in makeup and costume and it was difficult to recognise familiar faces in the photographs being exhibited in the Society's celebratory exhibition mounted in the Library during November 2003.


The Fifties

As well as its regular spring and autumn productions the Drama Society has helped Mere celebrate both local and national events.
Beryl Gray was ahead of her time in producing what would now be termed 'community plays' and perambulatory ones at that. In 1951 as the Skylon hung over London's South Bank, Mere's offering to the Festival of Britain was the pageant Charles II at Mere, 1651

In 1953 the nation rejoiced at the Coronation, the conquering of Everest, the end of the war in Korea and England regaining the Ashes after 20 years. Perhaps this lift in the national spirit accounted for the sell-out success of A Cure for Love.
A record profit of £28-l6-11d was spent on new scenery. Flats were desperately needed as in one play the producer's father was obliged to hang on to the scenery back stage to enable a performer to knock at the door of a house. Presumably that door was answered promptly!

In June a pageant was planned for the Coronation to be performed on the top of Castle Hill. At one rehearsal the normally patient and brilliant producer Beryl lost her composure when the whole cast were convulsed with laughter at a late-comer struggling up the hill - no concrete steps in those days- in complete medieval armour. Her efforts were in vain as the performance was rained off and had to be held in the Lecture Hall.


The One Act Play Festival

In 1951 Mere Drama Society instigated and hosted a non-competitive One Act Play Festival attended by 7 other drama groups. This was the first of many entries into local festivals.
In 1962, Prince Charles went to Gordonstone School and Mere Amateuer Dramatic Society went to the Wincanton Drama Festival with the one-act play, Tea For Three.
Since then the Merlin Theatre in Frome has been a more regular venue for the one act competition. In 1989 The Society was extremely proud when Jeanette Francis, (who had been a member of Mere Drama Society for 30 years), won the Marie Ritchie Award for Best Actress.

In 2009 M.A.D.S. entered the One Act Play festival held at The Woolstore Theatre, Codford and waltzed off with prizes for Best Costume for The Annotator, Best Comedy Actor to June Hewett as the Annotator in The Annotator, Best Production for Handles, Best Original Script to Adrienne Howell for Handles & Best Actor to Mary White for Doreen in Handles.


With the Community

M.A.D.S. frequently contributed to Carnival week with such popular productions as Carnival Capers, featuring monologues by the late Molly Francis, and the Carnival Revue, hosted by the late Peter Brewer.
One year a successful, humourous entry in the procession; No Litter in Three Acts won the Rutter Shield for the Society.
Since then they have regularly paraded in the costumes of their latest productions
In 2008 Maggie Durkee won best dressed collector in the Prince Charming costume from the production of Cinderella.

M.A.D.S. has also been a regular contributor to the Church Fete.
Amongst the stones of St Michael's churchyard, the Pied Piper has led children and rats, Noah has sailed his ark and King John has signed the Magna Carta.
A rather wet Victorian wedding party was notable for its reluctant young bridegroom, complete with stereo walkman, who had to be financially induced to play the part!

Collaboration with other local groups has also resulted in some notable productions:
In December 1974 Mere Drama Society joined with Mere Cub Scouts, Mere Manor Youth Band and staff and pupils of the Duchy Manor School to present Sing Nowell - A Christmas Journey for Children and in 1993 with Gillingham School for a production of Larkrise to Candleford.

M.A.D.S. also get involved in the local Literary Festival, providing readers for the poetry and prose sessions, supporting workshops on play writing and dressing up in suitable costumes to provide atmosphere for other presentations.
As part of the 2009 festival they reprised their award winning productions of The Annotator and Handles.


Profit & Loss

The fortunes of Mere Drama Society have certainly been varied.

In 1948 a production of Outward Bound realised a profit of £8 15s. 10d. - not bad when many locals worked a 55 hour week for a lot less. It was then decided to make a donation of £10 to Mere Football Club, so a profit turned into a loss.

Ambitious plans to build our own theatre in the late 50s came to nought and the money raised from the 'buy a brick' campaign was put to purchasing Exit lights for the Lecture Hall.

In 1994 A Tomb With A View netted £633 in ticket sales but set against that were expenses which included £147 for royalties, £120 for the hire of the hall for rehearsals and performances, £40 for the construction of a new flat, £60 for set design, £20 for props and £20 for the insurance of the advertising banner.

In the spring of 2003 an epic production of Voyage of the Jumblies with 25 children taking part struggled to make a profit of £70.

It is a credit to our founder members that they were able to donate a percentage of profits to charity. Sadly in modern times, like many professional theatres, it becomes more difficult to make ends meet. It is hoped that each production will make enough profit to pay the overheads, finance the next production and continue to upgrade equipment for future generations.

Grateful thanks go to all those who have worked for the society past and present.


The Directors

Mere has been fortunate in its choice of directors, probably the most unenviable task of any amateur company.

Beryl Gray took her responsibility seriously, risking life and limb to walk from her school in Tollard Royal through deep snow in order to get to a dress rehearsal of Night was Our Friend in January 1954. With sacking tied around her legs she walked the whole distance arriving at the Lecture Hall at 2pm when the rehearsal commenced.

Alastair Bannerman, noted for his spectacular productions at Stourhead, directed Fools Paradise and Breath of Spring for the Society with his wife Elizabeth taking part.

Kenneth Mosse won high esteem with his productions of Murder at the Vicarage, Ladies in Retirement, Rock a Bye Sailor, and I'll Get My Man.

Helen Carrington travelled from Tisbury to direct the company in plays such as Celebration and When We are Married.

Peter Brewer directed The Happiest Days of Your Life in 1975 and the Society revived this play for its jubilee production.
With some of the original cast taking part it was directed by Di Potter who has more usually filled the role of Stage Manager, but is no stranger to directing with Cat on the Fiddle and Lord Arthur Savile's Crime to her credit.

More recently Pip Brown and Jane Smith have shown their talent at this exacting task.

In such a small society members often have to turn their hands to many jobs including that of director. Among the stalwarts who have both acted and directed are Dorothy George, Jeanette Francis, Pip Potter, Maggie Durkee, Mary White, Allan Glide and the arch-villain of our pantomimes, Chris Wood.


The M.A.D.S. Diamond Jubilee Video.

In 2007, the society celebrated its sixty year anniversary. The following video was made to commemorate sixty happy years of MADS.

Video made by Simon Farnfield with archival assistance from Maggie Durkee

Grateful acknowledgement is given to the Farnfield family, and especially Simon, for the appearance of most of the content of these pages.