A Brief History of HADS

When the curtain went down on The Man from Toronto, a comedy in three acts by Douglas Murray, with the lovers clinging to each other in the ruddy glow of sunset, the critic from the Woking News and Mail went into verbal raptures: “Horsell Amateur Dramatic Society,” he said, had “achieved a distinct triumph in their first public performance.”  That was on 2 February 1922.

Amateur drama had made its first impact in Horsell before the First World War, when the then curate, the Rev. J.H.C. Evelegh, persuaded dozens of villagers to take part in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Its effect on the rural scene was described in a long article in The Spectator of the time.  But it was just after that war that Woking’s oldest drama society was born out of a get-together in a room above a bank in Horsell, where a group of young enthusiasts decided to try their hand at the acting game.  In June 1921, they gave a private performance of a play called Our Flat.  It went down so well that that they decided to go ahead with public performances and formed a society, with Mr John Shipton as Hon. Secretary.  It’s been going strong ever since!

Performances were rather grand in the early days.  Audiences wore evening dress and Mrs Mary Mathews led the Winona Amateur Orchestra, a three-piece comprising violin, cello and piano, which, as the News and Mail critic once wrote, “further enhanced the performance with beautiful selections.”  Everything was very strait-laced and to gain membership of the Society was difficult.  Irene Hutchence, who died in 1986, but who is still remembered with affection by many connected with drama in the Woking area, joined in 1928 and considered it to be a great honour.  “You didn’t ask them – they asked you,” she used to say; “You couldn’t just go along and offer your services.  It was a very exclusive kind of club.”

Saturday nights in those days were great nights with sheaves of bouquets being presented to the cast, followed by a party in the Village Hall basement or a formal evening dress affair at the home of the current President.

During the Second World War, the Society produced no major plays but did take part in a number of festivals staged by the British Drama League. The first production after the War wasThe Barretts of Wimpole Street.  It proved to be a grand reunion and a marvellous occasion.  The wardrobe mistress is reported as having major problems with crinolines that were limp and wigs that were “ugh!” as a result of long storage during the war.

Like all societies, HADS has its memories of celebrities.  A young Patrick Moore, teaching for a time at St Andrew’s School in Horsell, took part in five productions and had an amazing photographic memory.  He only had to go through his part once to know it.

In 1979, HADS moved away from its home at the Village Hall and presented, Absurd Person Singular in the then three-year-old Rhoda McGaw Theatre.  Now, all its major productions are presented at the Rhoda but the Village Hall remains its base and main rehearsal venue.

Even though there have, of course, been ups and downs during the Society’s long history, (we like to think more ups than downs!), there can be no doubt that there have been many memorable productions, individual performances and sets, all of great quality.

A competing team in the very first Woking Drama Festival in 1959, the Society has enjoyed great success in this prestigious annual event.  Its directors, performers and backstage crews have won many awards and on six occasions, have taken The Bruzaud Challenge Cup for the winning Best Play of the Festival.

As HADS begins its last decade before its centenary, it is to be hoped that it produces many more “distinct triumphs” as that critic put it when writing about The Man From Toronto way back in 1922!