The Little Theatre on the Move
Opening the HBLSS’ 75th anniversary celebrations in 1980, society stalwart Mr G.T.E. Gibson (son of founder member Eddie Binney Gibson) recalled the early days of the Little Theatre:
In 1924 the Dramatic Section of the Society was formed and a play, “The Walls of Jericho,” performed at the Co-operative Hall. This venture into the world of live theatre was appreciated and the following year “His House in Order” was produced.
I was cast for the part of the child and my lines were so drummed into me that I can still remember them after 54 years.
The popularity of these annual plays was such that a larger hall was required and for two or three years they were staged in the Picture House. Some one-act plays were also given.
Then the opportunity arose to form a Little Theatre, the plays to be private and staged for invited audiences only. This method of presentation had many advantages, not least exemption from the payment of Entertainment Tax. The venue for the new venture was the Band Pavilion, a wooden structure near the site of the present municipal bowling green.
If heavy rain or a hailstorm occurred during a performance the actors had the utmost difficulty in making themselves heard. Those early days in the band room were stimulating, exciting and unforgettable. Everything had to be improvised and as there was no stage, one had to be constructed the weekend before each production.
There were no seats in the hall so nearly 200 chairs had to be carried from the Grammar School across the canal bridge to the band room before the doors opened – and after each performance taken back to the school for morning assembly.
The scenery in those days consisted of curtains only and even the stage lighting was of a very temporary nature. The switchboard and light battens were all designed to be completely portable – I know because I made them. On the day following the last performance everything was packed away until the next production. The erection and demolition was undertaken four or five times each year.
The people of Hebden Bridge gave wonderful support to the Little Theatre and after a relatively short sojourn at the band room accommodation was acquired at the Trades Club, when a permanent stage and raked auditorium were constructed. For the first time scenery was used: stalwarts in those early days were Alan Moss, a stage manager who appeared capable of making any item of equipment required for a play, Jimmy Henderson, who in addition to producing plays also painted the scenery, and Freddie Pickles, who as property master was able to produce, on loan from Hebden Bridge residents, furniture, household furniture, ornaments and bric a brac.
A velvet proscenium curtain, with Jimmy Henderson’s design for the Little Theatre emblazoned on it, was created. The machinist who undertook this mammoth task was Dorothy Sowden, ably assisted by many of the ladies.
Note: Ted Hughes read some of his work at the celebrations by which time only the local history and drama sections remained. Plays performed that year included Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” and a parody of “The Mousetrap” by Agatha Christie.
Throughout its 70 year-plus association with the society the Little Theatre established a reputation for amateur dramatics of the highest standard, also overcoming many obstacles not least of which was the need for a permanent home. This was not achieved until 1948 when land next to the Trades Club in Holme Street was purchased and a new theatre built on the former site of Denroy’s Garage. This was replaced by the present structure in 1997 – the same year in which the Little Theatre separated from the society to form an independent organisation.