The Origins of The Compton Players
The origins of the Compton Players are something of a mystery. It is believed that they evolved out of groups such as Compton Women’s Institute and The Compton Church players, who rehearsed and performed plays under the direction of Mr H.J. Johns, a local schoolmaster.
In April, 1946, The Newbury Weekly News reviewed a three-act missionary play, presented in Compton, by a group called The Compton Church Players. The play was The Silver Bag by Charles Hemming and the cast included at least two or three names which later appeared regularly in the early Compton Players’ cast lists. One of them, Mr Johns, produced all the early C.P. productions up to 1954, and Ernest Golby was still acting with the group well into the 1960’s.
In a report on Compton WI: from the Newbury Weekly News of 27th February 1947, there is a reference to an entertainment which said, “…During the social half hour a dress rehearsal performance of a one act play Snob Court Hotel was given by the Drama Section under the direction of Mr H. J. Johns.” No record seems to have survived of the production of The Man from Toronto but there can be little doubt that it must have taken place. For forty years it has been at the top of the list of previous productions on the back of the Compton Players programmes.
On the basis of this accepted fact the Golden Jubilee was celebrated in 1997. The first reference to the play is its appearance in a list of previous productions on the programme for Third Time Lucky in 1954. There are no dates given and the list is certainly not in chronological order. In 1957, on the programme for Flarepath, the first dated list of previous productions puts The Man from Toronto at the head of the list with the date 1947. At that time, those who should have known, certainly considered it to be a Compton Players production. It is possible that The Man from Toronto was another WI production and because it involved others besides WI members (there are three men in the cast), the group decided to call themselves The Compton Players.
The Compton Players were undoubtedly formed toward the end of 1947 as their debut under that name was reported by The Newbury Weekly News in May 1948.
“The newly-formed drama group, known as the Compton Players, under their producer, Mr H. J. Johns, presented J. B. Priestley’s comedy of detection Mystery at Greenfingers, in the Village Hall on Wednesday and Thursday last week. Inspired by the welcome accorded their initial venture, the Players are hoping to produce another full-length play at the end of the year.”
This last sentence suggests that Mystery at Greenfingers was the initial production, under the actual title The Compton Players, but it is also fairly obvious that the same people were involved in all these early productions, and that the birth of the Compton Players gradually evolved rather than appearing overnight ready formed.
We celebrated our Diamond Jubilee year in 2007 with a contemporary production of Shakers Re-Stirred in the Spring. We then held a rehearsed reading of our first ever production The Man From Toronto, followed in November 2007 by our epic production of Macbeth, to end a great year.
As you can see from our list of previous productions, we really have been producing plays annually since 1947 and intend to continue for at least another 60 years!