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History Section

So far we have only have a history of the Durham Dramatic Society but we intend to have a general history of Fowlers Yard as well eventually. If anyone has any pictures or information please contact us using info@fowlersyarddurham.co.uk

Durham Dramatic Society

The first recorded meeting of the Amateur Dramatic Society (the Amateur was dropped later to take advantage of more favourable terms when performing plays by G.B. Shaw), was held on 15 November 1928. Membership was to be open to members of the Health Department of Shire Hall, Old Elvet, and also to any gentlemen outside the department. There were thirty members, of whom seventeen took acting parts. The annual subscription was 2s. 6d. [12½p], later raised to 5s. [25p] with travelling expenses paid from the funds. Rehearsals were held in the Nalgo Club Hut, a room at the Garden House or in members' homes. For fifty years the booking of seats was organised through Donkins, the tobacconist in the Market Place.

In the early years there were close links with the Shire Hall Music Society, which provided interval music and also shared in joint productions, 1934 - 1936. Members also took part in the Shakespearean productions of Eric Barber on behalf of the Durham House Settlement.

The Society joined the British Drama League in 1929 and competed regularly in its festivals with considerable success, reaching the National Finals in the 1950s, coming second in 1955 with the production of Ye Gods. It was during this period that the society had over four hundred members of whom fifty took acting parts. The competitive tradition is successfully maintained by award-winning productions like Dickens's Children, at Richmond Festival in 2000.

Initially, during the Second World War, membership was affected by call up and civil defence requirements, so a monthly social meeting was started in order to retain members. The Society's producer, Mrs. Margaret Marshall, was, however, made head of the Durham Area of Voluntary Entertainment Service. This was the start of a very hectic period when plays and concerts were performed on a variety of stages, sometimes under fire and, once, before an unresponsive audience, which turned out to consist of newly-arrived Polish airmen who knew no English. The war years also saw the establishment of a Junior Section in 1944.

After the war, in 1946, the Society became a limited company. Difficulties with rehearsal and storage led to the purchase of the old British Restaurant in Back Silver Street. [This was built around 1800 and had been used as a printing works, with printing machines in the basement and the first floor specially strengthened by two extra pillars in the basement so that rolls of paper could be stored]. This was used as club and rehearsal rooms but difficulties remained with productions. Initially productions were held in St. Margaret's Hall, Crossgate, then in the hall of Whinney Hill School, where sets had to be taken down each night. From 1968, use of the Assembly Rooms, South Bailey, restricted productions to dates outside university terms. The dream of the Society having its own theatre met with various setbacks, until the proposal to alter the club rooms was accepted. The development of the theatre culminated in the opening of the City Theatre by Mrs Margaret Marshall in November 1986. The first production was

Season's Greetingsby Alan Ayckbourn which heralded an active and successful period in the history of the society. Since 1986, five productions a year have been staged in the City Theatre in Fowlers Yard. In 2006, patrons of the theatre and members of the Society were asked if they would favour the Society's sale of the City Theatre and the purchase of premises elsewhere, or the retention of the City Theatre and its refurbishment. The latter option was chosen, and, since 2006, a programme of refurbishment has taken place, including redecoration of the interior of the building, the replacement of the curtain for the stage, repairs to the roof, and insulation of the loft space above the wardrobe store.

The Society became a member of the Little Theatre Guild in 1993 and successfully hosted the Northern Regional Meeting of the Guild in October 2008.

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To find Fowlers Yard follow this link to a Mutimap map.