Doncaster Theatre group wants to bring back its ‘Children's Theatre’ shows after The Graduate

Their shows for children used to be a staple for schools across Doncaster.

By David Kessen
Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 7:00 pm

And now, Doncaster Rep, a group dating back to the 1930s, is looking at how it can bring them back – years after it last staged their Children’s Theatre shows.

Most recently the organisation is working on its latest show, a production of The Graduate, which the first show the group has performed at the second stage in Cast.

After that, it is are looking into how it can bring back the old tradition.

Margaret Hamilton, stars as Mrs. Robinson. She is pictured here with Mike Belfield, as Benjamin Braddock. NDFP-26-10-19-TheRep-2

Back in the old days, the Rep would take its show on a tour of the schools.

But it is looking at a different plan in the future, where the audience would have to come to see it.

Chairman Chris Green, a member of the group for 15 years, admits he would like to see the old children’s shows return and wants to see it happen next year.

He said: “I think if we had the right show, it would be great to bring them back. Someone said to me quite recently that it’s a shame we don’t do the children’s theatre any more. I said at the time, what about doing children’s theatre again?

Rick Woffenden, Mr Robinson and Mike Belfield, Benjamin Braddock, pictured. NDFP-26-10-19-TheRep-6

“Last time we did it, about 10 years ago, we were lucky in that we had a grant that let us hire a van and take it round the schools, and it meant that the schools didn’t have to pay much. That was a production of George’s Marvellous Medicine.

“I would like us do do another show for children, maybe two or three nights. I see it as bringing back a tradition.”

Chris, who joined the rep after taking drama at night school, remembers when he first took part in the children’s shows with the group, playing Peter in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He was aged 26 – playing a character who was 13.

He said: “It was my first one. I remember there was a scene were the script said I was about to be stabbed. Most of the crowd, about 500, were shouting ‘Peter’. Not all of them though. I heard one voice shouting ‘stab him’!

Mike Belfield, as Benjamin Braddock. NDFP-26-10-19-TheRep-3

“The next year, I played Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Factory. I couldn’t escape the role. My wife and I were looking for a house at the time. We went to look at one, and when we got there a boy shouted ‘It’s Augustus Gloop!’ It stays with you.”

Richard Woffinden, the longest serving member of the group who joined in 1969, also has memories of the children’s shows. His favourite relates to appearing as the Hare in the Tortoise and the Hare.

He had set off at a canter around the room in the race against the tortoise...but he didn’t get far.

Members of the young audience took the outcome of the race into their own hands and jumped on him to slow him up and give the tortoise a fighting chance!

The Rep are putting on a production of The Graduate at Cast in Doncaster. Margaret Hamilton, Starring as Mrs. Robinson, Chris Green, The Rep Chairman and also starring as Mr. Braddock, Mike Belfield, Benjamon Braddock, Rick Woffenden, longest serving member of The Rep and stars as Mr. Robinson, Marion Lowndes-Sanderson, stars as Mrs. Braddock, Kath Woffenden and Kate McKeown, both wardrobe mistresses, pictured. NDFP-26-10-19-TheRep-1

“I had to be rescued from the kids,” he said.

Lydia North, 26, who played Elaine in the Rep’s version of The Graduate, told the members when she joined she had loved the children’s theatre shows when she was a child.

She was part of a cast of 12 in The Graduate that also includes Chris and Richard.

The show was originally going to be a performance of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – but they were unable to get the rights.

The group currently has around 35 members, a large proportion of whom are aged 19 to 30. Although they feel it is a healthy number, it is less than previous eras, when membership was as high as 50.

Ex-members include former Downton Abbey and Gentleman Jack actor Thomas Howes, who still sometimes comes to see productions.

Rick Woffenden, Mr Robinson, Margaret Hamilton, Mrs. Robinson, Mike Belfield, Benjamin Braddock and Marion Lowndes-Sanderson, Mrs. Braddock, pictured. NDFP-26-10-19-TheRep-5

The Graduate is the first show the group has performed at the Cast second stage. Show were originally staged at the Arcadia in Waterdale. and then later in its incarnation as Donaster Little Theatre. More recently it has based its shows at the Ukranian Club on Beckett Road.

Another long-serving group member of the Rep is Kate McKeown, a member since 1970. She now works behind the scenes in areas like costume.

Her time on the stage with the group was something of a shock. She was cast as an extra that year in a show called the Real Queen of Crim Tartary. But after a number of cast members went down ill, she was promoted to the role of the queen the day before.

“I had about eight pages to learn quickly,” said said.

She was called on to take to the stage for The Graduate.

Chris, who played Benjamin’s dad in the show, said before the show: “We are excited about doing our first show at the second stage at Cast. There is a lot of work, because we have to get the set on there and take it town at a certain time, but you can do so much more there than some other venues – it is a proper theatre.”

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