Way back in 1921 when a small number of All Saints members and their friends got together to raise funds for the Church, they could hardly have imagined that 90 years on the society they founded would still be going strong. With a thriving membership enthusiastically engaged in every aspect of theatre, from set construction, sound and lighting, to make-up, props, front-of house and, of course, performing. But that is precisely what has happened. From its modest beginnings, a few friends presenting a revue entitled “A Little Fowl Play”, the Alton Dramatic Society grew to become the Alton Operatic and Dramatic Society (AODS) of today: a two-shows-a-year society which still supports causes in the local community as well as providing first class entertainment for the people of Alton, and a hectic social life.
Think of almost any major local event, and the AODS has played a part in the civic celebrations. In 1952 and 1953, the Society helped Alton celebrate the Queens accession – by treating audiences to rousing performances of “Merrie England” In recent years, we have provided carol singing at Alton’s start to Christmas.
During World War II, some of our members went to Bordon to entertain ‘our boys’, whilst after the end of the war we entertained German prisoners-of-war from Fishers Camp. It must have been a curious sight: a hall packed to overflowing with grey-clad German soldiers enjoying that most English of spectacles, a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers”. They were apparently an extremely enthusiastic audience, which just goes to show (as all opera fans know) a good opera is good in any language, even if not your own.
Around our 75th birthday, AODS took part in the D-Day landing commemorations. Through songs and sketches we remembered both the courage of our troops, and the strength of spirit of those left behind. Excerpts from their show, entitled “We’ll Meet Again”, were shared again with the veterans attending the VJ Day luncheon.
From contributing to the town’s Festival of Britain celebrations, to marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice”. AODS has been at the heart of Alton life. Through 90 years we have stayed true to our charitable beginnings, helping to make fund raising fun by providing entertainment in aid of local causes such as St John Ambulance, Rehab, The Rotary Club, and the Samaritans. Members have been involved in Singing for the Brain and The Alton Silver Song Club, and an Andrews Sisters ensemble, The Three Belles.
Many of AODS charitable activities are made possible by the support received in sponsorship and advertising from the business community, who know that there is no business like show business for raising your profile in the local community. But that is not the only thing their support has helped to raise: There is no doubt that production standards have felt the benefit.
We are proud to have won awards from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, the first being for the production of Alan Ayckbourn’s “A Chorus of Disapproval”, a play with songs which gave full rein to the Society’s dramatic and musical talents. Recently, we were awarded a NODA Accolade of Excellence in 2004 for “Curtain up on Murder” (Bettine Manktelow) and in 200f for “The Importance of Being Earmest” (Oscar Wilde). As for national acclaim, although AODS can no longer boast a full page of coverage in the “Daily Mirror” (as happened back in 1936), we have survived the competition from Film, TV and Video, even managing to sell out some of our latest innovations – the summer revue.
It is difficult to know what the society’s light opera devotees, who performed Gilbert and Sullivan almost exclusively for 40 years, would have made of some of our recent productions. In one in particular, a celebration of Broadway musicals, the number from the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, required audience participation involving mastering the pelvic thrust. If not exactly approving, they probably couldn’t have helped but admire the Society’s versatility. And in another vein, the production of Terry Pratchett’s play “Guards! Guards!”, with its dragons, discworld and magic was a long way from “A Little Fowl Play”.
But there is more to our society than what goes on stage. AODS has always enjoyed a lively social calendar, though the genteel tennis tournaments and coffee mornings have made way for more modern pastimes, from dinner dances and barbecues to uncharacteristically tuneful Karaoke nights
and riotous themed parties. Strange characters in stranger costumes. So, if you see some during any January/February take pity, it’s only us, enjoying ourselves as usual.
For more information or to join us, see our website or contact any member.
The above was written by Barbara Rayner and adapted by Eric Catterrall