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The Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre
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The History of the GWT

From "50 Dramatic Years", a brief history of the GWT by John Measures

A triumph of enthusiasm over harsh reality; how else can one explain the Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre? It is not only surviving, but positively thriving after half a century. And yet Crayford's professional theatre, the Princesses Theatre, which stood where Waterside joins Crayford Way, disappeared in 1961 to be replaced by a block of shops and flats. But as Dame Sybil Thorndyke said, when she opened our present building in October of 1959: "An amateur is one who loves the theatre, who performs because he is dedicated to it, not merely earning a living. All of us who really care for the theatre are amateurs". 

After 1945, with the return of millions of men and women from the services to civvy street and the transition to peacetime - or to what Stevie Smith called "the post-war" as distinct from the war - came a release of pent-up energy which brought about a renaissance in social, political and cultural life. A major development was the great upsurge in amateur drama, ranging from the village hall romp to theatres achieving professional standards. London's Unity Theatre, The People's in Newcastle, Birmingham's Crescent Theatre, Questors in Ealing and scores of amateur groups throughout the country blossomed and promoted new and international drama, as well as the classics, giving early experience to many actors who later became household names on stage or screen. It was in May 1946 that eleven amateurs met in London to form the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain, which remains the umbrella organisation, with around one hundred theatres in affiliation. In the North-West Kent area an old-established and leading group, which is still going strong, was the Dartford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (DAODS) which each year produced a major musical and one or two straight plays, usually for a three or four night stand in Christchurch Hall, Dartford. It was a nucleus of members from this society, wanting to do more plays, for longer runs and in better surroundings, who joined with a few others to see what could be done. Hence the gathering on 18th April 1948 at the home of Arthur Simpson at 32 Bean Road, Bexleyheath. After a wide-ranging discussion it was accepted that since we did not possess the versatility and technique of the professional, it was wise to opt for the dependability of strongly constructed and well-written plays and also to aim for a permanent base which could be better equipped than the average church hall. The two fundamental objectives were minuted as follows:

  • to have a permanent theatre of our own
  • to undertake "the production of acknowledged classics of all countries and ages and outstanding modern plays"

Thus our theatre was born. The original fourteen members each contributed the princely sum of one pound, providing the seed corn from which the Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre was born. But I am leapfrogging some of the history; that was not initially our name. As we were to be a completely new drama group, with breathtaking imagination, we decided to call ourselves "The New Theatre Group".

For more information on Geoffrey Whitworth CBE