Gala night as Archway Theatre marks 70 years

The Archway Theatre, Horley welcomed a host of dignitaries and VIPs on Saturday, July 16 for their gala night performance of the musical Oliver!

Archway celebrations - credit Mark Dobson Photography
Archway celebrations - credit Mark Dobson Photography

Oliver! continues at the venue from July 21-24 and from July 28-30.

The gala evening, enjoyed by over 90 audience members, formed the centrepiece of the Archway Theatre’s 70th anniversary programme.

Spokesman Greg Field said: "It was back in 1952 that the Horley Central Players (itself formed back in 1939) first performed in the Railway Arches of the viaduct that takes Victoria Road over the railway, next to Horley Station. In 1956 the arches were converted into a permanent theatre, and the following year, fellow local group, the Barts Players were invited to also put on their plays at the site. Both groups called the theatre their home, until the two companies merged in 1987 to form the Archway Theatre Company.

"Lionel Bart’s Oliver! (book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart) was the natural choice for the Archway’s 70th anniversary, with its winning combination of colourful characters and incredibly catchy songs.

"The 1960s musical has been hailed as a true theatrical masterpiece by actors and audience members alike.”

The Archway put on two memorable productions of the musical in 2000 and 2013.

The show is being directed by Laura Day who studied musical theatre at The BRIT school of performing arts and has been a theatre member for 29 years.

Laura was in the previous two productions of Oliver! playing Bet in 2000 and Nancy in 2013.

“Directing our 2022 version has been an amazing experience for me!” she said. “I’ve had the honour of working with the most talented cast and the most hard-working crew. They have truly felt like one big Archway family to me during rehearsals and I’m so proud of what they achieved.”

Musical direction and piano accompaniment is by Carlene Corrigan who has more than 20 years’ experience teaching music, primarily piano, though her musical scope includes playing several instruments and composition.

The gala night also saw the unveiling of the new Archway chairwoman. Carolyn Withey, a deputy headteacher in primary education. Carolyn grew up on the Archway stage. Her late father, David White, was an instrumental figure in the history of the Archway Theatre, having been involved in all aspects, from directing, lighting, to running the bar since its inception. He was the first chairman from 1987 to 1993.

Oliver! runs continues from July 21-24 and from July 28-30:

The Archway Theatre’s origins began in 1939 in much the same way as many other amateur theatre companies did – as a small group of enthusiasts using local halls as a venue. During the war years and after it grew, in 1952 it established itself “underneath the arches.”

These had been created in 1909 when a road bridge was built, crossing the railway line at Horley Station.