Rustington Players celebrate their centenary

It’s hardly been the centenary any of them were looking forward to, but the Rustington Players are determined to make the best of it.

Quiet Wedding, May 1947
Quiet Wedding, May 1947

To mark their 100 years, they will return to the play with which it all began for the then Rustington Amateur Dramatic Society back in 1921.

The Rustington Players are going to be staging a Zoom reading on April 19 of the one-act piece My Lord in Livery – an event for members, family and friends.

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Meanwhile, all the events which the Players had been hoping to stage for this year’s centenary year will be pushed back to 2022, including a production of Amadeus in November next year.

Happiest Days of our Lives, November 1957

Chairman Keith Daly said one of the reasons he took on the chairmanship was to see the company through its big anniversary – and despite all the difficulties and frustrations, the company has managed to hold together well.

The Rustington Amateur Dramatic Society was born on April 21 1921 (later renamed Rustington Players). The initial subscription was 17s 6d per annum, and the aim of the society was “the study of and educational instruction in drama, the reading and performance of plays.” Membership was “open to all interested in drama, either acting or non-acting.”

They made their debut with My Lord in Livery staged in a hall in Church Road Rustington – and that’s the piece the Players are now commemorating.

“Like any group, it has gone through ups and downs over the years and there have been several small gaps including for the war, but we are now in a very good position, to be honest. We don’t have the membership that we used to, in terms of numbers, but very few companies do. People tend to come in for certain performances, but we still maintain about 90 members and financially we are very healthy.

“We have been very lucky over the past few years. Our audiences have gone up and have also changed. Rustington is a fairly elderly population, and we used to rely on that, but in the last eight to ten years things have changed a lot. We are now getting much more mixed audiences.

“I think that is down to the choice of plays. We are not cutting edge, but we do try to go for a lot of variety. And I also think our membership has got a lot younger which also brings in different people.”

But certainly this past year has been challenging: “It has been very difficult to plan or to make any decisions with any certainty. It is not so much what has happened as the fact that you just can’t really make any decisions. But we have tried to keep things together. We have had online play-readings and we have had quizzes and we have even had a murder mystery, all online on Zoom, just in order to keep people interested. And it has helped, I think. The feedback is that people have been pleased to still be involved.”

Frustratingly they auditioned, cast and started rehearsing a play online just before Christmas, hoping to be able to stage it this March – which of course wasn’t able to happen. But the director and company have held together – and the hope is that The Fall & Rise of Gordon Grimshaw will take place at the Woodlands Centre from November 17-20 2021.

As for the centenary plans, Amadeus which was to have been the grand 100th-birthday production for November this year now moves to November next year.

There were also hopes to have a big 1920s-themed birthday party for the centenary this April. Instead it will happen in April 2022.

“There was some thought of maybe having the party in the summer when we could be outside and perhaps having a marquee, but that would have been expensive and we wouldn’t have been sure that it could go ahead so we decided to wait for next year for that one as well.”