After 71 years, the final curtain comes down on Market Harborough Musical Theatre

The final curtain has come down on an amateur dramatic society in Market Harborough after an astonishing 71 years.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 9:32 am
Updated Thursday, 12th December 2019, 9:33 am
The Market Harborough Musical Theatre say farewell.

The sad ultimate punchline sealing Market Harborough Musical Theatre’s fate was delivered at the town’s Royalist pub.

Members, friends and supporters gathered to witness the group’s funds handed over to Adrian Trotter, chairman of Market Harborough & The Bowdens Charity.

The leading local charity will use the money to support the performing arts in the Harborough area.

Gillian Bindley, ex-chairman of the theatre’s trustees, said they had paid an emotional final farewell to audiences with Anything Goes in 2017.

She said: “In its heyday Market Harborough Musical Theatre, formerly Market Harborough and District Amateur Operatic Society, sold out for performances of musical comedy, light operettas and modern musicals with audiences upwards of 2000.

“Coachloads came from as far away as Glenfield and the villages in between Leicester, Market Harborough and Kettering.”

The brave venture was inaugurated in 1948 by members of the original Market Harborough Amateur Operatic Society.

A public meeting led to the first performance in 1949 of HMS Pinafore and the new society was up and running, accompanied by Symington's Orchestra.

“It has given over the years, the opportunity for the realisation of dreams - singing, dancing and acting to the applause of an appreciative audience.

“It has schooled various members to follow a career in professional theatre,” said Gillian.

“Performance, however, was not the only benefit of membership.

“Strong bonds of friendship and camaraderie sprung up and a lively social scene drew in dedicated members.

“So dedicated that on the Friday evening before and the Sunday morning after the performances members built and dismantled their own raised seating system before the installation of permanent seating in the Octagonal Hall at Welland Park College.”

She said the college became the group's home after the closure and demolition of the Assembly Rooms and a brief stopover at the Grammar School (now Robert Smyth Academy).

“Fundraising events and various social activities, including in the 1990s a link with a musical group in Almelo, Holland, bound the members together and a lot of fun was had.

Not only performers gained experience with the society,” said Gillian.

“The necessity to build scenery for multiple different productions created a scenery team bar none.

“The society is handing over monies to charity but this is not the first time funds have run low.

“In fact in 1965 the society was ‘in the red’.

“Support from townspeople and businesses and the 120 (later 200) Club resulted in prosperity and the opportunity to mount even more lavish shows with a full orchestra.

“The society has had its strengths and its weaknesses over the years, but falling membership recently has brought the closure inevitable.

“Can it be believed that in 1954 seven people were told that they could not take part in The Pirates of Penzance as there were too many members and this happened again in 1980 for Carousel!”

She said it’s become harder to attract younger members.

“Recruiting a loyal membership has been a problem over recent years.

“Falling audience numbers have not helped,” said Gillian.

“From six sell-out performances in 1969 to eight in 1972, the society has struggled to fill the theatre for four performances in recent years.

“Increased mobility and opportunities at other venues have reflected on both membership and audiences alike.

“Sadly this has brought to a closure an integral part of Market Harborough's cultural and social life.

“It is to be hoped that members will continue to find an outlet for their great talents and immense creativity on other stages."