Church Hill Hits 50

September 25, 2015 | By | Reply More

Happy Birthday Church Hill Theatre!

On Saturday 25 September, 1965, the Church Hill Theatre opened with the Scottish Community Drama Association production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

The former Morningside High Church, built in 1892 to a design by architect Hippolyte Blanc, was bought by the then Edinburgh Corporation for the sum of £6,500 (excluding the organ, pulpit and pews) on March 11 1963.

The Church Hill Theatre team and Cllr Richard Lewis with Christelle Steele and Deryk Gould. Photo: Jane Barlow

The Church Hill Theatre team and Cllr Richard Lewis with Christelle Steele and Deryk Gould. Photo: Jane Barlow

The new theatre, converted at a cost of £63,000 was intended for use by the city’s amateur companies to replace the the Pleasance Little Theatre after the university decided that it needed the Pleasance for its own use.

The opening ceremony was led by Tom Flemming, who had that summer taken on the job of director at the Royal Lyceum and was just about to launch his own newly formed Royal Lyceum Theatre Company on the following Friday, 1 October 1965.

The play was produced “under the supervision” of the SCDA’s National Organiser William March and directed by its Western Division adviser, Cecil Williams.

The cast, according to surviving members Deryk Gould who was a member of EPT at the time and Christelle Steele who was in the Grads, was hand-picked by March from among Edinburgh’s existing amateur theatre companies.

“He knew the various groups in Edinburgh and he went round to their shows and selected people for this particular event,” Deryk Gould told Æ when we met at the recent launch of the Council’s celebrations for the anniversary.

Buzz

The whole event caused quite a buzz, according to Christelle Steele: “I remember I think it was one of the Daily Mail journalists phoned up me and asked ‘what play are you going to do?’. I said I don’t know and if I did know I wouldn’t be able to tell you. So even the newspapers were getting excited about it. It was amazing!”

Deryk Gould and Christelle Steele with a copy of architect Hippolyte Blanc's drawing for the original church. The tower was never built. Photo Thom Dibdin

Deryk Gould and Christelle Steele with a copy of architect Hippolyte Blanc’s drawing for the original church. The tower was never built. Photo Thom Dibdin

The production was well received, although Steele admits with a laugh that not everyone was thrilled: “one of my friends who was a real actor but I won’t mention his name, he thought it was a bit stagey or something, I can’t remember. He wasn’t terribly impressed – but then he wouldn’t be, you know. It would be an amateur production so he wasn’t going to be impressed if it was.”

The 380 seat theatre provided more than a decent sized stage for the companies using it. The dressing rooms were larger, more extensive and better equipped than existing facilities, according to both Gould and Steele.

“It was lovely backstage,” Christelle Steele said. “The only thing is they gave us stools to sit on for doing our make up and I longed to sit back. But if you sat back you were on the floor. So I complained about that but I don’t think everybody did. It was lovely and clean, lovely clean dressing rooms and there was a shower in each of the dressing rooms.”

Speaking at the launch, Councillor Richard Lewis, Convener of Culture & Sport at the City of Edinburgh Council, said, “Our very own Church Hill Theatre has been an important part of Edinburgh’s non-professional theatre scene for half a century now and is going from strength to strength. A unique part of our city’s theatre scene and community life, the Church Hill Theatre is a treasured venue in Edinburgh and we are looking forward to another magical fifty years.”

EPT's Gordon Braidwood and Irene Beaver examine CHT’s exhibition, showcasing memorabilia from performances past. Photo: Jane Barlow

EPT’s Gordon Braidwood and Irene Beaver examine CHT’s exhibition, showcasing memorabilia from performances past. Photo: Jane Barlow

Shona Clelland, General Manager of Church Hill Theatre said: “The theatre is such a special venue that has carved out a place in people’s affections over the years, both from Edinburgh and further afield. We’ve uncovered some magical moments during our research for the exhibition and film and it was important that these were captured not only for people to enjoy and reminisce, but to preserve the history of the Church Hill Theatre.

“This is just the start of a year of celebrations commemorating an amazing half century and we hope to continue to welcome many people through the doors”

Church Hill Theatre, which is owned and run by the City of Edinburgh Council, is still keen to hear from people who have memories to share of their experiences of the theatre. Anyone interested should get in touch with Paul McKerrow, Operations Manager: paul.mckerrow@edinburgh.gov.uk.

For Gordon Braidwood’s history of the origins of the theatre, Click here.

The cast and creatives listed in the original 1965 programme for The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo Thom Dibdin

The cast and creatives listed in the original 1965 programme for The Importance of Being Earnest. (Click to read in detail). Photo Thom Dibdin

ENDS

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