Civic Theatre, Ayr
Ayr Civic Theatre was established in 1951 when the former Robertson Memorial Church was acquired by the Royal Burgh of Ayr. The town council converted the building into a theatre, for use by the local performing groups and for summer repertory theatre. It was seen as complementary to the Gaiety, which provided popular variety entertainment. The first performance in the theatre was George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man".
The Church was built in 1901 and was known as the Robertson Memorial Church. When the building was converted to theatrical use, the foyer and ticket office were at the former west door, with a new toilet block to S and stairs to balcony on N side. A section of the church hall to the rear of the church was converted to a scenery store and paint dock while a tearoom was established at the southern end of the hall. Access to the tearoom, was through the emergency exit close to the stage.
The theatre had a well equipped stage and dressing room facilities and, in the 1970's had a collection of scenery for use by both the repertory company and the local amateur groups. There was a small orchestra pit for use with musical productions. A regular maintenance programme ensured that the theatre was an attractive and safe place in which to work or relax. The technical facilities were upgraded on a regular basis and the lighting installation provided designers and operators with a versatile system to meet the demands of every production.
Among the many groups using the theatre on a regular basis were the Ayr Fort Players, Ayr Players, The Compass Club, a variety of dance schools and Young farmer Groups in addition to the summer repertory group and the numerous touring shows. In the 1960's and 1970's the Victor Graham Players offered a twelve week summer repertory programme. Their 1963 season included the popular dramas and comedies Doctor at Sea, Touch of Fear, Plaintiff in a Pretty Hat, Big Killing and The Little Hut. In the 1980's the Ayrshire Arts Festival (founded in 1983) was a regular user of this venue, presenting the Wildcat Theatre Group and many other touring shows.
In the 1990's there were alterations to the tearoom and a new auditorium entrance and ticket office was created on the south side of the building. This change made access to the theatre much safer and kept patrons clear of the busy roundabout on the adjacent ring road.
One member of the Victor Graham Players, over a period of five seasons, was Colin Bean, who went on to find fame in in the television programme Dad' Army. Bean was, as his web site tells us, 'a cameo specialist; one of those vital actors who drop in to programmes playing customers, taxi drivers, vicars and other passing roles. To fans of the classic sitcom Dad’s Army he was familiar as Private Sponge, a sheep farmer, who formed part of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard’s back row before being promoted to join Jones, Frazer and Pike at the front after the death of James Beck, who played the spiv Joe Walker.'
When the first series of that programme was shown, Bean was paid six guineas an episode. He appeared in the first episode, The Man and the Hour, transmitted on July 31, 1968. Clocking up 76 appearances during the show’s nine-year run, he became the longest serving member of the platoon’s back row.
Margaret Jackman, in an interview describes work in weekly rep. in 1957. . . . 'I saw an advert in The Stage for Assistant Stage Manager at a rep company, The Pier Pavilion, South Shields… Victor Graham was having a mad thought. He was opening a winter… a repertory company – weekly rep – in South Shields on the pier, which was not a very sensible thing to do. But he was used to the west coast at Ayr, and he used to do summer season there. And he decided that he was going to do a winter season. And I saw this advert and I thought ‘that job’s for me, because I’ve got the experience now’.
' And so this bloke . . . came to my house and interviewed me - he offered me the job on the spot. I moved to South Shields, starved on a studentship, they used to call it a studentship. I think I got… I started off with about £2 a week, and that was it. But they said that they would train me. And they did in a way, by exposing me to a lot of different roles. I was ASM to the stage manager, and had small roles most weeks, for about three months. And then inevitably the winter set in so badly that nobody came. And we were freezing. And the company, Victor Graham decided enough was enough and finished.'
Civic Theatre was destroyed by South Ayrshire Council's chosen contractors
in May 2010 and the site has been cleared. The
future use of the site is uncertain.
images of the site following demolition, please follow this LINK)
Information on Ayr Players is not available at this time. The group has been disbanded.
The Compass Club, under the direction of Bill Grierson, was ready to
attempt the more challenging modern plays and the classics. Grierson
worked in the tradition of the finest actor/managers, directing the performances
while appearing in leading roles. Over a number of year the club was
able to draw on the student and staff of Craigie College for their major
productions and shared a production team with Ayr Intimate Opera.
In the 1970's and early 80's the group performed Arthur Miller's Crucible, Peter Schaffer's Equus, Macbeth, King Lear, Chekov's Seagull, Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and many other modern works. The club mounted two productions each year.
It is hoped that further images of Compass productions will become available
during the summer months.
Ayrshire Arts Festival
The Ayrshire Arts Festival, established in 1983, used the Civic Theatre for many of the drama presentations and smaller scale music events. During the 1983 Festival the theatre provided a base for WIldcat Theatre Company and Michael Maurel. The following year Wildcat returned to the theatre together with Margaret Dent with her celebration of the music hall star, Fanny Brice and the mime Mick Wall.
For further information please about the
Compass Club, please follow this LINK
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