St. Mary’s Players is a non-professional Musical Theatre Society based in Bristol in the South West region of England and is a member of the United Kingdom’s National Operatic and Dramatic Association.
St. Mary’s Players came into being in 1959 through a chance remark made by John Wilson, the Curate of St Mary’s Church in Fishponds, Bristol, to the Choirmaster.
They were on a coach returning parishioners from their annual summer outing. Hearing the merry group filling the coach with the strains of a popular song John remarked that such vocal talent could surely be put to much better use.
The seed was sown and a few weeks later St Mary’s Players was formed. The object was to bring parishioners of all ages together socially and to put on a show for the people of the Fishponds area.
The first production was a pantomime Aladdin written for the club by the Choirmaster, Douglas Richards and Kenneth Warr, a journalist, which ran for 4 nights at the Parish Hall in Fishponds and was seen by 1300 people. It was an enormous success and was the beginning of the institution which has thrived to the present day.
In the years that followed the Club built on its success with annual productions which were eagerly awaited by the local Fishponds community and invariably sold out long before the first night. These ranged from locally written shows like ‘Talk of the Town’, ‘Tippety’ and ‘Bonanza’ to professionally written Bristol Old Vic pantomimes and musicals such as Julian Slade’s ‘Free as Air’ & ‘Follow That Girl’ (formerly presented at the Bristol Old Vic as ‘Christmas In King Street’). Julian, more well known as the composer of “Salad Days” was a Vice President of St Mary’s Players back in the ’60’s.
In 1968 a Music Hall entitled “Kaleidoscope” was presented by the members to round off the Annual General Meeting of the club. This was later taken on tour and was the forerunner of what has now become the Players Autumn Production.
The 1968 Theatre Act came into force in 1970 and hit many amateur societies, including ours, very hard financially, with many fire and public safety rules having to be conformed to. Apart from the work done to the Parish Hall to bring it into line with these rules it also led to a reduction in the seating capacity of the hall. We had also taken on part of the premises to set up our own Clubroom, Wardrobe and Workshop. Many Jumble Sales, Music Halls and other events during the year helped raise the money that was needed.
In 1971 we had fun with Lionel Bart’s first musical. He wrote the lyrics but not the music. “Lock Up Your Daughters” was based on a racy play by Henry Fielding and was probably the most controversial show performed by the club. “When Does The Ravishing Begin?” was one of the main numbers. We had letters in the Bristol Evening Post about that one – “Whatever next – the Choirboys doing ‘Hair’?” Needless to say, we played to capacity houses with an unprecedented demand for front row seats.
Two years later the Choirboys were cast as Fagin’s gang in ‘Oliver!’