Hatfield Heath drama group calls on members past and present to help mark 50 years under the spotlight

PUBLISHED: 09:01 16 April 2018 | UPDATED: 09:38 16 April 2018

The cast for Sleeping Beauty in 1974. Picture: CONTRIBUTED.

The cast for Sleeping Beauty in 1974. Picture: CONTRIBUTED.

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An award-winning theatre group near Dunmow is celebrating 50 years since it was formed, by hosting a party which will look back on half a century of pantomimes, plays, costumes and sets.

The script for an early  production. Director Chris Timothy starred in TV series  'All Creatures Great and Small'. Picture: CONTRIBUTED. The script for an early production. Director Chris Timothy starred in TV series 'All Creatures Great and Small'. Picture: CONTRIBUTED.

The Heath Players, based in Hatfield Heath, which has won awards at the annual Hertford Theatre Week and at the British All Winners Festival are calling for anyone who has been involved either behind the scenes or on stage to attend a celebratory event on May 6 at Hatfield Heath Village Hall, where archives and video footage will be shown.

Troupe members include a 92-year-old costume designer, who made her stage debut at 90-years-old, a 23-year-old classics graduate, and a brick layer who has been involved in more than 100 productions over the years.

Mark Ratcliff, 56, who started helping with the sets when he was 18, said: “It is a fantastic achievement for a small village group to actually reach that mile stone. We have done 130 productions.”

The Heath Players was formed by Eastenders actor Christopher Timothy, Hatfield Heath Women’s Institute member Jean Foster and pianist Charlotte Schroeder. The group’s first performance in 1968 was in the “ramshackle”, tin-covered village hall, known as the ‘tin tabernacle’.

Dot Sharp (second left)  made her stage debut at 90-years-old in Lady in the Van (2016). Picture: CONTRIBUTED. Dot Sharp (second left) made her stage debut at 90-years-old in Lady in the Van (2016). Picture: CONTRIBUTED.

Mark said: “The heyday was in the seventies and eighties. Each year we had a pantomime, two full-length plays and probably a couple of studio performances.”

After losing a lot of members in the 1990s, numbers have slowly climbed back up, with the troupe winning first prize at Hertford Theatre Week three times since 2009, as well Audience Appreciation and Backstage awards at the British All Winners Festival, according to Mark.

Dot Sharp, 92, who has been designing costumes for 25 years said: “I have loved it. It is like a second family. I have such a feeling of satisfaction, seeing them all up there, looking super. I can drive and still feel pretty fit, you have to keep going otherwise you get bored.”

Dot says her favourite costumes were three long, satin and lace evening dresses for a production of The Miser, which she altered to resemble 17th century clothing.

New member Chrissie Waites (centre) starred in recent play 'Entertaining Angels'. Picture: CONTRIBUTED. New member Chrissie Waites (centre) starred in recent play 'Entertaining Angels'. Picture: CONTRIBUTED.

“I never had any training. My mother used to put her head in her hands when I picked up the scissors. I once made myself a silk swimming costume and when I went in the sea it went completely transparent.”

Dot also had a small role in the 2016 production of Lady in the Van.

She added: “It was a one-off but then who knows?”

Steve Foster, 69, a semi-retired brick layer and son of founding member Jean Foster, said: “My mum and Chris Timothy always strived for high-quality theatre, that has always been the mantra. It’s never been people bumping into tables.”

A still from the first production by the Heath Players in 1968. Picture: CONTRIBUTED. A still from the first production by the Heath Players in 1968. Picture: CONTRIBUTED.

Steve, whose favourite role was Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, added: “My mum got me started in acting and I am so grateful. I’m not blessed with many other talents but I do know I am a good actor. I enjoy it so much. It is so different from laying bricks. When you get up there you’re baring your soul, it takes you out of yourself.”

University of Birmingham graduate Chrissie Waites, 23, who successfully auditioned for a role in Entertaining Angels in December, said: “We are all doing it because we enjoy and love the theatre and we are so supportive of each other. They are such a lovely group of people.

“I have always really loved acting and drama. My mum’s a costume designer and when I had a sick day or was on holiday I would go to work with her.”

If you were involved with the Heath Players and would like to attend the event, call Mark Ratcliff on 01279503174 or Margaret Lines at 01279730544.

You can also email heathplayers@yahoo.co.uk.

The event will start at 2pm and run until “late”.

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