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Bringing musical theatre to Stourbridge for over 100 years!

The History of Stourbridge Amateur Operatic Society

The Beginnings...
The spirit of optimism and confidence that pervaded Britain during the reign of Edward VII found expression in Stourbridge in the initiation of many official schemes for increasing local amenities and a spate of enterprises of a social and cultural nature.  For many years the town had enjoyed a vigorous musical and theatrical life, high-class artists often adorning the Town Hall stage while from time to time the plays of Shakespeare supplanted the usual far of full-blooded melodrama, burlesque and innumerable acrobatic turns on the creaking boards of the rat-ridden Alahambra Theatre that stood on the site of the Post Office yard.
Yet it remained for a newcomer to the town, a young English master at Stourbridge Grammar School named Dyson B Williams, to make the first move towards the founding of the Amateur Operatic Society.  In 1908 an operatic society had been formed in Cradley Heath and in May, 1909, it presented HMS Pinafore.  Thereupon Dyson Williams resolved that if Cradley Heath could produce light opera so could Stourbridge.  His views were endorsed by the success of the three night run of the musical play Ib and Little Christina which he was instrumental in staging at the Town Hall in April 1909, with himself in the part of Ib's father and Madame Hannah Jones as the gipsy.  So, in September, 1909, the thought blossomed into reality.  Assisted by G. Harry Woodall, the conductor of Stourbridge Institute Male Voice Choir, the Madrigal Society and the Stourbridge Military Band, he gathered a company of 23 ladies and 21 gentlemen, and on 22nd November, 1909, the curtain at the Alhambra Theatre rose on the first show of Stourbridge Amateur Operatic Society - Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe.

The County Express had announced "A powerful orchestra has been specially engaged and the dresses and scenery will be those of the original production at the Savoy Theatre."  That the run did not pass off without mishap is evident from the County Express report which stated "Something very akin to dismay was felt by the committee when on Thursday evening it was known that Miss Nellie Porter, the Iolanthe of the cast, was suffering from a severe cold and was incapacitated from appearing.  The part of Iolanthe was hastily taken by Miss Emily Rudge who had not previously studied the role.  She acted the part with ease and grace and was most enthusiastically received."

The first president of the society was H. Watson Smith who was chairman of the Concert Society and the Clef Club and president of the Literary and Philosophical Society.  Dyson Williams was treasurer and Oliver May, a master at Oldswinford Hospital, the secretary.  In the following year Walter Jones became president, with Dyson Williams and A.E. Gilmore sharing the treasurership (subscriptions were 3s 6d for active members, 5s for honorary members and 10s 6d for vice-presidents) and Thomas G. Taylor the secretary.

"Now firmly established ... as an exceptionally gifted society" - as the County Express declared - it was decided to perform Patience in the Town Hall in April, 1910. This was followed in February of 1911 by H.M.S. Pinafore in which the cast, chorus and orchestra numbered 80.  There was consternation on the first night for the band parts had not arrived and only the piano accompanied the singing.  The County Express remarked critically that after the parts arrived the performances improved!  Seats for the society's third production cost: Reserved 3s (floor), 2s 6d (balcony) and unreserved 2s and 1s.

December, 1911 saw the society's fourth production, The Gondoliers, followed in 1913 by another Gilbert & Sullivan opera, The Pirates of Penzance, and then in 1914 Les Cloches de Cornville.  The latter saw Gladys Moyle take her first of many leads and the society even called upon the manager of the Alhambra Theatre to take part.  Hardly had the applause of the last audience died away when the nation was called to arms on the outbreak of the First World War.  With the younger men in the Forces and many other members involved in the war effort, the Society was unable to produce a show but several concerts were given by members in aid of war charities.