Oliver! Hungerford Town Show 2024, is being performed next week. Its director, Hoffi Robinson, shares her thoughts on the history of the town show and the upcoming production.
This is my first year directing Hungerford Town Show; a thought that excites and terrifies me in equal measure.
We have called this year a relaunch because Oliver! is the first Town Show since 2020. Productions had to stop during the pandemic and, coupled with the loss of our chairman and director, David Clayton, who directed the town show for thirty years, it has taken time for the company to be in a position to produce a large-scale production again.
Personally, I also like to think of it as a relaunch because it is a way to acknowledge that, although we honour this tradition and the people who have come before us, it can’t possibly be the same. David was remarkable in his passion and expertise and I am under no impression that I can fill his shoes. What I can do is be inspired by what he did and his legacy.
I joined the company in 2002 as a teenager. I was shy and had no acting experience but tagged along with a friend. Our first performance was in Scrooge.
Yet, even then, I knew I had stumbled into something special. The sense of community both on and off the stage is magical.
Theatre can bring people together who would never meet under different circumstances. It can transform people. I have seen a young person join the company unable to say one line through nervousness and then play the lead role a few years later. I have seen seemingly impossible problems solved in the eleventh hour by the ingenuity and generosity of local people. I even met my husband at town show rehearsals. The work done by all the volunteers is endless and yet we come back year after year because this is something worth doing, something that we are all passionate about.
I have been directing for 14 years but none of my other productions have been as big as the town show and, while I work on it, I am mindful of its rich history. This is where taking on this project on terrifies me: no one wants to be the director who spoils over 40 years of tradition with a bad show…
History of the Town Show
The Town Show first began in 1980 as a collaboration between John O’Gaunt School and the Hungerford Theatre Club. The first production was a pantomime, Cinderella, directed by Don Bolton and produced by Scout Leaders Cecil Hawkes and John Miles.
It was such a success that a pantomime was staged each year until 1991, when it was decided the time was ripe to try a musical and David Clayton assumed the role of director.
The production they chose? Oliver! So, it seems only fitting that we relaunch the town show with Oliver!
Rehearsals have been going well. As the director this is my favourite part of producing a show. I like picking apart the characters and discussing them with the actors – was Bill Sikes always as villainous as he is in the show? Who is Nancy when she is not performing? As Long As He Needs Me is her only number that is not a show within the show. Should the children trust Fagin?
Last Monday we were rehearsing You Have to Pick a Pocket or Two with Fagin and the children. We are lucky to have a talented group of young people but something about this number hadn’t been landing so we were doing extra rehearsals, making tweaks… I felt exhausted after being up in the night with my very-awake toddler. We were in our echoey rehearsal hall; the one that makes it hard to hear the music, so it felt as though everything was stacked against us and yet, all of a sudden, there it is.
At the end of the number all the young thieves reveal the handkerchiefs, watches and wallets they have stolen. It’s like a trick – one minute they have nothing, and the next – there it is; a burst of colour as they reveal their hidden treasures.
I think this is a good metaphor for putting on a production, particularly a community theatre show. It isn’t glamorous; it’s a lot of hard work from a lot of volunteers who are constantly trying their best but I like to think that once the show gets on stage, together we can make a little bit of magic.
Tickets for Oliver are available from the company’s website: www.hungerfordtheatre.com
Community of Hungerford Theatre Company