TWC – the story so far…
Theatre Workshop Coulsdon (TWC) rose from the ashes of the Coulsdon branch of Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation (CYTO), when that group folded following cuts in Arts grants. TWC’s inaugural performance was Pygmalion on 8th May 1970. And to quote The Croydon Advertiser - 'Theatre Workshop's detachment from CYTO was a move in the right direction'.
The group has developed a great deal since those early days, when our plays were often under-rehearsed, and sometimes lacked polish - although never enthusiasm.
With each new show, something was learned, and 35 years on TWC has evolved into a versatile, dedicated and capable group - not all boasting tremendous talent, of course, but certainly all sharing a determination to create polished and professional productions, on what by the standards of many amateur theatre groups would be counted as a pretty minimal budget.
TWC has also developed a strong social tradition, with many activities away from the plays themselves, culminating with our annual two week expedition to the wild west of Cornwall, as well as giant water pistol fights, pig roasts, and quite a lot of trips to the pub! Another highlight is our annual Christmas awards dinner at which the Theatre Workshop Artistic Talent (or TWAT) awards are presented not just to the best actor and actress, but also in such notable categories as Biggest Ham and Worst Cock-up. These coveted awards are unofficially known as ‘The Donalds’, in honour of the late, great (and sometimes very cruel!) Donald Madgwick, theatre critic of The Croydon Advertiser.
Over the years, there have been many classic moments for the critics to comment upon - the best (and worst) of which can probably be gleaned by a quick look through some of the press cuttings included in this website under ‘Bouquets and Brickbats’. You will see that dear old Donald was responsible for both the highest praise and the most damning calumny!
Many of our members have gone on to bigger and better things. Steve Swinscoe was a TWC member for eight years, and tutor to the group for two years. Steve went on to study drama, and after a two year stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company, can now be regularly seen in TV programmes such as Eastenders and The Bill.
Art Malik, probably best known for films like The Jewel In The Crown and A Passage To India, as well as the Schwarzenegger blockbuster True Lies, is another former member of Theatre Workshop Coulsdon. Art also appeared in the Bond movie: The Living Daylights - The 007 set must have seemed rather tame after the glamour and excitement of Coulsdon Youth & Social Centre!
Several of our younger members, having gained a grounding at TWC, went on to drama school, and are now professional actors. As well as nurturing talent, TWC has also played host to quite a few original productions as well! For instance, way back in 1970, TWC staged the British premiere of a new play called The Garden Party by a young Czech playwright named Vaclav Havel, latterly President of Czechoslovakia.
And in 1974, TWC became the first amateur group to stage Edward Bond's new play The Sea - by special arrangement with the playwright himself.
Richard Lloyd, a member of TWC since 1981, has become a prolific writer and had many of his pantomimes published by Samuel French Ltd , the UK's principal theatrical publisher. Odd to think of plays which were given their first airing on the old stage in downtown Coulsdon, now playing in far flung parts such as Kowloon, Nairobi, Vanuatu and New Delhi - as well as from Chorley to Colchester. (Yes, much to his amazement, Richard's pantos have been staged in all these places!)
We pride ourselves on our track record of innovation and experimental work, having staged over 30 completely original productions, either home-grown, adapted, or written specifically for TWC. Original or not, all our productions tend towards the bold, exuberant, colourful, and generally larger than life. We don’t do ‘staple’ amateur dramatic fare: farces, whodunnits, classic musicals, Stoppards and Ayckbourns. So many amateur companies endlessly recycle this same fare – we prefer to go for a different approach.
In another innovation, in 1993 we first took a production into the open air - to what seemed at the time the fairly improbable surroundings of the beer garden of our local, The Woodman Public House, in Woodmansterne, Surrey.
Our first pub theatre production in the open air was a challenging innovation for a small group, combining two forms of performance which were both completely new to us - pub theatre and open air theatre. We enjoyed the experience though, and were pleased to attract an audience of 400 people over six performances. We thought that was pretty good.
The following summer, over 600 people came to our July production. By 1995 the audience had swelled to 1,100. Our 1999 production of Twelfth Night managed to pack 2,300 people into just eight performances. In a very short time span, what had begun as a modest and slightly eccentric adventure for a small theatre group, had become a tremendously popular and established feature in the local dramatic calendar – a truly special annual event.
By request, we also took our 1996 – 1998 summer productions to a second new open air venue - the stunning natural backdrop of Bewl Water reservoir near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. 1,250 people came to see the three performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream we staged at Bewl in 1996, including 650 people on the final Saturday night - giving us our biggest one-off audience ever and an all time TWC record!
A huge amount of work has gone into the database behind this website - we can now show details for every person who has ever appeared in a TWC production, in which production(s) that person appeared, in what role or capacity, plus (in many cases) a mugshot and a potted biography.
A glance through this rogues’ gallery shows that there have been over 400 members of TWC down the last 35 years, as well as to the current bunch. Some stayed for just one production, some stayed for 35 years! All have contributed to making TWC into the successful theatre group it is today.
If you are an ex-member of TWC and you would like to contribute any images, memories, or biographical details, please email firstname.lastname@example.orgIf you would like to become part of the group, please click on our link for TWC recruits to find out more.