NEXT month Oldbury Repertory Players will be celebrating its 75th Anniversary Season, quite an achievement for an amateur theatre that doesn’t receive any public funding.
It all started in 1939 when the Oldbury Technical School elocution class was without a teacher who had decided to leave the area due to the imminent war and the risk of bombing in industrial Oldbury.
The then school principal invited Mr Will Payne to take over the class and with his and other members’ enthusiasm the class started to perform plays under the banner of Oldbury Technical School Players.
Throughout the war the company performed plays for the local community, although air raids tended to disrupt both rehearsal and performances.
As the war drew to a close it was decided to formally establish an independent company in the name of Oldbury Repertory Players.
As the company became more established they outgrew their home, The Parish Rooms at Oldbury, and thanks to local benefactor Councillor Charles Barlow and his wife Jessie a lease was obtained on the Institute Hall at Langley and this allowed the 1947/48 season to open with the play Robert’s Wife.
With the company still continuing to grow the search for a theatre of its own intensified and when the Methodist Chapel and School in Spring St Langley, now Spring Walk, went up for sale the company purchased the property for £1,700, thanks to an interest free loan from Mr C T Barlow, by now the company’s president.
Over the next few years members, with the help of local companies, turned their hand to converting the church into a theatre and they reached their goal in January 1956 when the Barlow Theatre, named after the Barlow family, opened its doors with a triple bill of one act plays.
Throughout the next few years improvements were made throughout the theatre until in August 1972 disaster struck when an arsonist left parts of the theatre destroyed. Strangely, disaster can often turn out to be a positive force for change and regeneration and so it turned out. While the membership re-built the theatre the company still continued to put on plays at outside venues re-opening on February 10, 1973, with Noel Coward’s This Happy Breed.
Since then the company has continued to improve its facilities and provide live theatre for the people of Sandwell.
The theatre now has its own bar and fully equipped rehearsal facilities together with its 173-seat theatre. Not only does it continue to produce plays but it also has its own cinema known as The Screen On The Green. It also hosts outside companies and concerts by Langley Brass Band and Warley Male Voice Choir.
In its 75-year history Oldbury Rep has staged 483 main house productions and 26 studio productions and to date almost 1,000 different people have appeared on stage.
Further archive information can be obtained from Chris Smith on 01562 777194. For details about our current productions go to www.oldburyrep.org or contact Alan Wood 01384 832556.
l Have you played a role at Oldbury Rep? What are your memories of the theatre group? Send us your views to edi tor@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or log on to www.blackcountry.bugle.co.uk or phone Bugle House on 01384 567678.
l For more events going on in our area log on to www.blackcountrybugle/What’s-On