Theatre through the ages in Barton
If William Shakespeare is correct in writing “all the world’s a stage”, then that certainly seems to apply to Barton-upon-Humber, which continues to celebrate a proud tradition of theatrical performance, writes Jo Marwood. Many venues in the town, from the historic Joseph Wright Hall to the natural landscape of Baysgarth Park, have played host to professional and amateur performances alike over the years, and 2017 is no exception.
With two family performances in Baysgarth Park already under its belt, including internationally renowned Bash Street Theatre’s “Bellevue Hotel”, and a busy schedule at Ropery Hall, the Temperance Hall (Assembly Rooms) and Joseph Wright Hall planned for autumn, the town certainly has little opportunity to pause for dramatic effect!
Entertainment in its many forms has always been an important part of Barton life. The North Lincolnshire Agricultural Society held its annual show in Barton 150 years ago, and locals turned out to celebrate and watch the shows and entertainment on offer. Other parades, festivals and celebrations in the town have prompted similar excitement and participation amongst all ages and classes. The number of public houses, inns and taverns in Barton over the decades are also testament to the town being a social hub for residents, visitors and travellers passing through.
Oddfellows’ Hall became the town’s first cinema, the “Electric Picture Theatre”, before being renamed the “New Theatre” and hosting a repertory theatre company. The Temperance Hall on Queen Street was temporarily transformed into a nightclub, before being used for community activities including theatre rehearsals and performance. Even the annual “Barton Ghost Walk” refers to the hidden stories, people and buildings that shape Barton’s history, with street theatre performances from the South Bank Players.
Instead of the sparkle and glamour of newer, purpose-built theatres and auditoriums, theatre in Barton is very much a part of the town’s existing historic buildings and places. Watching a performance in the Primitive Methodist Chapel (now named the Joseph Wright Hall after its architect) is significantly more dramatic for being inside a structure built in 1867. Similarly, joining the audience at Ropery Hall (celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2017) for theatre, cinema and comedy is more spectacular when you consider the building itself, steeped in the history and memories of Hall’s Barton Ropery.
Barton itself has been home to many a famous name in the realm of entertainment, from novelist Ted Lewis to illustrator Ken Harrison, author Henry Treece to singer Philip Pape. Current West End actor Paul Tate, who originates from Barton, continues to return to Barton to direct theatre performances with the Friends At Barton drama group.
“Being a Bartonian means a lot to me. Although I’ve not lived here since 1986 because of my career, I was raised here, a lot of my family still live here, and I come back every few weeks. I have been a professional actor now since 1984 – I have my Nanna to thank for getting me interested in theatre, as she used to take me to see a lot of shows when I was a youngster! My involvement in Barton theatre started at a very young age when I played an Ugly Sister in Cinderella at the then-called “County School”. To this day I still play the Dame in panto every year at various theatres around the country.
“Barton theatre really took off for me when I started up at Baysgarth School (the old school and theatre is now sadly gone). My first few years were based at the Grammar School, and I remember seeing the school show The Mikado. I knew I wanted to be in the next performance, and when Fiddler On The Roof was announced for the 1977 show I ended up playing Reb Nachum in it! Other roles followed including one of the Snow children in Carousel, Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, Kipps in Half A Sixpence, Lun Tha in The King and I and Rolf in The Sound of Music. At the helm of these shows was the old Headmaster, Ray Smithson, alongside Alan Wright and Barrie Cooper who dealt with the music side. I was also a member of Barton Operatics when that formed. All of these shows gave me an insight into putting on a show and I developed so many friendships that continue today.
“I also have vague memories of rehearsing at a dilapidated house near the windmill on Waterside Road, for Barton Drama Club. They did shows at The Assembly Rooms and I can recall seeing one of their shows at The Oxford Cinema on Newport.
“Theatre in Barton has been a very big part of my life, and I am happy to say that it still is. Last year I formed the group Friends At Barton (FAB for short), made up of old school friends and people I know from the shows I was involved in. Last December was our first show and we performed A Christmas Carol at The Joseph Wright Hall on Queen Street. We sold out completely and it was a huge success! For some people, it was the first time they had been in the building and they were pleasantly surprised at how much like a theatre it was. I directed that show, and this year our December show will be the magical Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Snow Queen. Not only will I be directing this show but I will also be performing – my first show in Barton for over 30 years!
“In my career I have been lucky to work with many celebrities and appear in national tours, TV and West End. The saying goes that ”there’s no place like home” and to be honest, there isn’t. I love being back amongst friends and will do my best to keep Barton theatre alive and thriving. I am also honoured to be a part of keeping the Joseph Wright Hall in use, as it’s such a historic building.
“There are so many people working behind the scenes to make Barton a better place, and if I can be a small part of that, then all well and good. The support of the people of Barton and the surrounding villages means a lot.”
During the summer holidays, two further “Performance in the Park” shows are scheduled – Illyria Theatre will be performing its adaption of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” on Sunday, August 13, and The Storytellers Theatre Company will perform “The Wizard of Oz” on Sunday, August 27. Both events are free of charge and a great family afternoon out in the fantastic natural backdrop of Baysgarth Park. Find out more on the Barton Tourism Partnership website here: www.barton-upon-humber.org.uk.
From October, tickets will be available for the latest Friends At Barton performance of “The Snow Queen”, based in the enchanting Joseph Wright Hall and directed by Paul Tate. Keep an eye on the Wilderspin National School Museum website for tickets here: http://www.wilderspinschool.org.uk
Finally, Ropery Hall is gearing up for its upcoming season of theatre, comedy, film, music and more – check out the programme here www.roperyhall.co.uk.
In an ever-changing world of social media and celebrity culture, the nostalgia of theatre, performance and entertainment is a welcome and constant feature of Barton-upon-Humber – as relevant, magical and exciting today as in decades past.