Ripley and Alfreton Musical Theatre Company's last ever show closes the curtain on over 100 productions in 86 years of public performances

A Derbyshire company will take its last ever bow when it rings the curtain down on more than 80 years of entertaining the public.

Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 11:43 am
Updated Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 11:46 am
Cast members in Ripley and Alfreton Musical Theatre's production of Bad Girls includes: Charlotte Bond, Alice Lindley, Amy Wicks, Yvonne Taylor, Reema Frost, Sinead Parkin and Kelly Beniston, playing prison inmates, with Marie Medej cast as wing governor Helen Stewart and Stephen Mira as principal officer Jim Fenner.
Cast members in Ripley and Alfreton Musical Theatre's production of Bad Girls includes: Charlotte Bond, Alice Lindley, Amy Wicks, Yvonne Taylor, Reema Frost, Sinead Parkin and Kelly Beniston, playing prison inmates, with Marie Medej cast as wing governor Helen Stewart and Stephen Mira as principal officer Jim Fenner.

Ripley & Alfreton Musical Theatre Company is gearing up for its final show, Bad Girls - The Musical, at Mansfield Palace Theatre next week.

Commenting on the company’s decision to call it a day, committee member Kate Viles said: "Putting on a show of this kind really is a huge amount of hard work and costs a lot of money. As we all know costs are rising and there is a constant strain on the company to fundraise. This company has the fewest members that it has ever had. This has an impact on membership money, ticket sales and fundraising.

"Years ago when the company was made up of families and at its height had over 100 members, acting and non-acting, funds were not so much of an issue and the company was in a much more comfortable position.

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Kate Viles, Emily Rose, Sabine Bensley, Charmian McBirnie and Louise Taylor, left to right, play inmates in Bad Girls - The Musical.

"When I joined in 1994 there were at least five families involved, consisting of couples along with their children.”

Kate was just 12 years old when she was welcomed into the ranks. She said: "My dad, Peter Gould, had joined four years previously and after going to watch him in Calamity Jane I got the bug! My mum, Sue Gould, was already involved as the wardrobe mistress so it really was a family affair. When I joined I really was a shy young girl. Our producer at the time, Wyn Hinks, took me out of my comfort zone and made me smile and put me at the front of the stage, which I hated. Now I love being at the front of the stage, even though when I am no-one behind me can be seen as I am 5ft 11ins!"

When her dad stepped down as chairman. Kate, who was then vice-chairman, took over the role. The company is now chaired by Kelly Beniston, who joined the company 30 years ago.

Charmian McBirnie is the longest-serving member of the company, with 42 years to her credit. Her dad Keith Hardy and his parents joined the company where Keith met his now wife Helen. Keith and Helen were involved with the company both on stage and as committee members for many years, only retiring a few years ago. Charmian's brother worked as a stage hand in the capacity of call boy when he was young and her great-aunt, Edna Rowland, was a founder member.

Kate Viles, second left on the middle row, performed her first show, Carousel when she was just 12 years old.

The musical theatre company started life as the Ripley Co-operative Operatic Society in 1936 and staged its debut production The Pirates of Penzance at Ripley’s Hippodrome Theatre.

During the Second World War no shows were staged and it wasn't until 1947 that the society resumed public performances.

In 1968 the society changed its name to Ripley & Alfreton Operatic Society which coincided with moving its shows to Alfreton’s Mortimer Wilson School (now David Nieper Academy).

Kate said: "When performing at the school the shows were always at Easter which meant we never knew what weather to expect. To get to the dressing rooms, which were in the staff room, we had to come outside from the side of the stage and along an uncovered pathway. We have had many times when cast members have been rushing in the rain and slipped or have been queuing up to get on stage in the snow! Then you would rush on stage still with snowflakes on your costume.

Footloose was performed at Alfreton Grange Arts College, formerly Mortimer Wilson School and now known as David Nieper Academy, in 2015.

"Two weeks prior to performing Jesus Christ Superstar in 2016 the company was forced to cancel the show and refund tickets due to the work taking place at the school when the new academy was being built. I was the chair of the company at the time and had the difficult job of telling the company that all their hard work and rehearsals were at that point for nothing. The company was very fortunate and was able to perform in a pop-up theatre owned by Symphonia Viva in Derby city marketplace and did three performances and were able to recoup some of the monies lost. This turned out to be a fantastic show and had a completely different feel to it compared to performing at the school.

"Following that we moved to Mansfield Palace Theatre. On the dress rehearsal I walked out on stage, looked out to the empty auditorium and just cried. I never thought I would get the chance to perform in a theatre."

Kate recalls several memorable incidents down the years. She said: "We have had many costume mishaps. During a dance routine in Sweet Charity, one of the dancer's hair pieces flew across the stage. In Guys and Dolls the dancer's skirts were fastened with Velcro and at the start of the number one dancer's skirt just fell to the floor. Many a time have male cast members' trousers split!

"One of our long-serving members was quite a prankster and used to play practical jokes on many cast members prior to them going on stage. He was known to tie people's shoe laces together, turn jackets inside out and hide clothing, all of which hindered quick changes!

Ripley and Alfreton Musical Theatre Company members involved in a production of Carousel in 2012 when the production had a rotating stage.

"When performing South Pacific in 2011 the cast member (who shall remain nameless) who was playing the part of Emile De Becque had the job of performing the most famous song from the show 'Some Enchanted Evening'. When it came to the time that the number was about to be performed the actress who was playing his love interest 'Nellie Forbush' was left sat on stage on her own. The orchestra played the intro but Emile was nowhere to be seen. The music played a couple of times before Nellie ad-libbed and had to move on. When asked why he wasn't on stage Emile said: 'I just forgot'."

Of the100-plus shows in the company’s roster, Carousel has made the most appearances with performances in 1965, 1972, 1994 and 2012.

Kate said: "My favourite shows have been My Fair Lady (my all time favourite musical), Footloose as we brought the hall at Mortimer Wilson alive and got everyone on their feet dancing and the last show which I performed in which was Made in Dagenham, such a powerful show with an amazing cast."

Asked why the company picked the prison musical Bad Girls for its swansong, Kate said: "The show is gritty and has some very funny moments. It is a different show to bring to the area and hopefully one that will sell tickets and make RAMTC's last ever show one to remember

"We send our best wishes to all local musical theatre companies and friends, some of which have made offers of support. We will be encouraging our existing members to join other local companies and to keep musical theatre alive in the area."

On Facebook Gary Rowley posted that the departure of RAMTC would be "a big loss to the Derbyshire am dram scene." Gary commented: "Had an absolutely incredible time doing Made in Dagenham and 9 to 5 with this company."

The Pirates of Penzance was the first show to be performed by Ripley Co-op Society in 1946.

Andy Quinn, best known as Heanor's singing firefighter, said: "Some of my best moments have been with this company and some of my longest friends."

James Fearn commented: "First show was almost 40 years ago in Oklahoma! and the iconic production team of Peter Parkin and Mike Bailey. Learned so much from both. Have stepped in from time to time and assumed this fabulous company would always be there. We should never assume...."

Bad Girls – The Musical runs at Mansfield Palace Theatre from June 29 to July 2. Tickets cost £15.50; to book go to www.mansfieldpalace.co.uk

A production of The Mikado in 1937.