Party guests toast Chesterfield Pomegranate Theatre's 70th birthday

Chesterfield's mayor Councillor Stuart Brittain cuts the 70th birthday cake on stage at the Pomegranate Theatre.
Chesterfield's mayor Councillor Stuart Brittain cuts the 70th birthday cake on stage at the Pomegranate Theatre.

Civic leaders, actors, directors, writers and staff past and present celebrated the 70th anniversary of Chesterfield's Pomegranate Theatre.

The Pomegranate, which is the oldest civic theatre in England, hosted a birthday party for 150 guests.this afternoon.

A celebration cake was cut by the town's mayor Councillor Stuart Brittain who proposed the birthday toast.

Coun Brittain said that he had trod the boards at the Pomegranate 45 years ago playing a murderer in a production by St Augustine's Players. He said that at the time he had been quite shy, adding: "Amateur dramatics is a brilliant facility for life. It develops your character,"

Chesterfield Theatre Friends chairman Mike Spriggs said the group had been set up 11 years ago to protect, promote and preserve the Pomegranate. The Friends had raised £55,000 towards providing a disabled toilet, mechanical equipment backstage and follow spotlights.

Mike, who has acted, sung and directed at the Pomegranate for 40 years, said: "It's a wonderful theatre to perform in. The staff backstage and front of house and the management treat us as professionals as opposed to amateurs."

Professional actress Karen Henson, who is currently co-producing the seven-play rep season with her husband John Goodrum, has appeared on the Pomegranate stage more times than any other female. She said: "I't a curious breed of actors that thrives on weekly rep. You have to be very brave, you have to live on adrenaline or fear." Karen spoke about performing alongside Jean Fergusson (Last of the Summer Wine), Joan Francis (Pat Phoenix's understudy in Coronation Street) and Freda Jeffries (Z Cars) at the Pomegranate more than three decades ago when she was just a couple of years out of drama school.

John Goodrum has been linked with the theatre for 34 years, first appearing in Murder By Appointment which was written by Frank Williams (the vicar in Dad's Army). He said: "This is a beautiful theatre to act in and watch plays in. It's a privilege to be asked to produce this season."

Councillor Tricia, Gilby, leader of Chesterfield Borough Council, first visited the Pomegranate when she was six years old and recalled being perplexed by a woman playing Prince Charming in pantomime. Her mum told her: "There is a lot about theatre which is difficult to explain, don't worry about it, just enjoy it,."

She said that the council was proud to own, run and financially support the Pomegranate which is England's oldest civic theatre.

In 2011 the council changed hands and the new leadership took a public first approach to services . Coun Gilby said: "Since then this theatre has gone from strength to strength. I congratulate that new council of 2011 for taking that bold step and keeping this as a civic theatre.

"I bring my grandchildren to the pantomime every year and I have every confidence based on the foundations that all of us here have laid down that they will also be able to bring their grandchildren to this great theatre,"

Birthday programmes contained messages from well-known actors who performed at the Pomegranate in their early years including John Challis (Only Fools and Horses), Dame Penelope Keith (The Good Life, To The Manor Born), Joss Ackland (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and Ruth Madoc (Hi-de-Hi).

Guests at the party, including Tony McHale who directed at the Pomegranate before going on to write scripts for EastEnders and Holby City, were able to view an exhibition about the history of the theatre, Chesterfield Museum and Stephenson Hall where the latter two are housed. The exhibition is open to the public until April 5, 2019.