By Richard Watson
After a long break from performing, the Huddersfield Thespians are finally returning to the stage with the first play of their 102nd season.
‘Teechers’ is a riotous, fast-moving and highly entertaining schooldays comedy by audience-favourite John Godber, and will be on at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield from September 29 until October 3.
The cast includes Adam Croft, Jess Fort and Lucie Robinson – with a combined age of just 52 – and the director is Mel Walton.
In this observational comedy, three young actors play a wide range of roles to tell the story of three students staging a hilarious play about their new drama teacher and his perilous first days in their rough comprehensive school.
Staff room politics, student behaviour and embarrassing moments are relived as the pupils present their own spin on school life.
The Thespians usually have around six-eight weeks to rehearse a play, and produce five plays in a year, but ‘Teechers’ has taken an unusually long time to come to the stage.
Work began in February 2020, then, like so much else, had to be put on hold during the pandemic lockdowns.
The long delay and extra challenges, though, have made the Thespians more determined than ever to get this play on stage, and they’re cautiously looking forward to it forming the opening of their 102nd season of quality local theatre in Huddersfield.
On top of the difficulties presented by the pandemic, the Thespians have also been in the process of moving out of their home of 45 years in Oakes, to new premises in Milnsbridge.
The former textiles mill that had been their base was sold and the society found themselves having to move an Aladdin’s cave of props, scenery, furniture and costumes that took up two floors of the building.
It seemed a herculean task but with a committed team of volunteers and some Yorkshire grit, the society succeeded in sorting, selling, disposing of, dismantling and shifting vast quantities of material just in time to leave Oakes before the developers moved in.
Costume sales were particularly successful, raising much-needed funds to enable the move into a new mill, nicknamed ‘Narnia’ in honour of the way that the Thespians are able to enter it “through the wardrobe.”
Building work on the new premises was slowed by pandemic restrictions but the Thespians were finally able to hold an Open Day in September 2021 to show off their new theatre workshop, rehearsal room, wardrobe, and prop and furniture storage areas.
The Huddersfield Thespians first put on a play in 1920, and are proud to have staged at least one play every year since then – including during World War Two – so this hasn’t been the first challenge they’ve faced or the first time they’ve had to move premises.
Among the highlights of their 100 years of activity has been their involvement in the foundation of the Lawrence Batley Theatre, where they now perform, and whose recent show ‘Chronicles’ included some of the society’s contributions to the theatre.
The last two seasons might have been disrupted but the Thespians aren’t daunted and ‘Teechers’ is followed in November by ‘Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh’s classic 1970s suburban satire which audiences will remember from the BBC film.
Society president Christine Smith said: “Looking back over the last two years, we have much to be thankful for: we have our new premises; we have reduced our annual running costs; we have been able to bolster our funds; and we have found new ways to socialise whilst not having to leave the house.
“We have a strong set of shows in place for the coming season and still have a venue in which to perform them.
“While it isn’t clear what impact Covid will have going into autumn, we keep our fingers crossed that we can return to what we do best, bringing quality drama to local people, safe in the knowledge that if there are any more bumps in the road ahead, we are well-placed to navigate them.”
‘Teechers’ is on at the Lawrence Batley Theatre every evening at 7.15pm from Wednesday September 29 to Saturday October 2. There is a matinee on Sunday October 3 at 2pm.
Tickets are available through the LBT’s Box Office, in person, on 01484 430528, or through their website: https://thelbt.org/what-s-on/drama/teechers/.
Discounts are available for under-30s, or if you buy with the Thespians’ second play, ‘Abigail’s Party’, which runs from November 24-27. https://thelbt.org/what-s-on/drama/abigail-s-party/.