Kays Theatre Group has a long and colourful history and started from a talent contest at the Public Hall in Worcester organised by Bill Hill in 1954. Kays Sports and Social Committee decided to enter a Variety Act and the participants called themselves “The Happy Go Luckies” all of them employees of “Kays” Catalogue Company.
1955 the group hired the Co-op Hall in Trinity Street, charging (Two shillings and sixpence) 12½p entry fee and performed one act plays directed by Florence Hemes (the company nurse).
1956 Pat Milton who had had experience of appearing in a Pantomime was persuaded to produce “Cinderella Revisited” with help from Margaret Thomas (nee Bryant) who was in charge of the dancers and the choreography. This was such a success that all future productions were pantomimes.
1957 Kays Theatre Group entered a one act play festival. Some of the happiest of memories were of Ian Christopher (the catering manager of Kays) serving up hot meals to all the cast backstage before the shows and Les Cooke, the directors’ chauffeur getting Fish & Chips for between the Saturday shows.
1964 A new era for Kays Theatre Group. The Swan Theatre was to be the new venue for the 10th pantomime, Robinson Crusoe, and proved to be a huge success. Nearly 3,000 people came to see it. Pat Milton wrote the script using Daniel Defoe’s book and also produced it.
Miss Eppy Evans, Chairman for many years, (Jewellery Buyer) sold the tickets and also raised money to buy sugar/tea/biscuits, etc., to give to the OAP’s who were invited to a Thursday matinee.
Mr George Lodge (Chairman of Kays) was so impressed with the shows that he allowed all those taking part to have afternoons off work with full pay for the week of the show and even when it was decided to change to a two week performance in the early 1970’s, he still allowed the concession to continue. At this time the cast was still mainly Kay’s employees.
1969 We had a problem! We needed another producer and Mr Donald Arbuckle (Kays’ Managing Director) knew that Doreen Pritchard (who was the switchboard supervisor) was married to John Pritchard who worked for the BBC on productions. John was approached to see if he would be interested in producing a pantomime for Kays Theatre Group. He accepted the challenge and continued producing for a number of years. This was when people outside ‘Kays’ were first allowed to audition and were keen to do so.
Saturday matinees were primarily for the children of Kays’ employees and formed part of their Christmas gift from the Sports and Social Club.
Scripts for the early pantomimes were supplied by “Wilcox and Rutherford” of London and later by John Morley.
1989 This was the only time we experimented with an exhausting run of 3 weeks. It was a memorable year because we actually had a pony on stage to pull Cinderella’s coach. It was spectacular and made in Kays workshop by a team of dedicated workmen led by John Smythe and Derek Edwards (who was also Treasurer and Business Manager). This was quite different to the very early days when Pat Milton and Matt Bosley made scenery for the Co-op Hall.
1990 Another crisis – This saw Robert and Sue Wilson coming to our rescue and taking on the production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Sue was keen to encourage the chorus to move around the stage and finally convinced them that they were able to do so. Another step forward!
1993 We were invited to appear on television. Esther Rantzen was dealing with complaints from viewers in a programme called “That’s Life” and Kays Catalogue had had a complaint about a “Flymo Lawn Mower”. Several Kays Theatre Group members appeared pushing mowers and performed a dance as part of dealing with the complaint. It was great fun!
1990/1995/2001 Kays Theatre Group took part in Worcester Carnival, dressing a float and collecting cash for the charities being supported. We even won an award one year. Laura Rice was usually in charge of the design and costumes with lots of help from all the members.
Rehearsals for the shows were held in Kays’ staff canteen until 2002 when Kays Catalogue ceased to exist and we now rehearse at Perdiswell Young People’s Leisure Club.
A Pantomime has been produced every year and has always been very well attended, in fact for most of the time a complete sell out, and we are proud to have been able to support a number of charities with surplus money available. We have supported the following charities (amongst others):
BBC Children in Need
Acorns Children’s Hospital
St Richards Hospice
Worcester’s Ronkswood Hospital Children’s Ward
Rose Hill School (to purchase musical instruments)
The Liver Foundation (following a request from a Kays’ employee)
Worcester Royal Infirmary (Chemotherapy Department) in memory of much loved member, Jean Terry.
Radio Wyvern Kids.
Kays Theatre Group also annually sponsor the Worcester Stage Dance Festival.
The Kays Theatre Group Young Performers bursary has recently been introduced for the benefit of young people to further their skills in the performing arts. For more information see the Home Page link to the Application Form which contains details of the criteria applied.
2010 Kays Theatre Group became a Registered Charity number 1140050.
Our many producers include:
• Harry Palmer
• Flo Hemus
• Pat Milton
• Pat Malone
• John Pritchard
• Robert and Sue Wilson
• Vic Laver
• Sue Chance
• Susan Sanderson
• Paul Hutton
• Rob Holcroft
• Ann Mayor
Paula Dymock and Rachel Sedgley
• Gail Metcalfe
June Reeves, Vice President, June 2011.