Last Minute Theatre – 20th Birthday

In the latter part of 1999, when Kibworth Grammar School Hall was still in its infancy as a proposed Community centre, the Chairman of the Trustees, Robert Edge, asked Richard Green (then Sub Postmaster at Kibworth Post Office), if he would be willing to organise an event to raise funds for the Hall. Richard had been involved in amateur dramatics for nearly 40 years but had not produced or directed for the last 20 of them.

He decided to stage an Old Time Music Hall ‘The Good Old Days’ in September 2000.

First he had to get together a group of people willing to tread the boards and entertain!

Secondly came the challenge of how to fund the total costs without touching a penny of the fundraising money!

Having the Post Office was a godsend as he chatted daily to so many people. Soon there was a diverse cast of talented and eager folk wanting to take part, in addition to those willing and able to produce a set, fabulous costumes, provide a technical crew and a five piece orchestra.

Not wishing to rest on our laurels, we also included a supper for our patrons, all for the princely sum of just £5 a ticket!

We raised money for costumes, staging, food, etc. by having coffee mornings and (with appeals to villagers and friends for unwanted but saleable items) got up at unearthly hours at the weekends to do car boot sales.

As far as costumes were concerned, again we appealed for unwanted fabric, threads, trims etc. plus all sizes of pearl buttons (to enable us to make six Pearly King and Queen outfits). On a personal note, it took me hours and hours to sew the button designs onto a black satin skirt, waistcoat and hat – but boy, was it worth it. The buttons were genuine ‘mother of pearl/shell’ buttons and were incredibly heavy. We also appealed for tin hats and brass buttons as we had Soldiers’ costumes to make too. During this melee of collecting, sorting and organising (all in the Post Office store room) our Angel of the Wardrobe came – in the form of one Eileen Hardwick (who many will remember) who produced such fabulous costumes (the phrase ‘making a silk purse from a sow’s ear’ springs to mind and really did happen)!

I should mention, at this point, that when we had our first rehearsal, the ‘stage’ was a bare, basic, raised platform with access to one side only and no curtains. It was not long before our late friend, Alan Holyoak, transformed it into a working stage with side flats/wings, back flat, backdrop and access to both sides. With theatre lighting and sound, Last Minute Theatre were ready to roll.

Our aim was to raise £800, but with sell-out audiences, takings from the Tombola (all prizes provided by business colleagues on Kibworth High Street) and bar profits, the total donated to the Grammar School Hall was £1,100 which was used to pay for stage curtains.

(Incidentally, those curtains were replaced last September – on the first night of our show ‘Celebration’, having served us and many others for 19 years.)

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Richard called the group ‘Last Minute Music Theatre’ (his sense of humour though I can’t remember a production when there wasn’t something ‘last minute’) but then dropped the ‘Music’ as our second production was a play!

We’d had great fun creating Last Minute Theatre and continued to offer a full spectrum of entertainment, from Pantomimes, Murder Mysteries, Variety Shows, Quizarets, 40s Nights, Big Band Balls and Plays to performing on BBC Television in Michael Wood’s ‘Story of England’ with the ‘Penny Readings’ (an Old Time Music Hall) filmed in the Village Hall and a 40s Night filmed in the Grammar School Hall.

During our early years, Last Minute Theatre funded the extension of the stage by adding the ‘apron’ (built beautifully by John Burbidge). This gave additional stage room (for any user) and also a performing area ‘front of curtain’.

To date, we have performed over 70 productions and sincerely hope that the next 20 years (Corona Virus permitting) will see the group thrive and grow, giving much pleasure to many.

Mary Orton