Portadown Drama Circle
By Bertie Martin

Valerie McShane in ‘The Holly and the Ivy’

In 1947 a new cross community Drama group was formed and named ‘Portadown Drama Society’, this name was changed to ‘Portadown Drama Circle’ and as most of its productions were under that banner, it is how it is remembered by Mid-Ulster theatre goers. In almost a decade it produced a wide variety of plays taken from the Irish, English and American theatre.

Eric Anderson, a teacher at Portadown College and a prime mover in the group’s formation, produced ‘Blithe Spirit’ (Noel Coward) and ‘Ten Little Niggers’ (Agatha Christie) as well as other plays. A talented producer, Gerry McCreesh chose ’Friends and Relations’ (St. John Ervine) and finding a large cast at his disposal showed his interest in American comedy with a sparkling production of ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’ ( Geo Kaufman and Moss Hart). This was so successful that he followed it by another Broadway hit ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ (Joseph Kesselring) He was also responsible for the staging of ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ (Rudolf Beisier)

Denys Hawthorne acted in several plays but undertook the production of ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ (Wynyard Browne). Denys joined the Belfast Group Theatre and became a professional actor, he had a successful career in England in television, films and radio. Another actor who became a producer was Bill Kenny, his choice was the comedy ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’ (John Dighton). Other plays presented were ‘Rope’ (Patrick Hamilton), ‘Antigone’ (Anouilh), ‘They Got What They Wanted’ (Louis D’Alton). All of the plays were staged in Portadown Town Hall at a time when the seating was wooden tip-up seats and the place lacked the extensive equipment installed some decades later.

When the Society was formed its President Mrs Ruth McGredy kindly allowed the use of premises at Bachelor’s Walk. Some years later the Circle acquired premises off Church Street (they are still used by Gateway Theatre).

In the early 1950’s television became available all over Northern Ireland and the fact that one could sit at home and be entertained meant that interest in live entertainment waned and this led to the demise of Portadown Drama Circle, but it left behind a record of interesting, well produced and well-acted plays.

Michael Lavery, Doris Robb and Bill Kenny in 'Arsenic and Old Lace'

Producer Gerry McCreesh with Paddy McGredy and Ambrose Elliott in

'Arsenic and Old Lace'

Wolsey Gracey, Wilfred Robb and unknown person in 'Arsenic and Old Lace'

Wolsey Gracey and Patricia Wilson in 'Arsenic and Old Lace'

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