Sidmouth scores century of operettas with SACOS

Iolanthe marks 100th show performed by Sidmouth Arts Club Operatic Society

THERE has been an amateur operatic society in Sidmouth for at least a century, and for almost 90 years of that, under the banner of Sidmouth Arts Club Operatic Society.

The activities of the earlier group, which provided entertainment for the town with the Choral Society, lapsed during the First World War, but a phoenix grew out of the ashes in the form of Sidmouth Arts Club, when, after the war, there was a need for a concert party to perform at parish socials.

In 1922, then vicar of Sidmouth, the Reverend C K Woolcombe, wrote The Fairy’s Dilemma and this, together with the pantomime The Sleeping Beauty, was produced and conducted by Billy Greaves.

Perhaps it is appropriate fairies appeared in the society’s 100th production – Iolanthe - at Manor Pavilion Theatre last week.

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Those early shows were so successful that members then produced The Raja of Rajapore, a modest operetta from a published libretto and score, in 1923.

The following year, a more confident society staged The Rebel Maid, just months after its London production.

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SACOS chairman, Selwyn Kussman, writes: “Under the professional guidance of Percy Stedman and Dorothy Hughes, an amateur musical was presented on a scale never before seen in Sidmouth.”

It was in 1926 that the society ventured into the realms of Gilbert and Sullivan, staging HMS Pinafore, which it has staged just twice since, the last time in 2004.

“For many years these operettas were presented in accordance with the highest Savoy tradition; earning the club, in the Noda bulletin, the accolade of “the finest exponents in Devon of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas,” writes Selwyn.

RW Delderfield, who lived at Peak Hill, Sidmouth, doyen of the earlier society, was persuaded to emerge from retirement and quickly re-established himself with the new generation as an artist well above amateur standards.

At the end of the war SACOS had the good fortune to enlist the famous West End musical comedy star, Gene Gerard, who will be especially remembered for the 1965 production of The King and I.

Stage direction was then, on Gene’s retirement, taken on by Frederick Rylands, well-known in London amateur circles.

Many society members have belonged for decades, and for at least one couple, brought them together. Larry and Dorothy Jackson married in 1948 and a decade ago, before Larry’s death, were its longest serving members.

In 1978 Marlene Solman, who had distinguished herself on stage with the society, demonstrated her directing capabilities in Fiddler on the Roof.

From 1996 on, SACOS has presented a second autumn fundraising show to help pay for its main production, which costs thousands to stage, and keep it financially viable.

The society has always been keen to encourage younger members and in the past few years has given bursaries to several to help them with a career in theatre.

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