Fringe Box



60th Anniversary for Local Thespians, The Guildburys

Published on: 16 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 16 Mar, 2023

By Tricia Marcotti

2023 is the 60th anniversary for the Guildford community theatre group, Guildburys and it will be celebrated in style with three wonderful shows.

Its summer productions have been performed in the open since 1990, at various venues such as Farnham Castle, Waverley Abbey, Haslemere Educational Museum, and currently Merrist Wood College, where you get wonderful views over Guildford while eating your picnic!

Members of the Guildburys on their bus, Jug, on a tour of Cornwall in 1967. Photo: Butterfield family.

The Guildburys normally produce three productions a year, and this anniversary year is no exception. The first production, The Ladykillers, will be performed at the Electric Theatre in Guildford, from March 22 to 25.

The second, a summer outdoor production on July 19 to 22 at Merrist Wood College, will be Cyrano de Bergerac, adapted by Glynn Maxwell.

The autumn production at the Electric Theatre will be Happy Now? by Lucinda Coxon on November 29 to December 2.

The Ladykillers is being performed by the Guildburys. Photo: Jonathan Constant.

At the very beginning in 1963, the Guildburys was a touring company taking performances to various venues around Surrey and beyond.

In order to perform at the various sites, it needed to transport scenery, costumes and crew. The Guildburys bought a bus, affectionately known as Jug, (from its licence plate).

Jug, with the company name “Guildbury Players” in 18in tall lettering on its sides made the group well known when parked outside the performance venue!

The Government Inspector being performed by the Guildburys at the Minack Theatre in 2019. Photo: Phill Griffith.

At this time, it focused mainly on musicals, one of which was Paint Your Wagon, which was toured both locally and as far away as Cornwall in 1967.

Guildbury members, aged between 25 and 30, cycled to Cornwall in shifts, one hour cycling and two hours rest. Obviously a hardy bunch, I believe they all made it back! It must have been a glorious sight for people along the way.

While in Cornwall, to promote their play, the cast and crew would take to the beaches with leaflets, often piquing the beachgoers interest with impromptu performances.

The Guildburys Theatre Company has returned to Cornwall a number of times. In 1979 members were invited to perform at the Minack Theatre with The Merchant of Venice.

Members have returned three times since, and have been invited to return to the Minack next year, on the 45th anniversary of their first performance there.

If you have not yet been to the Minack Theatre, it is an awe inspiring venue both to perform and to view a performance.

The Guildburys future productions this year are Cyrano de Bergerac in July and Happy Now? in November. Photo: Phill Griffith.

Probably the furthest place in Great Britain where the company has performed is Edinburgh, at the Fringe Festival, where Antigone was its offering.

Even further afield, one summer, Jug made a trip to Spain with about 20 members of the group aboard. Think Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday, and you’ll get the picture.

The Guildburys Theatre Company has also entered drama festivals. In 2008, its production of A Dog’s Life by Pam Valentine won the prize for best play at the Leatherhead Drama Festival. The trophy was presented by Sir Michael Caine.

In 1977 the Guildburys’ first permanent home was in Woking at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre. Here members performed regularly until 1997, when it moved to the newly created Electric Theatre in Guildford, where it remain to the present day.

I’m glad to see that a number of the original members are still involved with the company, both as performers and behind the scenes. Indeed, Ian Nichols, who directed Paint Your Wagon all those years ago, is also directing next week’s performances of The Ladykillers.

Bookings for The Ladykillers can be made online here.

Casting for Happy Now? will be taking place shortly. If you would like to keep the tradition going, or if you are a budding thespian, you could try out for a part and join the Guildburys. For more information go to:

If you want to details of all the shows back to 1963 and photos of many, go their archive here.

Here’s to the next 60 years!

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