BCP History by Clare Lester

BCP History – 70 years of Theatre in Banbury

The History of Banbury Cross Players. BCP has been part of the local amateur dramatic scene for 70 years. The society began life in 1945 when an enthusiastic group of people who had been getting together for play reading evenings decided that it might be fun to perform a play and, as they say, the rest is history.

BCP have been entertaining audiences with a wide range of productions ever since.

The first production by BCP was Hay Fever, performed in April 1945. Unfortunately no hall could be found in war time Banbury, but the then headmaster at Bloxham School generously offered the Great Hall. In spite of petrol restrictions the support form the public exceeded all expectations – people travelled by train, bus and bicycle. Some even walked!

Much encouraged the society then looked for a Banbury venue in which to perform. First came Christ Church Hall and then, in 1947, one production, Blithe Spirit, was performed at Banbury Grammar School. After this the next thirteen productions were housed in Banbury Town Hall until 1952 when BCP moved into the Church House where they continued to stage productions until 1961.

During the early fifties a successful production of Little Red Riding Hood showed that there was a need for an annual pantomime in Banbury. In January 1954, 2500 people came to see Cinderella. This was not a mass produced show but was truly “made in Banbury” – script, music, choreography, scenery, production and, of course, the cast and crew. Each year until 1961 two full length plays and a Christmas play or pantomime were produced at the Church House.

In 1961 the Society staged Ring Around the Moon at the recently opened North Oxfordshire Technical College which, with its large stage and modern facilities, provided the opportunity for BCP to put on larger and more adventurous productions. Such things as a live horse (more of a pony really) drawn carriage, a steam train, cars, flying equipment and a revolving stage were all introduced as BCP continued to develop its skill and expertise. In October 1970 the Society put on two productions – Live Like Pigs and On Approval – in the same week. They were performed on alternate nights with a complete set change carried out by members of the society after the audience went home. Any member of the audience who found themselves booked in on the wrong night might have found they were staggered by the absolute realism of one, when they had hoped to enjoy the sophisticated 1920’s comedy of the other.

For several years BCP produced a wide range of successful open air productions in surroundings such as Broughton Castle, Wroxton Abbey and, in more recent times, Overthorpe Hall. One ‘Titania’ had to swim the castle moat to make her entrance, whilst another arrived on stage on a bicycle having ridden around the Abbey grounds. In the middle of a production an actor might well find themselves competing in volume with American F1-11s or the drone of the M40.

Audience members would arrive early clutching large picnic hampers, umbrellas and waterproofs. The show would go on whatever, and it did. Torrential downpour was no excuse to stop mid performance or to cancel, even if this meant a cast continuing to perform whilst wearing large plastic bags. And the audience always stayed until the end, no matter how wet or cold they became. Due to the unpredictability of the weather and the expense of such shows, at present, BCP no longer perform outdoors. It was, therefore, somewhat ironic that in July 2007 BCP’s production of The Dresser had to be cancelled after two performances due to the storms which flooded the venue and even more so when our November 2012 production of Calendar Girls only made it as far as the Dress Rehearsal before more rain and floods stopped play.

The Mill Arts Centre has been BCP’s home since October 1990. The Society now produces four full length plays each year. Over the years Banbury audiences have seen BCP performing classic productions such as The Crucible, The Cherry Orchard, Hay Fever and An Inspector Calls; modern plays such as Dancing at Lughnasa, Steel Magnolias and Our Country’s Good, comedies from Shakespeare to Alan Ayckbourn; thrillers; historical dramas; pantomimes; childrens’ plays; as well as venturing into the world of musicals with productions of Cabaret and Chicago.

A successful production needs a director, actors, production manager, set designer, set builders, stage crew, publicity team, lighting technicians, sound technicians, costume coordinator, props organiser, make up artiste, hair stylist, stage manager and Front of House. They remain a vibrant and enthusiastic group and have members to call upon to fill these roles. New members are always welcome and BCP meet every Tuesday evening at the Mill Arts Centre, 8pm. The meetings enable members to get together socially for Quarterly meetings, play readings, workshops, discussion groups, Play Selection evenings, auditions and guest speakers introducing a range of theatrical related topics. This website contains all the very latest information about productions – and you will even find BCP on Facebook and Twitter.

For over 70 years BCP have been contributing to the rich diversity of entertainment in North Oxfordshire. In the early days the Society quickly earned a reputation for the fact that there was nothing ‘amateur’ about their productions. BCP has grown and developed over the years but continues to maintain the highest dramatic standards set by their founders. They desire is to continue entertaining local audiences for many years to come.