This year sees Buxton Drama League (BDL) marking its one hundredth birthday. At the town’s Green Man Gallery last week, the league celebrated with an exuberant gallop down memory lane, recreating a handful of the productions that it has staged since 1922.
In the beginning
As director Robbie Carnegie explained, BDL started out as the Buxton Branch of the British Drama League that sprang up after the First World War. The British Drama League provided a central organisation for amateur theatre groups and was active in the movement to establish the National Theatre. By 1923, there were more than three hundred affiliated societies.
In its one hundred years, BDL has performed around 250 shows, from pantomimes to Shakespearian tragedy. The exact number is unknown as the archive is a little patchy in places.
BDL has been marking its centenary with a range of shows throughout 2022. The highlight was an intense and unsettling production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in May, performed at Buxton’s famous Opera House. The play is well-known as an allegory for the McCarthysim of 1950s America. BDL’s production vividly demonstrated that, in our current climate of sometimes hysterical culture wars and identity politics, the play retains all of its power.
Last week, BDL presented its final commemorative event, 100 Years in One Night, a multi-faceted production recalling some of their past shows.
And a riotous evening it was. Call it ‘speed-theatre’, if you like, scattered around the atmospheric backdrop of the Green Man Gallery. The gallery is housed in the rambling old British Legion building in the centre of Buxton. With its many small rooms on several different levels, it is ideally suited for this type of promenade performance.
Several scenes were performed simultaneously in different parts of the gallery. Each had been selected to represent a different decade, stretching from the debut production of Bazhouka Meets the Gods in 1922, through Noel Coward’s Relative Values in 1956, Doctor Who and the Seven Keys to Doomsday in 1981 to Alan Bennett’s Habeus Corpus in 2012. The audience was divided into small groups and were taken to each performance in turn, with a BDL member as their own tour guide.
The biggest challenge
The inclusion of BDL’s debut performance in 1922 was an obvious choice but presented a particular problem. As Robbie explains: “The biggest challenge was the first play the league ever staged, Bazhouka Meets the Gods. We searched everywhere for a script but it doesn’t appear to exist.”
Undeterred, he created an effective two-handed scene from scratch, hoping it might be something like the original but, he concedes, “we’ll never know.”
It was a joyful evening and – in the true spirit of the British Drama League’s founding intention – a thoroughly community-focussed event. Buxton Drama League can stride forward into the next hundred years, knowing itself to be in rude health.
BDL’s upcoming production is an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters in November. Tickets available here.