Berwick upon Tweed and District Amateur Operatic Society (now known locally as Berwick Opera) was founded in 1920 when the world was recovering from the First World War and people could look forward to a peaceful and pleasurable world once again.
There were plenty of good singers anxious to be part of the new Society and their first production was HMS Pinafore, performed in the Corn Exchange, in Sandgate, on a make-shift stage. But although the setting may have been amateurish, the show was a great success and met the high standards demanded by the appreciative audiences, according to a (highly critical) report in the local paper! They continued to perform Gilbert and Sullivan at the venue for several years until Berwick Theatre was built in 1928. It was a cinema with excellent stage facilities purpose-built for the Operatic Society and similar events. The Society soon took advantage of this large stage and began to perform the big American shows that were so popular in the 1930’s, such as Rose Marie, The Desert Song, New Moon and the Student Prince.
After the Second World War the Society was reformed and their opening show was Wild Violets in March 1947, during the worst snowstorm the district had known for years, the show being ironically set in Switzerland and containing the song ‘Charming Weather!’ More successful shows followed such as Maritza, Glamorous Nights and Bless the Bride, which all called for large casts, with a waiting list to join! And they attracted large audiences, regularly filling the 1000-seat theatre to capacity, at a time before the popularity of television changed our way of life forever.
Show Boat was rehearsed in 1954 but on the eve of the dress rehearsal there was a fire at the Theatre and the show had to be tragically cancelled.
With the arrival of Tommy McIntyre as Producer in 1964 the Society began to perform the new style style show, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I and West Side Story. This halcyon era ended in the 1970s when the Theatre was converted into a Ballroom/Bingo Hall and we moved to Wallace Green Church Hall, where we continued to put on successful shows but to much smaller audiences. It was a difficult time, when life and tastes were changing in so many ways and there was competition from other forms of entertainment such as TV and Discos. At that time, under the guidance of long-time member Eric Roberts, the Society also formed a Drama Section and performed many popular plays for several years.
Since 1961 the Society had the good fortune to have Ross Dickenson as a member. He played leading roles in most of our productions, both musical and dramatic, but he was also a local Councillor and lobbied hard for the town to have its own Arts Centre. The dream came to fruition in 1990 when the Maltings was opened and we have been performing there ever since.
In the last twenty years, we have performed many excelent shows including several repeats of the more popular favourites, our most recent productions being Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, My Fair Lady, Me and My Girl, Guys and Dolls, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Anything Goes, Sweet Charity, our 90 Anniversary production Carousel and in 2011 Singin’ In The Rain.
We are as strong a Society as ever and regularly welcome new talented, young members, which auger well for our future. Whatever you age and in whatever capacity you would like to join us in, you can be assured of a very warm welcome indeed.