MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Gainford Drama Group celebrates its 70th anniversary this year and founding member Edith Burdon, centre, says she is immensely proud
MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Gainford Drama Group celebrates its 70th anniversary this year and founding member Edith Burdon, centre, says she is immensely proud

A DALE drama group is celebrating its 70th anniversary next month and members say they are “nervous and excited” about one major change this year – selling tickets online.

Gainford Drama Group, which launched in 1949 when a group of friends decided to start performing plays in the village hall, originally sold tickets at the corner shop. Back then, queues of residents could be found lining up in the street.

However this year, for the first time, the club has gone digital and tickets to their forthcoming production of Party Piece, which will open on Wednesday, April 3, will be available online. It’s something members say they are both “excited and nervous” about. Club chairwoman Jan Richardson-Wilde said: “I just hope it all goes well and people know where to buy the tickets.”

The club has staged more than 150 plays and has had a core membership of about 30 to 40 members, though when it started there were only about a dozen. Founding member Enid Burdon, 95, is now club president and is still actively involved. She not only starred in many productions but directed more than 50.

She said: “When we started we were just a bunch of friends getting together and I was always interested in speech and elocution.

“I was the first woman to be chair, though not the first chairman. I have to say I am immensely proud of what the club has achieved. I mean how many other small village drama groups can say they have such a lovely theatre as this as their home?”

The first four plays were performed at the village hall before the club moved to what is now the Academy Theatre, in High Green.

The theatre had originally been Gainford Academy the school of Stan Laurel – one half of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Ms Burdon said: “I remember the first play we staged here, George and Margaret. I had to carry all the seats over from the village hall, and then return them later.”

Over the years, as audiences grew so did the club’s ability to invest in the former school building, turning it into the theatre it is today.

Members built a stage, lights were fitted, curtains were made and a dressing room equipped. After 1961 the theatre became affiliated to the village hall complex and in 1983 “proper tip-up” theatre seats were purchased from the Civic Theatre in Darlington through donations by members and friends.

When the Civic Theatre underwent a further renovation three years ago, the club snapped up more, plush seats. The club carries out regular improvements to the theatre and has also created a green room for the amateur actors and crew. However, members agree the club is more than just about amateur dramatics – it has a social side. Club members will celebrate the 70th anniversary with an afternoon tea party at Headlam Hall on June 16, although only after the forthcoming production has come to a close. The club is currently rehearsing the chaotic comedy, Party Piece by Richard Harris, and the curtain will go up on Wednesday, April 3, at 7.30pm.

There will be eight performances over the fortnight and tickets, which are available for the first time online cost £8 and are available from 

However, it will still be possible to purchase tickets from the box office by ringing 0333 6663366. The drama group meets three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays from 7.30pm at the Academy Theatre, when a production is in rehearsal.