Exeunt The Hayes Players

Amongst the many society casualties of Covid might be counted, to a certain extent, the final demise in January, of The Hayes Players who have been bringing amateur theatre to Hayes for over 85 years. In their day the Players were an integral part of the community bringing tears and laughter to the Village Hall through their comedy, drama, panto, review and musical productions four times a year. They not only coaxed housebound television couch potatoes to discover that there were actually other people out there but also consistently came away from annual Kent Drama Festivals with first-place awards for production, acting and stagecraft. A last look at their website is sure to bring back many fond memories of past performances down through the years.

At this point, I am reminded of a past article on the Alford Players in the Aberdeen ‘Press & Journal’. Alford is the Aberdeenshire village in which I grew up from 1948 – 1959. The article could just as easily apply to the Hayes Players as any other village over the same period.

‘New Year’s night in the Alford of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was unnerving for any chance visitor to the village.
Snow fell steadily, softly, on streets strangely silent. Homes were dark, quiet. Narrow lanes and closes were empty. The snow lay deep in the howe. The village appeared deserted; and eerie with it.
The stillness was a commodity in short supply at the village hall, though. There, the only hush came between peals of laughter…..The Alford Players had taken to the stage again, premiering their latest production. And no one in the howe wanted to miss it.
The seating had been booked solid for weeks. The baker’s shop had been kept busy taking bookings at 2/6 a time (programme 3d). They were standing in the aisles and round the back of the hall. Children sat two or three deep in the window recesses. The place was packed. And everybody loved every minute of it…..
They rehearsed a production each year from September to December. It was premièred in Alford Public Hall on January 1, then, for the following 13 Fridays, the Players went on tour. Towards the end, the Players had to ration their performances. Towns and villages were clamouring for a play. It was all they could do to keep their customers happy…..’

Since the onset of Covid, we hear the word ‘community’ with increasing frequency and here in Hayes, as elsewhere across the land, we’ve seen heart-warming examples of that old ‘wartime spirit’ when people pulled together in the face of 7 years unremitting hardship. All the more regrettable then to see the end of a once central pillar of our community where the population is certainly big enough to support the local theatre as they do neighbouring Theatre 62 in West Wickham and Farnborough Dramatic Society, not to mention Chelsfield Players and Pratts Bottom Dramatic Society on the fringes.

The oft-heard problem voiced when long-standing organisations and societies finally break up is one of succession when members become too old to continue and recruitment of younger people appears to be no longer an option. Although this is certainly an ongoing situation, it is heartening to know that our other local dramatic societies continue to find ways in which to overcome adversity and even to advance. They and their communities (not to mention our own) now need support for their invaluable endeavours more than ever.

Brian McEwan