Now a trail of leisurely pursuits, remnants of an industrial thoroughfare are still visible on The Kennet and Avon Canal. While some lay dormant and dilapidated since its decline in the 1850s, many have been put to good use. Enhancing the tourist attraction, cafes and inns make use of warehouses and wharfs, but none perhaps as much as the small, 18th century warehouse, adjacent to the Kennet & Avon Canal Museum at the Devizes Wharf.
It’s been home for The Wharf Theatre for the past forty years, officially opening on the 16th May 1980 with a production of J B Priestley’s When We Are Married. Prior to purpose-built arts centres, Devizes was the only local town with its own theatre, and it remains the only dedicated theatre in East Wiltshire.
Formed in 1947, The Devizes and District Amateur Dramatic Society, were never happy using the Palace Cinema or Corn Exchange, and though it gave them the name Wharf Theatre in ‘73, even the first premises in Couch Lane was unsuitable. It’d take another six years before Kennet District Council redeveloped the Wharf, and the site as we know it today was reserved.
Handy, perhaps that the then treasurer, John Hurley, was former assistant chief executive at Kennet District Council, but the fact we have our own theatre is largely due to him and wife Beryl. However, if you think the theatre is all a bit hoity-toity for you, consider it was renovated with labour provided by youth, under a Job Creation Scheme, and part-funded by the Manpower Services Commission, a quango addressing unemployment. It’s said all members chipped in to help, working alongside offenders on community service!
If you’re still not convinced, thinking this is all before my time, (me too, honest!) stick around as Devizine wishes the Wharf a happy 40th birthday, and with their autumn-winter season brochure out, highlight what’s happening over the coming season. With an incorrigible womaniser, ghostly horror, an amateur boxer and a pimp, skiffle and comedy songs, flap-tastic family comedy and pantomime, oh, and Boycie, there may be something for you.
It starts 23rd -28th September with a ghost story, and everyone loves a ghost story. The Turn of the Screw, which we previewed here.
On Friday 4th October they trace back a plethora of comedy songs. Probably The best Comedy Songs in the World Ever…. Maybe! covers a history of comedy songs, from Noel Coward and Lonnie Donegan to Monty Python and The Goons. Bernie Cribbins is in there, and of course, if they need any props for the customary Benny Hill song, I’ve a milk bottle or twenty.
Also note I can do a cracking impression of both Boycie and Marlene, but not to order. John Challis has an audience with on 12th October, revealing on-set secrets from Only Fools and Horses and the actors Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst. You know this one makes sense, Rodders.
Comedy a running theme for the early autumn, Alan Ayckbourn’s Living Together runs from 21st to 26th October, introducing us to the incorrigible womaniser, Norman, and his family of recognisable middle-class types whose personalities are never quite as predictable as they seem.
One of the UK’s beloved comedians and impressionists, Duncan Norvelle and award-winning singer and entertainer, Maggie Regan visit the Wharf Theatre on November 1st. Combing eccentric humour with high energy roots music, it’s all funny songs, crazy costumes and virtuoso music with The London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra on Friday 8th November.
In residence at Pound Arts, Corsham, but taking their show internationally, expect flap-tastic family comedy, when The Last Baguette Theatre Company presents The Bird Show on the 9th. Suitable for the “whole brood,” including fledglings from three plus, this madcap and touching show about birds facing changes to their habitat uses live music, puppetry and lots of silly bird jokes.
Now, I don’t wanna think about it just yet, sure you don’t either, not while the sun is still shining, but the big C wouldn’t be the big C without pantomime, and the Wharf has Cinderella running from Friday 6th to Saturday 14th December.
New decade, 2020 then, and nobel laureate Harold Pinter’s Tony Award-winning 1964 two-act play, The Homecoming runs from Monday 27th January to Saturday 1st February. Directed by Lewis Cowen, this is vintage Pinter, but its twists are worthy of Alfred Hitchcock.
When Teddy, an expatriate American philosophy professor, brings his wife Ruth to visit his old home in London, he finds his eccentric family still living in the house; his father, a retired butcher, his uncle, a chauffeur and his brothers, an amateur boxer and a pimp. In the conflict that follows, it is Ruth who becomes the focus of the family’s struggle for supremacy.
With a rich history, notable past performances and maintening an eminent yet pragmatic, hospitable atmosphere, The Wharf Theatre is something for Devizes to be proud of. Check the website for more details of performances and tickets.
© 2017-2019 Devizine (Darren Worrow)
Please seek permission from the Devizine site and any individual author, artist or photographer before using any content on this website. Unauthorised usage of any images or text is forbidden.
Adverts & All That Malarkey!