March 2019 Review

The Sound of Musicals: more than 100 Years of Amateur Operatics In Barrow

The guest speaker at the March meeting was Graham Whalan, whose talk was called“The History of Amateur Operatics in Barrow.” He has written several books and many people from local amateur groups attended his talk.

Since the end of the 19 th century amateur operatics, or musical theatre, have proved to be a major
part of Barrow’s social history. At the present time, including both junior and senior groups, there
are at least 8 active amateur societies which, for a town the size of Barrow, is quite impressive. This
illustrated talk aimed to outline the roots of these local societies, and to chart their subsequent
development.
At a national level, the amateur movement had been kick-started in the late 19 th century by the huge
popularity of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas, and amateur groups were formed in order to bring
their works to a wider audience. The first evidence we have of this at a local level was in Ulverston in
1892, and then in Barrow in 1894 with a 3-night staging of The Yeomen of the Guard at Barrow’s
Town Hall. Subsequently several other groups became established, largely emerging from the choral
societies of local churches, and some of these then evolved into the amateur theatrical companies
which continue to thrive today, e.g the Walney Musical Theatre Company, and the Abbey Musical
Society.
In charting the developments of the past 100 years or more, the talk also illustrated how local
societies have successfully kept pace with the major developments in musical theatre in general,
from G&S, to the Edwardian musical comedies, to Broadway’s ‘Golden Age’ and the modern day
shows from London’s West End. Their success is attributable to Barrow’s many talented generations
of producers, musicians, performers and supporters that have kept the tradition alive particularly in
the face of many threats and challenges, such as those posed by two world wars, periods of poverty
and unemployment, and rising costs.

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