Dramatic Opportunity For All
In 1961, several leading members of local Amateur Dramatic Societies were invited to attend a meeting at the Walton Town Hall, where they were asked if there would be any interest in taking part in a Festival of Plays.
The instigator of that meeting was Edward G Hubbard, the then Town Clerk of Walton and Weybridge U.D.C. and his initiative led to the first Drama Festival being held at the Brooklands Technical College in March 1962, under the auspices of the Council.
Five years later, the venue was changed to the Walton Playhouse where it has remained until the present day. With the formation of the Walton and Weybridge Arts Council in 1968 the U.D.C. handed over the running of the Festival to this newly formed body.
Groups entering the Festival have come from as far apart as Haslemere, Egham. Twickenham, New Malden, Guildford, Bognor Regis and Horsham and a number of groups from the early days who are still entering the Festival include the Desborough Players, EYT (formerly Esher Youth Theatre) and Runnymede Drama Group many of whom having progressed to Divisional finals.
Over the years various teams going forward from Elmbridge to further rounds have progressed on three occasions to the All England final, Guildbury Productions, Q2 and Runnymede Drama Group having achieved this goal, the latter also winning the All England Theatre Festival final and going on to represent England in the British final at Enniskillen in July 1993. The year 2000 was a particularly good year for the Festival with the Elmbridge winners, Runnymede Drama Group, going through to win all future rounds and finally becoming the winners of the British final with Lear's Daughters. Those who saw the play at Elmbridge will appreciate what an exceptionally high standard has been attained at our local festival.
It is interesting to note that any number of players have gone on to become professional actors, many students from Rydens School including Edward Highmore who was in Howards Way, Howard Attfield who was at one time a member of Guildbury Productions pops up regularly in advertisements on TV and the late Buster Merryfield of Only Fools and Horses fame have all appeared on the Playhouse stage at the Elmbridge Drama Festival.
From its beginning the Festival has been part of the All England Theatre Festival (AETF), which had its origins in the British Drama League. This is directed by the Theatre Festival Committee and is administered through Area, Divisional and District Committees. The Elmbridge Drama Festival is one of around thirty 1st Round Festivals around the country, being part of the South West Division of the AETF Eastern Area.
Continuing from this local festival, the winners progress to the 2nd Round SW Divisional Final, the winners of which compete in the Eastern Area Final for the right to progress to the National Final. The winner of this prestigious event is selected to appear at the British Final along with the winners from the Drama Association of Wales, Scottish Community Drama Association and Ulster Drama Festivals.
The Elmbridge Drama Festival is also a full member of NDFA (National Drama Festivals Association.)