A short history of Colchester Operatic Society
In a small room in Colchester Town Hall in 1924, a group of businessmen met to form an organisation which has lasted for over 95 years. It began its existence as Colchester Amateur Operatic Society, and from the beginning was an enormous success.
The first production was Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Gondoliers’, staged at The Hippodrome Theatre in Colchester’s High Street. The Essex County Telegraph reported in kindly terms on its reception, saying that “it must be remembered it was being performed by amateurs”! We are happy to report that the Society receives much more glowing reviews today!
In 1938 we produced our last show before the Second World War interrupted production, and it was 7 years before the Society returned to annual performances.
With the end of the war, the Society lost no time in getting back into production, now at The Old Repertory Theatre. In 1947 ‘Tom Jones’ was the first show to be performed by the Society at The Playhouse in St Johns Street, where we stayed until 1973. Increasingly ambitious shows were staged during this time, and several straight plays were introduced.
As time went on, The Hippodrome became a popular nightclub and The Playhouse became a pub, and so in 1973 the Society developed as well and moved to its current performance venue, The Mercury Theatre, a professional performance venue with a 500 seat capacity. Once again the reputation of the Society was enhanced as we performed such classics as ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘The King and I’ and ‘Hello Dolly’, with the demand for tickets regularly exceeding the number of seats available.
The costs of staging productions have escalated enormously from our humble beginnings, and whilst we once spent £700 per show, decades later the Society spends a great deal more on each show, nearing £100,000 for a big production! As you would expect from an increased budget, the standards of performance have also risen significantly, with the appointment of professional directors, musicians and musical directors.
As well as our main shows, over the years the Society has also produced a number of spring/summer concerts, and many local charities benefit enormously from these efforts.
In 1984, Colchester Operatic Society Second Edition (CO2) was formed to mount shows of greater interest to the younger members of the society, and appeal to a wider range of audiences, and in the Autumn of that year ‘Grease’ was presented at the Essex University Theatre. CO2 has continued to grow in popularity over the years, proving that there is a wealth of talent amongst Colchester’s youngsters – which bodes well for the future of the Society! CO2 now perform shows annually at The Mercury Theatre. This used to be for a run of one week, but due to being a sell out every year, they now run for 2 weeks, and still sell out!
From our “amateur” beginnings in 1924, COS and CO2 now receive rave reviews from regional and national press and continue to enjoy a sterling reputation for being one of the region’s most loved operatic societies.