The Tower Theatre – One of the Oldest AMDrams in the UK
Folkestone’s Tower Theatre is an absolute gem, nestled in the heart of the Shorncliffe community. It’s the home of FHODS – the Folkestone Hythe Operatic and Dramatic Society, one of the oldest amateur dramatic societies in the UK. It’s been running for over 100 years in different venues across town. Now, nicely settled in the old Garrison Church from Shorncliffe Barracks, you can see not only really good Am-Dram, but also world class jazz, comedy and theatre. Folkelife donned a wig and some lippy, and went to meet the team.
folkestone and hythe opera and dramatic society
FHODS put on 6 musical and theatre productions a year. Having done a Sondheim season and recently put on Gaslight, the company isn’t afraid of choosing challenging content for their audience. FHODS always put on a Christmas Pantomime, and for the past few years the team has included Mike Nolan from Bucks Fizz fame and the stalwart John Pritchard who loves dressing up as the Dame. John is one of a small team that help run the commercial side of the theatre, along with Reana Herchenhan, the Events and Marketing manager.
committed team of volunteers
“Most of the performances that happen at the Tower Theatre are supported by a fantastic and committed team of volunteers.” Says Reana, “And we couldn’t run this place without them.
“Our local audience loves FHODS’ musicals, but we sold out with Fairport Convention last year and have a fantastic line up for next year. 4 Poofs And A Piano are coming down, as is comedian Lee Hurst and the stunning singer Patti Boulaye.
“The venue here is really flexible,” Reana continues, “We can hire out the foyer for corporate training days and the auditorium for awards nights. We can put on a fantastic wedding reception or party too! ”
The Tower Theatre seats 285, with 6 spaces for wheelchairs. The downstairs foyer and bar can hold up to 300 people, or 100 seated at tables.
small venue big names
“One of the challenges I love about my job is looking at different acts and seeing how we can make them work in the theatre. Michael Morpurgo came last year which was a great treat. He sold out really quickly and was loved by the audience. We’d love to have him back.”
John jokes about being the one in charge of ordering the toilet roll, and fixing the car park. He also oversees the theatre’s budgets and how it’s run. “We’re putting on more high quality acts now, and can bring in an audience for those. FHODS performances have always been great, and they continue to be of a really high quality. It’s a real luxury to have such a venue, with such great things on offer.”
variety of venues in folkestone
John and Reana agree on the luxurious situation we have in Folkestone. “The Tower Theatre offers something different to the Leas Cliff Hall and the Quarterhouse. We’re lucky to have such a variety of venues in Folkestone, that offer such different performances.”
The Tower Theatre is largely funded by ticket sales. It’s also looking at grants to support community theatre work for the future. The Trustees of FHODS, who own the building, help support John and Reana with the commercial side, whilst overseeing community theatre happening on our doorstep.
“Every Thursday,” John pipes up, “We have Folkestone Jazz Club. People will fly in from the US and do Ronnie Scotts and maybe a couple of other venues in London and then come to the Tower Theatre before flying home. If you like jazz music, you know what you’ll be doing on a Thursday evening!”
always time for panto
FHODS have been putting on a Christmas Panto for years. This year it’s Jack and the Bean Stalk and they know what’s going to happen next year too. With 21 dates for the show over the Christmas period, it’s quite an undertaking. There are 250 members in the group, and 90 acting members. It’s a great place for children to learn to tread the boards.
History of FHODS
FHODS is a charity, and as such has trustees. It’s the charity that owns the building too. Mike and Val sit on the board and are heavily involved in the productions from directing through to making the tea. “FHODS started in 1902 and productions only paused during the war years. Up until the 1960s the company performed across Folkestone in various different venues. We bought The Little Theatre in Sandgate, and were there until 2007. The small theatre didn’t allow us to put on big pantos and musicals. We wanted something that would control our destiny. The Garrison Church came up for sale and a massive effort was put in to converting it to the theatre it is today.” Mike enthuses.
Val joins in “The number of people coming to watch our performances are increasing. We’ve had our largest audiences this year.”
License to show
Each performance of a show is governed by a license, and these licenses aren’t available all the time. The team at FHODS and the Tower Theatre are always on the look out for what’s coming on offer and have been successful in getting a license to put on Sunset Boulevard in September 2020.
Also on the menu for next year are The Vicar of Dibley and Romeo and Juliet. The Wizard of Oz will be the big musical in June. There’s Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile in November and Dick Whittington will be the Panto for December 2020.
Photo credit: Dave Shackle