Arts

‘We survived a war!’: 70 years of The Stage Club

You can't have a club without a makeshift bar. Even if it's really more of a prop inside an industrial estate. The Stage Club's artistic director Nick Perry (left) and president Elena Scherer. Photo: Jason Ho.
1946: A (signed) programme for Gerald Savory's George And Margaret. Photo: The Stage Club.
1948: Poster of Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest. Photo: The Stage Club.
1961: A cartoon for Dial "M" For Murder, a play made famous Alfred Hitchcock's film version. Photo: The Stage Club.
1962: A telex from Agatha Christie wishing the group well before they stage The Mouse Trap. Photo: The Stage Club.
1968: A flyer of Arnold Weskers' Roots. Photo: The Stage Club.
1974: A scene from Ibsen's An Enemy Of The People. Photo: The Stage Club.
1980: A scene from Agatha Christie's Witness For The Prosecution. Photo: The Stage Club.
1990: Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Photo: The Stage Club.
2013: The Stage Club stages Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit. They previously staged it in 1948 and 1976. Photo: The Stage Club.
They may be a bunch of amateurs, but it’s going to take a lot to knock down Singapore’s oldest theatre group
Published: 4:17 AM, May 23, 2015
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It might seem unusual to get a crash course on Singapore theatre in an industrial estate, but there it was — a visual feast of photographs and posters from past productions by The Stage Club hanging on the walls of its current home somewhere in the bowels of Henderson Industrial Park.

The place is bursting with history. We spot a poster announcing Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit circa 1948 at Victoria Theatre; another for JM Barrie’s Dear Brutus (date unknown, but with the most expensive ticket at S$3); and one for Snow White In Singapore from 1982 (with tickets available from Cold Storage). Elsewhere, there is a plaque commemorating the opening of its first club house in Malcolm Road back in 1965 — with Singapore’s first President, Yusof Ishak, as the guest of honour. Another plaque lists down all of the theatre group’s past presidents, beginning with the very first one — a certain Captain V Margrave — from all the way back to 1945.

Impressed? We were, too. Being around and making theatre for 70 years is no small feat, and The Stage Club is celebrating this landmark with Seventy Shades Of Play, a show that will feature a selection of scenes from seven plays the group has performed over the years, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest. (And in case you needed convincing about the weight of the occasion, a mini-exhibition of their posters and photographs will also be set up.)

‘WE SURVIVED A WAR’

“It’s so cool to be part of something that’s 20 years older than the country that I love and live in,” shared recently-appointed president Elena Scherer. The Australian, a 25-year resident of Singapore, has been a member since 1998 and is one of the four directors for Seventy Shades Of Play. “What this show is going to be is a celebration of the fact that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere. The club survived through war, literally. So it’s gonna take a lot to knock this puppy down.”

From its roots as a theatre-based social club set up mainly by British troops back in 1945, The Stage Club has soldiered on as Singapore’s longest-running theatre group. And it does so while still keeping to its amateur roots — everyone’s a volunteer and no one gets paid, and all ticket sales, as well as funding and sponsorship it receives from its five annual productions, goes back to the club.

There are about 100 current members and they come from all walks of life. Scherer, for instance, runs a food importer and production company called Red Gum with her chef husband. They have had architects, lawyers, bankers, an oil broker, public relations folks, housewives, students and teachers within their ranks too, such as long-time artistic director Nick Perry, who teaches at Hwa Chong Institution and joined the group in 1985.

“That’s one of the nice things about Stage Club. You get a cross-section of all sorts of people,” said the 60-year-old Perry, who’s also one of the directors for the anniversary show. And while the “expat theatre group” label may have dogged The Stage Club for years, the Briton insisted that’s not the case any more.

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