75 Years of Drama
The Southsea Shakespeare Actors were formed in 1947 and since then have produced nearly two hundred plays, of which about two-thirds have been Shakespeare. Starting at St Peter’s Hall in Southsea under the patronage of Sir Donald Wolfit and the directorship of the founder K. Edmonds Gateley MBE, the company flourished.
By the mid-1950’s the Southsea Shakespeare Actors had moved into the opulent South Parade Pier Theatre. In this venue the SSA completed the Canon in the 1960s, becoming the first non-professional company in the world to have performed all of Shakespeare’s plays – a fact recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. After the demise of the South Parade Pier the company removed to the King’s Theatre where they performed throughout the 1970s & early 1980s.
From the mid-80s the company performed in a multitude of venues including the Library Theatre, the Hornpipe, The Ashcroft Centre and the Edinburgh Festival, but mostly at the Portsmouth Arts Centre. The Golden Jubilee Year of 1997 saw the company complete the canon for the second time, with All’s Well That End’s Well, performed at the New Theatre Royal. This venue, along with the Third Floor Arts Centre, became a regular home for the SSA, and the following decade saw the company use these two venues to perform to audiences from across the South.
The new century saw the birth and growth of Upstage!, the SSA’s youth company, dedicated to schooling young people in theatre skills, enabling them to present their own performances and to be fully involved in main company productions. In 2007 we hit another milestone as we entered our 6th decade and celebrated by presenting excerpts from all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in four nights over two weeks, whilst in 2009 we took Uncle Vanya to the Havant Arts Centre (now known as The Spring), performing at this venue for the first time.
The company continued to follow a succesful path, garnering nominations and awards for productions and reaching out to different audiences in alternative venues. A new strategy for the SSA was to take smaller productions to non-traditional venues, allowing us to stage plays such as Two by Jim Cartwright, Sarah Kane’s Blasted and Rob Bartlett’s original work Gnawing in pubs and restaurants in Portsmouth and Fareham. The close of 2010 saw us staging Romeo and Juliet at yet another new venue – “The Old Benny”, now The Groundlings Theatre. We continued to use this space through 2011 and 2012, as well as returning to Havant and to The Station Theatre, Hayling Island, a venue we first used back in 1996. The SSA now follows a policy of using multiple locations, in order to bring our work to as wide an audience as possible across South East Hampshire, and in the years since 2012 we have performed in venues as diverse as The Square Tower, The Royal Yacht Club, Portsmouth Cathedral and the Pyramids Centre. Our seventh decade sees us in fine form, with a vibrant and strong membership presenting main house and travelling productions across the region.
It is this dedication and love of the theatre that has seen the company establish itself as one of the premier amateur companies in the region over the past seventy years. Now firmly ensconced in a permanent base near the city centre, the SSA will continue to offer challenging and quality theatre to the people of Portsmouth and environs for many years to come.