The first amateur dramatic group formed in Horncastle (that we know of) was the Horncastle Amateur Dramatic Company that performed at the Drill Hall in Horncastle. That group apparently stopped performing in the early twentieth century, at which point it was succeeded by numerous smaller groups until February 1973, when an advert (right) appeared, inviting interested parties to a meeting. The Horncastle Theatre Club was officially formed a month later.
The first performance of the Club was Passion, Poison, & Petrification by George Bernard Shaw, and its success was followed by many others, performing in local school auditoria and village halls.
Horncastle Theatre Company
In 1983, the group was renamed the Horncastle Theatre Company, and in 1984 founded both a youth section and the tradition of producing an annual pantomime which continues to this day. The Company can proudly boast that for the last 38 years, every pantomime has been written by its talented members. Indeed, each year usually sees several scripts competing for the company’s vote.
The Lion Theatre
Horncastle Theatre Company finally got its own theatre in 1988, after months of fund-raising activities and hard work by the members. Theatre and television actress, Patricia Hodge, was approached to be Honorary President, to which she agreed, attending a major fund-raising event and officially opening the Lion Theatre on 10th December 1988 (by which time she was six months pregnant). There were so many sponsors to invite that two sittings had to be organised, and the same bouquet of flowers was presented to Patricia twice!
A Venue in Crisis
In 2015, with the closure of the old RBNB Brewery, the company were asked to move out of the building we had occupied for nearly 20 years. All hands were on deck to strip the theatre of everything that could be carried away and put into storage, and an adjoining barn was rented to hold all the props and scenery which couldn’t be taken away.
The theatre was saved from closure months later, when the Red Lion pub was purchased and reopened by the Samuel Smith Brewery of Tadcaster. The theatre was registered as a community asset at this time and made the national news on several occasions.
For many years, Horncastle Theatre Company participated in a prestigious annual play festival hosted by Skegness Playgoers at the Embassy Theatre on Skegness seafront. Part of a network of national festivals, Horncastle actors picked up numerous awards, and twice won the festival outright, once with Brassed Off (in collaboration with Banovallum Brass band) and the Accrington Pals. Both plays went on tour to the National All Winners’ Festival in Woking.
In 2018, the Company celebrated 45 years of successful running, and 30 years in the Lion Theatre, with a big party on the stage and opened its archives to the public for the afternoon.
Even during the closure of the theatre in 2015, plays continued to be organised. However, in March 2020, for the first time since the opening of the Lion Theatre in 1988, all productions ground to a halt. Due to a national lockdown which saw entertainment venues close down by order of the government, the theatre was closed up, and all activity moved online. In 2021, Horncastle faced its first year without a pantomime since 1984.
Although the future remains uncertain, plans are in place to resume producing excellent live theatre, starting with a 2022 pantomime…
Past Chairs of the company (in no particular order):
- Dominic J Hinkins (2019-)
- Wendy Ireland (2016-2019)
- Shirley Moffat (2012-2016)
- David J Ireland (199? -2012)
- Ken Vine
- Bob Kimmings
- Ann Wayne