The Arden Theatre Group is lucky enough to own and manage the present modern ‘studio’ theatre, built on land donated by a supporter. The theatre is named after Thomas Arden, a prominent Faversham resident who was the victim of a notorious murder plot in 1551.
Back in 1947 an amateur theatre group The Faversham Players, was formed. They put on many successful plays, using various venues in Faversham for their productions. After 25 years of using different premises, eight members of The Faversham Players felt it was time to find a permanent home. They were Maurice and June Patterson, Alex and Aileen Cameron, Geoff and Peggy King and Dick and Nan Nuttall, so in 1972 they launched the project Theatre ’74 with the aim of establishing and equipping the Players’ own theatre.
The original coach house theatre was achieved through far-sighted vision, dogged fund raising, sheer hard work, the support of Faversham people and, first and foremost, the generosity of local solicitor Leslie Smith, who donated his old coach house in Faversham’s central car park to The Faversham Players.
The story goes that, during a Players meeting to discuss the feasibility of a permanent venue, Leslie suddenly invited everyone to follow him to the old coach house in the corner of the car park. The Players could, he said, have the building for a theatre if they liked. They did like!
With 72 seats, a painted bedhead for a sign, allegedly home to a ghost, absolutely no wing space stage right and very little stage left, a dressing-room the size of a double wardrobe at the back of the stage until – sheer luxury! – a caravan-cum-dressing room was put up in the garden.
The costs involved exhausted the group’s finances so a programme of events and appeals was drawn up to help cover loan repayments and running expenses. The foyer hosted regular Sunday afternoon music sessions, featuring a wide variety of musical styles. Outside production companies were encouraged to hire the Arden so that the theatre was hardly ever ‘dark’. There was also a campaign to recruit more members to get involved with all aspects of amateur theatre.
When the swimming pool was redeveloped in 1992 the coach house was demolished and a purpose-built theatre was planned and completed, again with support from the community as well as a grant from Swale Borough Council.
Recent improvements include a garden makeover in 2003, the building of a new mezzanine floor above the foyer for costume and props storage – completed in 2005, and the construction of a separate entrance to the theatre and a small gallery dressing room in 2009. The next phase, for which fundraising is ongoing, is to build extra dressing rooms and rehearsal space.
Whatever the future has in store for the Arden Theatre Group, amateur theatre is alive and well in Faversham!