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Manor Amateur Dramatics

The Manor Hall Drama Society was formed in October 1933. Its first production was a nativity play, The Child in Flanders, by Cicely Hamilton, which was performed on 8 December 1933. Nine ‘till Six, by Aimée and Philip Stuart, 1934, called for an all-female cast, but the plays in 1936 and 1938 included male roles and it became customary for these to be played by male students from Wills Hall, later from Churchill, and later still from Hiatt Baker Hall. Thereafter, with the exception of the sessions 1938/39, 1953/54 and the war years, at least one play was produced every year until March 1972.


Drama in the war years was difficult. The student residents were often without electric light or cooking facilities. One night seventeen bombs fell on the hall and garden, setting light to the west wing roof and causing a fire in the east wing. Bridie’s Tobias and the Angel, intended for performance in December 1940, had to be postponed until May 1941. Rehearsals for a second production of Nine ‘till Six began in October 1944. The Victoria Rooms were the venue for all hall plays from 1945 until the Winston Theatre became available in the late 1960s.


The Society’s last production in 1972 occurred at a time when interest in hall societies had diminished as other forms of entertainment became available in the Students' Union. Many people felt that the need for hall drama had come to an end, although, in 1978, Frances Agnew revived drama during her time as JCR President when Trial by Jury was performed in the JCR of Wills Hall. The last warden of Manor Hall took the part of the Judge, and the gentlemen of Wills sang the male parts. (Manor Hall remained a women only hall until 1978, and Wills Hall did not become mixed until 1985.)


In 1992/93, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the hall, a group of residents re-formed the society. A grant and a loan of £200 each from the Alumni Foundation financed The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife by Lorca. Later in the year the society branched out into light opera with a production of Burnand and Sullivan's Cox and Box and Trial by Jury by Gilbert and Sullivan. Thereafter at least one musical or play has been performed in each academic year, with the exception of 2012/13 when the main building was closed for refurbishment. In late 2000, a generous grant of £3,000 and a further loan of £3,000 from the Alumni Foundation financed the purchase of technical equipment to improve the quality of hall productions. Today, more than three quarters of a century after the initial founding of the society, productions continue to be put on within the hall by the residents for the enjoyment of members of the University, just as its founders intended that it should.

The society was wound up pro tem in 2018 awaiting our next intake of willing volunteers to get things going!

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