Founded in 1947 by Joan Sare, Winton Players is one of the south’s leading amateur theatrical groups. Trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, Miss Sare pursued a career as a prison officer. In 1946 she moved to Petersfield and shortly after was asked by Winton House YMCA to direct a nativity play.
Sare pulled together a cast to perform Eager Heart which included Edward Kelsey who would later go on to become the well-known Ambridge resident Joe Grundy in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers.
Shrouded in the shadow of the Second World War, Sare strongly believed in the unifying and healing powers of drama, thinking it “an excellent antidote for the anti-climax that inevitably follows the strain of a major war”. She called it “a useful channel of emotion and a really safe safety-valve and altogether a very good social activity”. These words resonate now more than ever in the unprecedented world that we live in.
Image: The School for Scandal 1974
The following Spring, in 1947, the group performed the one-act play Lucretia Borgia’s Little Party, which was recently reprised at Rake Village Hall in 2017 as part of the group’s 70th anniversary celebration.
In 1947, with rehearsals in full swing at Winton House on Petersfield High Street, the group coined its name – Winton Players.
Over the coming years, Sare produced an increasing number of shows and soon found popularity further afield. The Players fell into their annual rhythm of producing several major shows each year along with an evening of one-act plays.
Image: Quality Street 1979
After a decade, and with the help of former chairman John Dowler, Winton Players bought their own premises in Sheet which remains the hub of the Players today.
Sare produced plays for Winton Players until her marriage in 1959 when she moved away, leaving behind a cultural legacy in Petersfield which survives to this day. She maintained an interest in the group until her passing in 1984.
Image: Birdsong 2018
In January 1967, Ron Bowler directed the group’s first Christmas show – Toad of Toad Hall. It was a roaring success and paved the way for a regular annual pantomime which continues to delight audiences every January.
It is by far and away the biggest and most complex show to produce with roughly 70 plus people involved from the backstage crew through to the actors on stage. Early preparations for a pantomime usually begin before the current pantomime has gone on stage and it is a monumental effort from everybody involved to bring the show to life.