Upper Norwood’s Downsview

16 November 2023

Autumn is indeed a season for theatre, especially in Croydon. This week we chat with Sam Canning, who is the director of the Upper-Norwood-based amateur dramatics company, The Downsview Players. We talk about their new production, The Father, which opens next Thursday 23 November, as well as the history of the company and how people can get involved. 

Croydonist: We hear The Downsview Players has been in existence for over 90 years – how did the company start?

Sam: Two women at Downsview Methodist Church — Doris Rempt and Edith MacDonald — set up the original Players in 1931, a year after the church was opened in Upper Norwood. They had a membership of 40 and performed their first full-length play in 1932. Since then, hundreds of actors have graced the stage and the Players have only stopped performing twice: once during World War Two and more recently during the pandemic.

Our many productions have ranged from timeless classics, such as Jane Eyre, Hound of the Baskervilles and A View From The Bridge, and comedies, including the Farndale plays, and murder mysteries.

We have always been a key part of Downsview Church’s community and in 2019 we expanded our reach by adding performances of our bi-annual pantomime to two care homes in Croydon and a ‘relaxed’ performance for an audience of children and adults with learning disabilities. 

Left: Anne (Anne Bassi) plays André’s (Steve Canning) daughter in The Father. She listens intently to her father. Right: The Man (Simon Charles) appears in André’s (Steve Canning) flat. He calls Anne to come home.

Croydonist: How can our readers get involved – do you hold auditions to join?

Sam: We welcome new members year-round and life-long friendships have been found at Downsview. We’ve even had two weddings over the years from people who have met at drama! 

From acting and directing to behind-the-scenes work such as props, costumes and set building, there is always something to get involved with. We don’t hold auditions to join, but we do hold auditions for the on-stage roles, usually around January and May. We have a modest membership fee of £30 per year and people need to join to take part.

Left: Pierre (Dan Carr) speaks to André (Steve Canning) but his tone unnerves André. Right: The Woman (Ceri Williams) is there to support André (Steve Canning), but the audience (and André) are not sure who she is.

Croydonist: Tell us a bit about your upcoming production to whet our readers’ appetites.

Sam: Our next production is The Father – a play written by Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton. It’s the story of a man living with dementia. I read this five years ago on the recommendation of my husband, and it had such a huge impact on me and left me feeling quite emotional. I knew from the moment that I started reading it that I had to direct this powerful and beautifully written play. 

We are taken on a gripping journey through this psychological drama, seeing the world through the eyes of André (The Father). We watch as he loses his sense of time, space, and reality, he strives to retain control of his life, but refuses to accept help. As he tries to navigate what is happening around him, Zeller, the acclaimed writer, cleverly plays with our perception of reality. He lets us glimpse the confusion, frustration, and vulnerability of dementia.

It has been an absolute honour and privilege to direct this play, which includes a truly talented, compassionate and creative cast. I hope that the story resonates with the audience — it’s an important and timely issue. We are going to have a bake sale at each performance to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Anne (Anne Bassi) sits and tries to give words of comfort to her father, André (Steve Canning)

Croydonist: What’s been your favourite moment, being a member of the company?

Sam: I’ve been a member since 1997, so I’ve had so many lovely memories. But my favourite must be the Downsview Players’ 75th Anniversary Production called The Big Audition (written by fellow Player Michele Charles) in 2006.

Michele wrote an incredible script that managed to incorporate not only the Players, but the church’s Men’s Singing Group, Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade groups too. Some of us were able to reprise past characters from previous productions, and I was lucky enough to reprise my favourite character called Mitzi (an eccentric & energetic Hungarian Cook from Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced which we performed in 2000.) It was a truly collaborative, fun and inspirational production and I loved every minute of it!

Left: The Father, André (Steve Canning), stands alone as he listens to a conversation about his own situation. Right: Laura (Carolyn Potts) visits André (Steve Canning) to see if she can bring some help to the family home.

Croydonist: How far ahead do you plan with productions – do you already know what’s next for 2024?

Sam: We try to plan about 3-6 months ahead, and we are thinking about doing a comedy in the Spring although we haven’t confirmed yet. We always need to check which plays are available to be licensed, so that can mean we have to be flexible.

2024 is a panto year too — oh no it isn’t! So yes, we’ll have a busy summer getting ready for that and would very much welcome even more stage hands as our pantomimes are usually quite ambitious and involve lots of ideas, creativity and fun.

Thank you to Sam for chatting with us. 

Get your tickets for The Father, here. The show takes place on 23, 24, and 25 November at Downsview Methodist Church Hall on the junction of Downsview Road and Waddington Way, SE19 3XH.  

Doors open at 7.30pm, and the show starts at 8pm. Tickets are £10 in advance (plus booking fee) or £11 on the door.

Find out more about The Downsview Players on their website, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

All photos courtesy of The Downsview Players, by Lis Parham

Posted by Julia

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