HENLEY CHILDREN’S THEATRE AND ME
The Henley Children’s Theatre and I are completely interwoven. I’ve been a part of it all my life, and it has become an enormous part of me. Some people think my whole life is a Pantomime!
I attended my first class at the Henley Children’s Theatre Group when I was 3 years old. My grandmother, Flavia Pickworth was the group’s founder and visionary. Initially classes were held in Watlington, but as it grew it moved to the larger town of Henley.
I can’t remember much of my younger years performing, except to say that it must have taught me how to project my voice and give me confidence. These are two skills I have in abundance and they must have come from somewhere!
My later Panto performing years seemed to always see me as the Principal Boy. Flavia was frequently accused of nepotism, but it was not so demonised in those days, and in fact, what’s wrong with fielding the best team?! I loved the thrill of performing and the buzz of being backstage; the camaraderie of a group, and the rehearsals to improve and refine our art. The excitement was so tangible, that I can never forget it, and more than anything, I hope to encourage all my pupils to enjoy the same experience.
I co-produced my first show with my grandmother in 1981. Her legs weren’t working, so I did the dancing and running around. It was a terrible shock for everyone when she died the day of the dress rehearsal. The hole she left was not just that of a gorgeous, cuddly Grandma, but she also left a ship of expectant, enthusiastic children rudderless. I knew what to do, but I was only 14 years old and unable to manage with a cast of 100, some of whom were my own age. My father stepped in to complete his mother’s show and was so overwhelmed by the strength of feeling from all involved, that he felt compelled to continue this amazing tradition.
So, I continued to do the “leg work” while Mike Hurst wrote and produced the shows. I have to confess, his scripts were a vast improvement on the slightly corny and hackneyed versions of Flavia’s!
In 1989 HCT became my baby (just before I had my first real baby!).
I am desperately proud to be continuing a family tradition. I thoroughly believe that it offers children something positive, beneficial, educational, and fun. The skills gained cannot always be instantly recognised, but they are there in ALL of the children.
I am happy to admit to being slightly old fashioned. I value tradition, and I believe good manners are an excellent virtue. I like to think that I teach the children many things along the way – not just singing, dancing and performing. In the old songs we use, we may learn famous old sayings, or beliefs that are steeped in history, not to mention comedy sketches or lines from old classics: and these are great for educating today’s youngsters, for although we are living in an iPad world, “we are made by history”.
Your child may not become the next Meryl Streep, or Jude Law, but they will be able to read aloud in their classroom, become a Prefect and address the whole school, attend university or job interviews and excel with their ability to communicate and deliver their beliefs. And all of this while having fun too!
I have lived in Henley nearly all my life. I grew up on the Fairmile with my parents, Mike and Marjorie Hurst and my five siblings. Our home was noisy, musical, fun and very active.
I moved to London for a time, which is fairly obligatory for a 20 year old when we can virtually see the lights sparkling from here! I had 2 daughters while living in London, but continued to travel to Henley every Saturday to take the classes at HCT. After daughter number 3 I decided it was time to return to Oxfordshire and enjoy all that the beautiful countryside around us has to offer.
My daughters are now all grown up, and there is always at least one to be found backstage helping with the Pantomime, so for that I am very thankful. But I love children and being a mother, so I feel extremely lucky to have a second go at this parenting lark with a son, Woody, who was born in 2008. In fact, there may have been no Woody without HCT, as I first met his father, Jim Hamilton-Smith, when he was a pupil of my grandmother’s at HCT many years ago!
I love working with children – they are so enthusiastic and a joy to see each week.
I have been doing this job for nearly 3 decades, and I never tire of it, because it is constantly changing with the different children that attend over the years.