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. At least I have two skills under my belt!
My later Panto performing years seemed to always see me as the Principal Boy. 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.
My parents had moved to Devon, and Mike travelled for several years to Henley most weeks, but then started his own group in Tavistock, which meant that in 1989 I proudly took the helm of HCT.
I am very happy 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 don’t mind admitting 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 Zac Efron, 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 have left home, but I have a little boy, Woody, who adores his time at HCT and is living proof that a boy CAN be sporty and enjoy musical theatre too.
I love working with children – they are so enthusiastic and a joy to see each week. I have been doing this job for more than 3 decades, and I never tire of it, because it is constantly changing with the different children that attend over the years.