Nairn Drama Club was founded in 1946, with about 10 members, led by one of the local teachers, Lena Hay. They rehearsed at home, and for performances hired a Salvation Army Hall with a tiny stage, an even tinier kitchen-cum-lighting box, and a single toilet. The audience sat on wooden benches and chairs. The dressing-room was a room hired in the Links School, and the cast ran up and down the street in costume, even in rain or snow.
The club eventually bought the hall and a wooden shed next door, which had been a coppersmith’s workshop. The Army asked for £650, but accepted £450, which lay heavy on Lena Hay’s conscience. When we later refurbished the theatre, we did a special show for the Army, which the daughter of General Booth attended; Lena triumphantly handed over a cheque for the other £200!
As the club developed, we started to produce bigger and better shows. As well as one-act and full-length plays in the Little Theatre, which would only seat about 60 people, we did musicals like ‘The Boy Friend’ in the Community Centre.
In 1983, led by Anne Aitken and Bob Farrow, the then Provost of Nairn, we knocked down the old shed and built on new toilets, a coffee bar and our own dressing room. Luxury! The new stage had about a metre of space all round behind the curtains, and a lighting box was built of hardboard. We rescued proper tip-up seats from a cinema being demolished, and installed a small modern lighting control system instead of the ancient, clunky rheostats which had given us muscles like coal-heavers and made a visiting electrician laugh, ‘Those should be in a museum!’ We thought we were the bees’ knees.
However, there was still no proper heating, and we froze during cold weather. Slowly the club dwindled to just two people in 1992; Anne Aitken and Frances Hendry, with £43.27p in the bank. We decided to go for one big production, ‘My Fair Lady’; if it failed, the club would fold. Some excellent actors and singers appeared for audition; Frances managed to squeeze in five totally different sets; and it was a roaring success. We were off again!
Literally. We took a play about the Battle of Culloden, written by Frances, to the USA. Acted by people from the area, on the 250th anniversary of the battle, it was a great success in Culloden, Georgia, and nearby towns. 10 shows in 14 days in 5 venues; hard work for a fortnight, but a great experience.
We put on modern classics like ‘Steel Magnolias’ and ‘The Steamie’ and less well-known plays such as ‘Blood Money’, as well as a pantomime each Christmas. But by this time we were discovering the drawbacks of the refurbished theatre. The old building was generally decrepit. It needed rewiring throughout, the old and new halves of the building weren’t properly tied together so that we got leaks whenever it rained, mushrooms were growing in the foyer, the seating didn’t satisfy modern safety regulations, we had no internal storage whatever, the space backstage was far too cramped, keeping children – and adults - quiet offstage in a dressing-room right beside the stage was horrendous, and we had so little space that one pantomime chorus had to rehearse outside in the street.
We sold an old, run-down chandler’s store in Park Street, where our costumes had been kept, and hired a unit on the local trading estate,. Then, with this money in hand, we started thinking about improvements…