The Richmond Shakespeare Society (Registered Charity No 276271) performs eight productions a year at The Mary Wallace Theatre, by the riverside in Twickenham. Our programme includes a vast array of plays from all eras, from Ancient Greece, Shakespeare to the modern day. Our Summer Show is an open-air production in the gardens of neighbouring York House.
We make sure to offer opportunities for everyone. Experience is not essential – we will teach you all you need to know to become a valuable member of our team whatever area of expertise attracts you. Whether you are looking to get involved in our productions or watch our shows, please get in touch.
In addition to mounting up to eight productions a year in the theatre (always including one Shakespeare) the RSS continues to produce Open Air Shakespeare each Summer. We also run the RSS Young Actors Company which mounts a full showcase production in the theatre. A programme of informal “Monday Night” performances of play-readings, poetry, and music in the theatre foyer runs throughout the year.
The History of the RSS
The RSS was founded in 1934 by Gladys Eriksen, a former actress and dancer, for the purpose of mounting annual productions of Shakespeare’s plays in the open air. The Society’s first production was an indoor run of Much Ado About Nothing in October that year before our first open-air production in 1935 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Richmond’s Terrace Gardens, as part of the Borough’s celebration of George V’s Silver Jubilee.
Many years of open-air performances in this idyllic setting followed – usually, though not exclusively, Shakespeare. Outdoor performances eventually moved to Marble Hill Park and later to the sunken garden at York House, Twickenham. More recently the venue has been the riverside Fountain Gardens at Champion’s Wharf, home to the notorious “naked ladies” statues and a stone’s throw from our theatre. During the 30’s and throughout the War the RSS began to establish a repertoire of indoor productions at a variety of local venues. After a precarious wartime period , we found a base at Cardigan House Richmond Hill, under the auspices of the British Legion, and there created a theatre in the house’s concert room .Twenty cramped but increasingly successful years were spent there until the building was demolished and replaced by a modern block which included an auditorium. This, however, proved to be unsatisfactory and the first positive moves were made towards finding a home of our own.
After the untimely death in 1977 of Mary Wallace, a fine actress and long-serving secretary of the Society, the generosity of her legacy provided the foundation for the acquisition of a permanent home. The then Chairman, John Sheppard, and an energetic and determined premises group eventually identified the 19th Century brick-built mission hall which is now our theatre. After a long and chequered history (school, scout hall, soup-kitchen, homeless refuge) the building had become derelict and was in imminent danger of demolition. Several years of intense fundraising and hard work by the Committee and the membership followed.
Richmond Council granted us a Peppercorn Lease, a local construction company, Speyhawk, proved to be sympathetic and generous, the National Theatre donated materials for the stage, seating was rescued in the nick of time from a soon-to-be-demolished cinema in Hammersmith – and the Mary Wallace Theatre was formally opened by Prince Charles in May, 1981.
Over time a number of improvements have been made to the building. In the 1990s the auditorium was raked to improve audience sightlines. Later, the foyer was reconfigured and the present box-office established. In 2008 the foyer and bar were redecorated and new lighting installed, and a major overhaul of the wardrobe storage facility was undertaken in 2017.
Technical improvements have not lagged behind – recently, state-of-the-art lighting and sound control technology has been installed in our control gallery and we have an induction loop for the benefit of hearing-aid users. In 2015 we installed a brand-new and more flexible stage – fundraising to finance this major expenditure is ongoing.
While we welcome you as audiences, we always have room for new members: you may aspire to act – open auditions are held regularly; our lighting and sound departments always need designers and operators; no production can function without a stage management team; costumes have to be sourced, made and maintained; stage sets must be designed and built; our bar has to be manned for every show and a regular Front of House team maintained. No play “just happens” without an extensive supporting team and we always welcome volunteers.