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A History of Carlton Operatic Society

In 1921, just after the first World War, a group of enthusiastic young people under the direction of Frank Ingram and his wife Merle banded together to try and form a local Operatic Society. Their efforts were rewarded when they attracted about 40 members and thus the Netherfield Amateur Operatic Society came into being.

The first production was Dogs of Devon followed by Nell Gwynne in 1923, and Gypsy Gabriel a year later. They were faced with many hardships. The stage at that time had to be increased to practically twice its actual size and was lit by electricity generated from the engine of a car parked in the yard at the rear of the Hall. There was, of course, always the possibility that the car would conk out and leave the stage in complete darkness. Fortunately this happened on only one occasion when the audience were treated to an interval of half-an-hour.

In spite of the artistic success of Gypsy Gabriel the Society found themselves with a financial deficit. Several officials resigned, leaving the rest to carry on or go busy. The remaining members decided to face their challenges and put on an even more elaborate show, Merrie England which turned out to be one of the outstanding local successes of that time - that was in 1925.

By 1928 the Society was growing apace, and its activities were further extended by the introduction of a dramatic section, necessitating a change in the Society's title, and it became known as Netherfield Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society. The first play produced was Lord Richard in the Pantry.

The biggest success of the early years was the 1930 production of The Quaker Girl; this popular choice executed by a very efficient company met with a wonderful response from the public and "House Full" notices were displayed every night.

Together, Frank and Merle encouraged and developed the Society, and after Frank's early death, Merle continued as Musical Director and Producer. She was responsible for the production of the shows for many successful years until the job passed to their daughter - Mary Thone, herself a long time active member of the Society. Since then a number of producers have continued to maintain the Society's high standard of production.

Before rehearsals could commence for the 1940 season, the Second World War came and activities ceased. However, the old enthusiasm was still alive and when the call came for volunteers to entertain local troops, several members of the Society formed themselves into the Spitfire Concert Party, joined the Voluntary Entertainment Service, organised by the Lord Mayor and the Comforts Fund, and under their direction gave over 300 concerts to the troops at RAF and Army bases in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and even Lincolnshire.

In 1946, when it was possible to find a Hall in which to perform, work began again, with the first play after the war being When We Are Married and in 1949 the first post-war musical was No No Nanette. Both plays and musicals continued to be performed until the late 50s, when musicals took over completely.

The Society moved in 1952 from its initial 'home', the Co-operative Hall in Netherfield, to the Peoples Theatre, George Street, Nottingham, (later to be called The Co-op Arts Theatre and then simply the Nottingham Arts Theatre). Here the Society enjoyed many successful years under the new name (adopted in 1953) of Carlton & Netherfield Amateur Operatic Society, reflecting how the Society had expanded, drawing members from a much wider area. The name was shortened in 1963 to Carlton Operatic Society.

In 1986 the Society moved to Nottingham Playhouse, where its first production was the musical My Fair lady.

Over the years members have also performed concerts alongside the regular musical show.

During the 50th Anniversary V.E. celebrations, in 1995, a number of concerts were presented combining songs and sketches from the wartime era.

In May 2014, after many years at the Playhouse, we performed our first show at the Nottingham Theatre Royal.

In March 2020, with a global pandemic sweeping the world, the Society were forced to postpone their 2020 production of Shrek The Musical, and the continuing restrictions enforced on the country in 2021 necessitated a further postponement to 2022. Not since the Second World War has the Society been forced to stay silent for such a long period of time. We hope to make a triumphant return to the Theatre Royal in May 2022, when Shrek will finally get to welcome you to his swamp.

In common with many other amateur societies, Carlton Operatic is a long-standing member of N.O.D.A. - the National Operatic and Dramatic Association. The Society continues to thrive in spite of competition from today's wide variety of interests and is still attracting new members to its ranks.