Phoenix Players started in 1983 when it ‘rose from the ashes’ of another long-established group, St Thomas’ Light Operatic Society. At that time two theatre groups were being funded by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) when the decision was made by ILEA that it could only continue to fund one group, so St. Thomas’ decided they would lose the funding and go independent rather than merge with another group: Phoenix Players were born!

So without funding, but with lots of enthusiasm, the first task was to find a Director, a Musical Director, a rehearsal venue… oh and a performance venue..! No problem! A group of willing volunteers emerged and slowly the pieces began to fall into place. The (now derelict) Tulse Hill school served as the first performance venue and when Phoenix took to the boards in early 1984 with their performance of ‘Mother Goose’, this pantomime marked a departure from the traditional fayre of Gilbert & Sullivan musicals the erstwhile group had performed and was to herald the shape of things to come.

The next few years set the precedent for how the group still operates today: a panto is performed every Winter and a more formal musical show in the Summer. Whilst forays were taken into the modern musical with shows such as ‘Carousel’ and ‘The Boyfriend’, in its formative years the company didn’t stray too far from familiar G&S ground with ‘HMS Pinafore’ and ‘Pirates of Penzance’ in 1985 and 1987 respectively .

In the early ’90s the group began actively cultivating its reputation for performing not just popular shows but also some lesser-known ones. Strange as it may sound now but back then shows such as ‘Chicago’ were rarely performed at amateur level but (and we’re not saying there’s a direct link here!) since Phoenix performed it in 1996 the show has gone on to a record-breaking West End run! Other shows like ‘Slice of Saturday Night’, ‘The Dracula Spectacula’, ‘Dames at Sea’ and ‘Viva Mexico!’ may not have gone on to quite such an illustrious future but Phoenix were not shy at being among the first to put them on and since then other amateur dramas groups have followed. Even today we are aware that following our 2009 production of ‘How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying’ this show is due to be produced on Broadway in 2011 with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead (again, we’re not claiming a direct link here but, hey, who knows..?!).

Through the years our performance home has changed a few times. Through the years the Tulse Hill School, St Oswald’s Church Hall in Norbury, Stanley Halls in South Norwood, Anerley Town Hall in Penge and the Edward Alleyn Thetare in Dulwich College among other have all played host to our shows. Our current home is the Nettlefold hall in West Norwood library to where we are returning after a brief sojourn there in the early 90s.

The story of Phoenix Players would not be complete without the tale of ‘Beasts in the Wood’ at St Oswald’s in 1996. After the Friday night performance a tragedy occurred when an arsonist set fire to the church hall. Everything in the show was destroyed; lights, costumes, scenery and, sadly, many memories too. The show may have been cancelled but Phoenix were not, and so, quite literally, the Phoenix had to rise again from the ashes. After all, in a greater context, the show must go on!

Today we continue to carry on the proud legacy of Phoenix Players, albeit in a more modern way. The group have been on the Web since 1998, Facebook since 2006 and we have been selling tickets online since 2008. However, at our core we remain just a group of keen amateurs who love putting on shows. What we may lack in cash we make up for in enthusiasm. Not just friendships but marriages too have been made within our group and we hope this spirit will never be lost – the good times and fun are as much a part of the company as the shows we perform.

We hope we have many more Encores left to perform.

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