It would seem to the citizens of Arbroath that there has always been a theatre club in the town. Arbroath Dramatic Society, as it was then called, presented their first production, the play Outward Bound, on the 27th March 1947 at the old Webster Memorial Hall. During the next few years the club put on two plays a season; rehearsals were in sundry public halls and members’ homes; sets, props and costumes were made and stored in sympathetic sheds and garages.
The Public and Town Council were generous and helpful. In the early 1960’s, Gwen Williams found an old ‘hackle’ store in Abbot Street, originally offices in the old Arbroath Gas Company; which had in turn been a fire appliance store during the war. With the generosity of the then club treasurer, ‘Jinky’ Farquhar, the premises were purchased for £250. The building was initially used for storage; but after three years hard work and again the generosity and interest of Town Council and general public, the Abbey Theatre was born. It had an auditorium seating 72, proscenium and stage, coffee-lounge and reception; the dressing-rooms were above the stage accessed by a ladder.
The theatre opened to the public in January 1964, with a production of ‘The Four Poster’ by a professional company from the Byre Theatre in St Andrews, followed two weeks later by the first local production, which was a collection of prose and poetry, followed in the second half by a one-act play, ‘Count Albany’.
During the early years the club made occasional use of professional companies and producers. One such visit of two professionals who performed ‘Waiting for Godot’ received ‘the bird’ from the audience, who then walked out; it is not recorded if the players received a fee.
An adjoining upstairs loft became available and was purchased, the extra space was used for new dressing-rooms, a Green Room and much needed storage. The club was now, with an enthusiastic membership, presenting up to six plays a year and a pantomime. The improved financial position, always carefully under control, enabled upgrading of the facilities to a near professional environment.
In 1995 an application was made to The National Lottery for funding to completely refurbish the auditorium and performance area of the theatre. After walking the financial cliff-edge for some years this has finally come to fruition and the theatre is as you see it today, totally the effort and responsibility of a very hard working group of enthusiasts who hold their destiny in their hands. We are a financially successful venture, although this relies upon good ticket sales for our annual Pantomime, together with sales for our other productions throughout the year.