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In Remembrance of Troupes Past: 100 Years of Musical Theatre
11 Sep 2023

An exhibition of photographs from Shrewsbury Musical Theatre Company at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery tells a wonderful story of amateur dramatics in our town over the past century.

You’ll love getting to know the colourful cast of characters who have graced the boards in Shrewsbury over the years, in a new exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery this autumn.

Spearheaded by the formidable ‘Madame Rina Robinson’, who founded the Shrewsbury Amateur Operatic Society in 1923, the new exhibition brings together old photographs telling the story of 100 years of amateur theatre in our town.

The venue for this extraordinary exhibition couldn't be more fitting as it takes place in the museum’s Community Gallery, formerly the town's Music Hall and home of the company. 

Shrewsbury Musical Theatre Company (SMTC), previously known as Shrewsbury Amateur Operatic Society (SAOS), has been a cherished part of our county town's cultural heritage for the past century. 

Its first Musical Director and founder was local singing teacher Madame Rina Robinson (pictured here), whose talented pupils featured in the first production - Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, in May 1923. 

Through the years, except for the disruptions of the Second World War and the Covid lockdown period, SMTC has been enchanting generations of audiences with their performances.

The past century has seen performances at the  Royal County Theatre, the Granada Cinema and the Music Hall, with traditional productions such as The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado as well as Hollywood-inspired shows like Paint Your Wagon, South Pacific and Oklahoma

The not-for-profit organisation now stages its award-winning shows at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn, enthralling  audiences with unforgettable renditions of popular West-End musicals like Sister Act, Ghost The Musical, and this autumn's eagerly awaited Shropshire premiere of School of Rock (Nov 15th - 18th, 2023). 

Madame Rina Robinson circa 1923
Shrewsbury musical theatre company's Cecil Smallwood in 1924 Iolanthe

Following on from their momentous Centenary concert in June, SMTC members have been working with Shrewsbury  Museum and Art Gallery to create an exhibition of photos, printed programmes and more from the past 100 years.  

Pictured here is Cecil Smallwood from the 1924 production of Iolanthe and below, Lilian Brookes, who played Casilda in the first production of The Gondoliers in 1923. Several decades later, Lilian would give singing lessons to June Edwards, who became a prominent member of the society and has recently been made an Honorary Life President after 57 years involvement. 

Cecil is believed to have been the father of Annabel Smallwood (also pictured below, wearing her Duchess costume for the 1923 inaugural production of The Gondoliers).

Additionally, visitors to the new exhibition at the museum well be able to enjoy audio-visual displays with oral-history interviews which share unique spoken memories from both past and current members of the group. Hear some of these characters brought to life through memories and anecdotes.

Lilian Brookes from the 1923 production of The Gondoliers
Annabel Smallwood in costume

SMTC member and project manager, Karen Muxworthy said: “The exhibition is a tribute to the rich artistic contributions of SMTC in Shrewsbury and the captivating display of precious memorabilia on show dates back to our  very first production in 1923.”

The exhibition and oral-history project have been made possible with funding from the  National Lottery Heritage Fund and a Community Grant from Shrewsbury Town Council.  

Visitors are invited to delve into SMTC’s vibrant history and witness, first-hand, the magic they have woven into the arts in Shrewsbury over the last century. 

The 2023 SMTC production of Sunshine on Leith at Theatre Severn

Still going strong... A scene from the 2023 SMTC production of 'Sunshine on Leith' at Theatre Severn

The SMTC 100 Years of Musical Theatre exhibition will run from Friday, September 8th to Friday, November 10th, 2023 at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery.