The Carnon Downs Drama Group (CDDG) was a small infant when born: a one act play with a cast of three. When Geoff Aver discovered in July 1970 that to enjoy guaranteed letting rights at the new Village Hall, a drama group must put on a production before September, he immediately invited some friends down from university to produce and act with him in ‘Pop Goes the Patient’. The WI produced a second one-acter to extend the programme and the two were put on for one evening in August 1970. This first production was learnt, rehearsed and performed within four weeks, and Carnon Downs Drama Group was born – in the nick of time.
A drama group must have a producer and something to perform: enter June and Alan Hall, whom Geoff persuaded to produce and musically direct a pantomime, and in December 1970 ‘Cinderella’ was performed in the hall. This was a triumph, playing to packed houses and already attracting an audience beyond the boundaries of Carnon Downs; the success led to the first production of a straight play, when in June 1971 the group performed ‘Murder at the Vicarage’. Geoff meanwhile set about involving locals to create a truly community based group, the membership growing as each new member invited others. Significantly, Wynne Woolcock met and invited Gloria Jacobson to do make-up for the first panto. Gloria and her husband Milton went on to direct and perform for the Group for twenty successful years and we owe a great deal to them. The pattern of pantomime and play remains the basis of the group’s annual programme.
Over the years the Group has attracted members of all ages and by the end of the 1970s awards were coming thick and fast; in one glorious year we won the Best Play, Best Individual Actor and Best Panto awards in county competitions. The name of the Carnon Downs Drama Group became synonymous with excellence. Inviting performers and producers from outside the village to work with a strong local company was the principle on which the group was formed and, among those who have been crucial in taking the Group forward, special mention must be made of Michael Meer who insisted on high standards in every department and defied the limitations of the building to create sets which would have been impressive in much larger venues, and of John Frankland who introduced the Group to more challenging dramatic productions.
Finally though the place where the group was born and had such success and fun, Carnon Downs Village Hall, proved to be too small and the effort of rebuilding forestage, false proscenium, lighting box and seating raises for every production too great, and in 1990 the Group moved to Perranwell Village Hall where stage and auditorium were larger, and performance in the round was an extra option. In the 2000s we first performed out of doors, at Trelissick Garden; ‘The War of the Worlds’ with its live rock band and cast of fifty, is still our most ambitious production ever. In recent years we are proud that our youth group, Karnon Kidz, has staged its own successful shows, and recent highlights for the adult members have been working with the Royal Shakespeare Company (‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, 2016) and performing at the Minack Theatre (‘Henry IV Part One’, 2018).
Every group will have its favourite stories and funny moments. When the Sultan and Sultana fell off the back of the stage in ‘Dick Whittington’, it was felt time to extend it. When an actor forgot a character name at the start of a performance and invented one rather than take a prompt, Vera Bagley was born and the cast had to remember the name change for the rest of the performance. When the blackouts were put up for the summer performances at Carnon Downs, the heat at times became so intense that audiences were forced to dangerously low levels of clothing! Pianos have fallen off their castors, and costumes off actors. But throughout fifty years of triumphs (many) and disasters (few) the Group has brought untold pleasure to hundreds of performers and thousands of people in our audiences. Happy birthday, CDDG!
Written by Geoff Aver, 2009; updated by David Ivall, 2019
Discover the full list of productions undertaken by CDDG in our Production Index.