About Us

How it all began

In the summer of 1965, around twenty-five people met at Southwick Community Centre in answer to an article placed in the Community News by Mr Roy Davidson, Warden of the Centre at the time. The news item stated that while there were many classes held at the Centre, there was nothing to cover any type of musical and singing interest. At this initial meeting all aspects of forming an Operatic Society were discussed. A steering Committee was set up with Roy Davidson appointed as Musical Director and Secretary of the Company, a position he held until retirement in 1991.

The Company’s debut was Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, plus extracts from operetta and musicals in spring 1966. Since then we have been a very happy and successful company and over the years have built on our experiences and expanded greatly.

In 1998 The Barn was extensively improved and extended at a cost of almost £2 million, thanks largely to lottery funding. The theatre now enjoys the use of a much enlarged stage and state-of-the-art technology.

Southwick Opera has staged some ambitious productions of many of the world’s best-loved operas, plus other musical shows and operetta, under the direction of inspired producers and conductors, notable Philip Green, who stayed with the company for 33 years. Credit must also be given to the myriad workers backstage, the excellent wardrobe and workshop teams and the efficient box office staff.

In 2005 Southwick Opera celebrated its 40th Anniversary with Eugene Onegin, which Southwick last produced in 1973. Audiences both local and from further afield loyally support the company and are able to enjoy opera at a reasonable cost.


Memories from Elaine Holden on her retirement from Southwick Opera

My love of opera/operetta began in the 1950’s, when my sister and I were taken along to see my parents rehearsing/performing in local operatic society productions.  After we moved down to Shoreham in 1960, my Mother, Elsie Hilton, decided to join Southwick Operatic Society, as it was then known, singing in the soprano chorus line.  My father, William (Bill) Hilton, and I, joined the Society in 1971.  I joined my Mother in the chorus and my Father was Captain Corcoran in the production of “HMS Pinafore”.  He went on to take many lead roles while Mum and I remained in the chorus.

When my three children, Andrew Wendy and Simon were old enough they also joined the society, so there were a few shows with all six of us performing.  Simon left the  society in 1999, but Andrew and Wendy remained performing.  My father’s last performance was in 1985. My Mum's last performance was in 2001, after having served on the committee, being the secretary for several years, and then being granted Life Membership when she left.  I have also  served as a committee member, as indeed have Andrew and Wendy.  Andrew has gone on to take lead bass roles and has produced a few shows, Wendy being Stage Manager and props lady when not doing chorus work.

I have some wonderful memories of past performers, namely Fred Chapman, Francis and Joyce Thompson, Mary Radford, Arthur Stevens (who always brought his dog along!), Bert Strong etc., and who could forget Joy Sayce and Olive Orrock!  Roy Davidson was producer of many operas until he and his wife moved to Scotland, Phillip Green was our lovely MD, Margaret Murrell and Sheila Neesham producing some wonderful costumes over the years, and of course “The Two Petes”, Murrell and Harrison. Pete Harrison still works tirelessly in the building of scenery for each show.  Betty Dawes has been President of the society for many years and has also performed in several shows.

Most of these memories are from a time long before we received funding from the National Lottery, when we had to manually build the stage extension, and dressing room areas were tiny. It was really quite “cosy” backstage in those days!  I have had 41 years enjoying the varied shows, from Grand Opera, through operetta and  even musicals, and I will truly miss the singing and performing.  I have been in 82 productions plus any additional concert performances we have done, but I have decided to hang up my costume for the last time and leave Andrew and Wendy to carry on the  family singing tradition.  I was also very moved to receive a letter from Andrea Jones, secretary, on behalf of the committee, granting me Life Membership.

I look forward to coming to see future performances and hope I don’t feel too nostalgic and “home sick”. Thank you for the lovely memories.

Elaine Holden