A century of shows
A Kent amateur dramatics group marks a century of
performances with its next show. Known as GEMS, its longest-serving
member, Ann Lennard, spoke to Chris Price.
In the basement of the Three Daws pub on the river in Gravesend,
preparations have been underway for a celebration of 100 years of
“The rain drips in through the ceiling sometimes,” said Ann
Lennard with a giggle, who is the longest-serving member of the
Gravesend Entertainment and Music Society or GEMS, which marks its
centenary this year.
Work has been going on throughout the summer for their 2012
production of Mack and Mabel at the Woodville theatre. After the
success of last year’s show Godspell at the Mayfield Grammar School
– formerly Gravesend Grammar School for Girls – the society is
returning to Gravesend’s most prominent theatre for the first time
in four years.
“It is great fun, enjoyable and something that needs to be kept
alive,” said Ann, 80, of Milton Road, who joined the group in 1951,
cycling in from Greenhithe until she moved to Gravesend when she
married in 1962.
“It needs support to make a community for the town. It always
used to be like that. Everybody in town went to the shows. It was
well supported, much better than it is now. We hope this show at
the Woodville works because we had to stop after the prices zoomed
up so high we couldn’t afford it. Now we are going to try and make
a comeback, so it is important to get good audiences.”
When Ann joined, GEMS was a singing group called the
Gravesend Co-operative Senior Choir. Supported by the Co-operative
Society, they rehearsed in a house on the Grove and did shows in
the former Co-op Hall on Harmer Street. They decided to branch out
into operetta in 1954, with a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s
Pirates of Penzance, performed in the hall for about four
“It was a good basic choir but to start with we lacked acting
ability really,” said Ann, who remembers the men from the society
making a proscenium arch especially for the show, in the old Greek
theatrical style with painted masks on it. “But acting skill did
come and the Kent Messenger would send a critic along and they used
to do a full page, with photographs and a write-up. They were
supportive and from then, there was no looking back.”
Over the years, the company has performed the likes of Ivor
Novello’s King’s Rhapsody and the New Moon by Rhomburg. The first
move into the Woodville Halls came in 1968 with a production of
Ruddigore and the company has staged most of the Gilbert and
Sullivan operettas, all of which Ann has performed the female
soprano lead at one time or another.
In true am-dram style, Ann remembers a few mishaps which went
down well with the audience, particularly when playing
Jill-All-Alone in Edward German’s Merrie England.
“I had a laugh once when I had to come on stage on my own and
sing a mysterious song around an imitation fire to my black cat. I
had to sing ‘cat, cat where have you been?’ and at that moment, the
people who do the props realised they had forgotten to put my cat
by the fire and I needed it to sing to it.
“As I sang ‘cat, cat where have you been?’ they threw it on
stage and it landed at my feet by the fire. They chucked it on,
which caused a titter.”
Ann cannot imagine what her life would have been like had
she never joined, especially after the death of her husband Ben 14
years ago. “It would have made a big hole in my life,” she
“It is so fulfilling to have a creative outlet for anybody.
There are other members who have been there for a long time too and
they would echo the same thoughts.”
Mack and Mabel by the Gravesend Entertainment and Music
Society (GEMS) runs at the Woodville, Gravesend, from Thursday,
November 15, to Saturday, November 17. Performances start 7.30pm.
Tickets £13 and £11. Box office 01474 337774. Details on the
society at www.gemsmusicshows.co.uk
The GEMS choir will hold rehearsals of Christmas songs and
carols at the Three Daws, Gravesend, on Tuesday, November 20, from
7.45pm. All welcome to join. After Christmas, rehearsals begin for
a concert in May.
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