OUR HISTORY

OUR HISTORY

History of the Talisman Theatre...

The Rover Players

Our story begins in 1938 in the heart of Coventry, England where a group of spirited working girls at the Rover Works factory began a lunchtime tradition of reading scripts that transported them out of the boredom of pre-war Coventry into worlds unknown. This delightful pastime blossomed into an all-consuming passion  which would ultimately lead to the Talisman of today. Just two years later, they performed their first play as the ‘Rover Players’, even coming up with a motto for their troupe; ‘A good crew sails a fine ship’. 

 

As the flames of war engulfed the city during the devastating Coventry Blitz, the Rover Players, wanting to find a location to call their own, were forced to look further afield. Although, not too far as it turned out for only a few miles down the road in Kenilworth they had a stroke of luck. One of their new members was the wife of Charlie Randall who owned the Tannery and he was persuaded to give over an old abandoned barn for the players to use. They had finally found somewhere to call their own.

The Tannery

The neglected barn underwent a metamorphosis, emerging from its slumber as the first Talisman Theatre ( Named after the Sir Walter Scott novel ‘The Talisman’) and its grand premiere in October 1942, with the performance of “Children to Bless You,” etched the name Talisman into Kenilworth theatrical history.

The theatre began to bloom with two productions in 1942 making way for nine productions the following year. Yet, as the story unfolded, the theatre faced its own trials and tribulations. In 1954, cash flow issues hit the theatre and with productions making a loss, the Talisman was forced to make changes to survive, upping ticket prices for the first time since 1942, reducing the use of heating during rehearsals, cramming in additional performances and slashing budgets. On top of this, the Tannery was set to be sold and despite a stay of execution , the Talisman barn was due to be demolished and in May, 1964, the Talisman put on their final performance at the old site and made way for what is now Talisman Square. 

However, the indomitable spirit of the theatre troupe refused to be extinguished. They continued to bring their art to life in other local theatres, Coventry Cathedral, the parochial hall, and even a spell above the Clarendon pub. All the while organising countless fundraising events to realise their vision of a permanent home for the Talisman Theatre.

However, despite news of the Talisman Theatres fundraising reaching far and wide and with donations from prestigious names from the literary and theatrical world such as T.S. Eliot, Agatha Christie and Lawrence Olivier, by 1968 the mood was grim and barely a tenth of the monies had been raised. There was even talk at this point of cutting their losses and merging with the Loft Theatre in Leamington. 

perhaps this dire state of financial affairs was the incentive the Talisman members needed as a renewed drive and a generous donation from the local council finally raised the necessary funds and the members enthusiastically set about construction on the Barrow road site and in a space of 4 months, the Talisman Theatre rose  once more, phoenix-like, from the ashes. And in February 1969, the waiting was over. The new theatre threw open its doors, with their inaugural production of “Trelawny of the Wells” signalling the triumphant return of the Talisman Theatre.

From the Tannery to Barrow Road

This tale of perseverance continued and in 1975, driven by the cost of outside rehearsal space, the theatre underwent a much needed transformation, with the addition of a studio, props room and scene dock. Finally making use of professional builders as opposed to enthusiastic amateurs armed with hammers and a rudimentary knowledge of bricklaying. 

 

A further extension in 1980 created space for the control deck at the rear of the auditorium, finally allowing them to view the productions as they took place (as opposed to the back of the scenery!).. The added bonus of this additional space was the construction of a cellar allowing the bar to expand. Over the years, the Talisman Theatre has celebrated jubilant milestones. Its golden jubilee in 1992  commemorated half a century of artistic endeavour and ushered in a new era of pushing boundaries in the choice of plays with the 1993 programme full of productions never seen before at the Talisman. 

 

In 1997, guided by a passion for nurturing young talents, the Talisman Youth Theatre program emerged, breathing fresh life into the age-old legacy. Support for the youth theatre continues to this day with the annual main stage youth theatre production which always attracts capacity crowds. 

 

1997 also saw the Talisman hitting the big screen being used by the BBC to film some special episodes of the sitcom ‘Keeping Up Appearances’. More recently, the Talisman has been seen on BBC breakfast in a pantomime special and on BBC Midlands Today for their premiere of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – more on that later…

 

In 2002, the Talisman celebrated their 60-year anniversary with one of their most ambitious performances to date ‘A Kenilworth Story’, written by theatre members and taking audiences through a history of Kenilworth memories.

 

2012 saw the 70th anniversary of the Talisman Theatre and, despite the challenging economic conditions of the time, the theatre continued to produce high quality performances and retain its loyal membership. However this was the calm before the storm as in March 2020, the country went into pandemic lockdown.

Lockdown & Innovation

2020-21 must count as the most challenging couple of years ever for theatres and the arts as the entire country was locked down due to the covid pandemic and the theatre had to close its doors for the first time in nearly 80 years! However, the Talisman is nothing if not innovative and whilst the pandemic darkness descended upon the world, the Talisman Theatre refused to succumb to silence. Instead, they harnessed the power of innovation, crafting  audio plays under the “Tea With The Tali” initiative. These short  theatricals, shared via the Talisman Theatre YouTube channel, became beacons of connection and solace in a time of profound isolation.

 

With bated breath, the curtains rose once more in December 2021, heralding a triumphant return after the ravages of the pandemic. “Puss in Boots” enchanted the audience, but unfortunately, the relentless virus cut short its run after only five performances.

Talisman Fringe and Beyond

Continuing this pursuit of artistic exploration, the Talisman Theatre introduced the Talisman Fringe in 2022 – a kaleidoscope of short plays and musical  interludes that continue to push the boundaries of creativity. 2022 also saw the 80th anniversary of the theatre with a black tie celebration for members and we marked our 80th Anniversary with our production of The Railway Children in October 2022. A wonderfully heartfelt production that brought the whole theatre community together.

Never ones to sit still, the theatre again embarked on ambitious extension plans in spring 2022 with an extension to the foyer area as a phase 1 of a larger development. This was completed in Spring 2023, delivering an enhanced community space and opened to host the world premiere of local screenwriter Andrew Davies’ ‘Pride and Prejudice’. An adaptation of his incredibly successful BBC screenplay. Playing to full houses, what better way to reveal the new development to the local community.

The next act in the theatres’ rich history is yet to be performed. Stage 2 of the redevelopment required significant investment and the Talisman is immensely grateful to all local grant givers and supporters who are helping to make this dream become reality. Meanwhile the Talisman Theatre continues to weave its narrative, inviting audiences and performers alike to become part of this exciting and ever changing storyline.

Timeline Dates

July 1940 – The Rover Players perform Sixteen, their first and only full length play at the Rover Works.

October 1942 – The first show is performed in what would be named the Talisman Theatre: Children to Bless You.

May 1964 – The final show of the original Talisman Theatre is performed – Norman

February 1969 – The first show of the new theatre on Barrow Road is performed – Trelawny of the Wells.

October 1992 – The Talisman celebrates its 50th anniversary.

July 2002 – The Talisman performs A Kenilworth Story, an original play which brought audiences through the town.

April 2019 – Planning permission granted for a project to create a community space by extending and improving the bar and foyer and bar area, along with an extension to the upper floor.

March 2022 – Stage 1 of the building works commences to the front of house area

April 2020 – The Talisman release the first Tea with the Tali audio play – ‘A Plan’

December 2021 – The Talisman reopens after the Covid lockdowns with Puss In Boots

May 2022 – The Talisman Fringe debuts

October 2022 – The Talisman celebrates its 80th Anniversary

June 2023 – Phase 1 of the development is opened to the community and the Talisman presents the world premiere of Andrew Davies’ stage adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice”

Tea with the Tali audio plays

Tea with the Tali was a creative initiative conceived during lockdown to keep our performance spirits buoyant, entertain our audience in their own homes and reach out to local communities during those difficult days. This has now come to a natural close after two years of producing entertaining and thought-provoking audio plays and we’re proud that during this time this programme has:

  • Won a NODA award for the whole programme and specifically How are you really?
  • Won Best Production and Best Director in the Zimbabwean National Arts Merit Awards
  • Produced 91 plays, including some specially written ones
  • Reached over 30,000 listens
  • 356 actors that took part including; 55 youth, 16 seniors and 29 new actors
  • 77 directors who created these pieces including 22 new directors
  • Connected with the community by inviting other groups to record plays, including; African Women’s Playwright Network, Kenilworth School, Side by Side Theatre and members from other local theatres

 

This has been a wonderful concept that has naturally evolved into our monthly Fringe nights that take place at the Holiday Inn on the first Thursday of the month. Head over to our Fringe page to find out more about our next event. 

 

During the Covid lockdown period The Talisman Theatre compiled a few YouTube videos to highlight the wonderful and rich history that our theatre has in our local community. These are available to view via the YouTube links below. Enjoy!

Act 1 – The Early Days

Act 2 – A New Home

Act 3 – The Show Must Go On

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AUDITIONS

Watch this space for notices of upcoming auditions

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