A Century of Theatrical Excellence with Penarth Operatic & Dramatic Society

Penarth Operatic & Dramatic Society (PODS) has a long tradition of providing first-class entertainment for the local community. With many hundreds of productions under its belt, winning numerous awards, PODS celebrates its Centenary this year.

In 1924, Ernest Barwell, a newly-arrived reporter at the Penarth Times wrote of his “surprise” in discovering that Penarth was without an amateur operatic society. The response must have been immediate, for three weeks later the paper announced the formation of the Penarth Operatic Society.

Two days earlier, a meeting had been held at Penarth Library where a group of like-minded people decided that such a society would fulfil “a long felt want”. An emergency working committee was formed and after enthusiastic discussions, it was decided to stage the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance as the first production. This was later changed to Iolanthe as it was felt that something lighter would be preferable.

The iconic BBC sitcom The Good Life was brought to the stage at the Paget Rooms by PODS in 2022

The Penarth Times reported that rehearsals were being undertaken with “boundless enthusiasm” and that the performances to be given at the then Hippodrome on Albert Road would “no doubt excel anything of the kind ever given in Penarth”.

The reviews after the opening night had headlines ready “Gorgeous Scenes of Brilliancy- Penarth Operatic Society Makes a Great Hit”. In 1928, a drama section was added, marking the transition to Penarth Operatic & Dramatic Society, with the first production being Walter W.Ellis’s excellent farce, A Little Bit of Fluff.

Sadly, the Hippodrome is no longer with us, having been destroyed by fire in 1929. PODS moved initially to the original Pier Pavilion on the seafront, but this too was destroyed by fire in 1931. PODS’ regular home is now at the Paget Rooms on Victoria Road, where it stages four productions a year including a musical, two plays, and a family pantomime at Christmas.

Mary Gardner, who has been a PODS member for 53 years, and is also PODS’ Chairman, starred in the award- winning production of The Full Monty as the outspoken, chain-smoking pianist Jeanette Burmeister

Due to the limitations of the Paget Rooms staging, PODS took some of its larger scale productions in the 1960s and early 70s to the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cardiff, now a Wetherspoons, and also to the New Theatre in Cardiff.

The musical, Camelot, based on the legend of King Arthur, was one of these. The show had finished its original run at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London’s West End, and PODS was given the rights to stage the Welsh premiere in 1968. It proved to be the biggest and most expensive production that PODS had ever mounted and only the New Theatre was large enough to stage it. It had 19 scene changes, 20 tonnes of scenery, a cast of 80, and 300 costumes, which came from the original Drury Lane production. It was so successful that the show ran for a fortnight.

PODS is no stranger to receiving awards for its productions. Its hugely successful 1963 production of The King and I was taken to the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera in Ireland where it won not only the first prize but also six other prizes, a feat which no other society had ever achieved in the history of the festival.

PODS’ 2023 production of Chess the Musical won four Glamorgan Drama League Glammie awards and is nominated for another four by the National Operatic and Dramatic Association including Best Musical. Photo credit: Neil Davis

More recently, PODS won eight Glammies from the Glamorgan Drama League for its 2023 productions of Treasure Island, Chess the Musical, and Ladies’ Day. All three productions have also been nominated for a further eight awards from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association.

For its centenary year, PODS has an exciting programme lined up, including the hit musical comedy The Producers based on the cult movie of the same name, exhibitions at the Pier Pavilion and the Library charting PODS’ amazing history through the years, a gala concert celebrating 100 years of the musicals PODS has performed, and the musical Bugsy Malone, which will be performed by PODS’ youth group. The year will end with a magical production of Sleeping Beauty, a pantomime that has been devised and written especially for PODS to mark its centenary.

Tickets for all PODS productions are available form www.ticketsource.co.uk/pods

For more information about PODS, its forthcoming productions and how to get involved- they are always looking for new members- contact them on www.podspenarth.org or on Facebook