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Under the Headstocks Community Drama Group – Happy on the periphery

Posted onPosted on 28th Feb

Written by Alan Dawson,  artistic director, Under the Headstocks Drama Group

Mansfield Palace Theatre, which has around 100,000 visitors a year, is renowned locally and further afield for presenting a variety of quality shows and productions – none more so than the eagerly-awaited annual pantomime.

The theatre, which sits proudly at the top of Leeming Street, is a mid-scale touring theatre that also, according to its website, sets out to provide the opportunity for local artistic expression.

However, Mansfield Palace Theatre is not alone in the town for producing quality productions. If you access social media, such as Facebook/ Twitter, you may notice that by reading associated tweets/ posts there is also a dynamic fringe theatre movement in the town, who perform regularly in small local venues – it is not unusual to access production information through word-of-mouth.

Small -scale theatre groups such as Stage Fright, led by local theatre legend, Belinda Salt, who have been performing in the town since 2009, was established by members of Mansfield Community Theatre. Stage Fright perform popularist plays, such as ‘Love on the Dole’, adapted from Walter Greenwood’s well-known novel, and Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’.

More progressive groups, like Studio 82, led by Jack Burrows, come and go as new projects develop over the years. Under the Headstocks was established in 2010 to produce Alan Dawson’s dark comedy, ‘The Glass Boot’. The Brown Cow public house became the group’s base for rehearsals and packed-out productions for the next three years or more before they moved to the Black Bull on Woodhouse Road to continue a successful relationship with the town.

What is unique about Under the Headstocks (UTH), apart from giving all of its profits to charity, is that it only produces new writing from new/emerging local writers, such as Malcolm Seymour and Toni Sutton.

The Headstocks made a positive impact on the Mansfield theatre scene with the naturalistic ‘The Glass Boot’.

UTH has a diversity of actors who come from all walks of life and professions – everyone is happy to come and go; there is a core of founding members still contributing regularly to the group, such as Toni Sutton, Vic Wilkinson and Kelvin Dobson, joined by newbies such as Matt Lamb and Sandy Edwards-Walsh.

Ten years on the group is still producing quality drama – this is not confined to Mansfield, however.  The group has also performed in Sheffield, Worksop, Derby, Nottingham and had a short excursion into Wales to perform ‘Physical Theatre Killed the Radio Star’ for a private performance.

Members have also written and produced drama for the NHS and school conferences. They explore all genres, but their work often has a connection with the town. Their last production, ‘Who Killed Edwina Beer’, was commissioned by Clipstone Colliery Regeneration group. This was a community play, exploring duality in the former coal mining areas – this performance included a choir of Stags fans as part of the cast.

The group is set to perform Toni Sutton’s eagerly-awaited dark comedy, ‘Ghost Mode’, as soon as it is safe to do so – this will probably be performed at the Create Theatre, Mansfield.

Because of the pandemic, group members have remained connected by Zoom and have worked together in cyber space developing plays, taking part in workshops, enjoying social nights and read-throughs. As a group they have reached out to writers from all over the globe to create new collaborative partnerships in countries including Italy, Mexico and America.

Recently UTH performed a zoom formal rehearsed reading of American writer, Gary Morgenstein’s acclaimed play: ‘A Black and White Cookie,’ – this happened as a rehearsed reading and UTH collaborated with American actors, New York’s Russell Jordan, and Jacqueline Youm, of Washington DC. Gary announced the read-through as his UK premier.

Further to this, the group has another rehearsed readthrough, on 12th March on Zoom for Chicago writer, Laura Scruggs’ wacky play, ‘Punk Grandpa’

This is by invitation only… if you are interested in coming along, send me your email address and I will send you an invite/ Zoom link – it’s as simple as that… and it is free… et voila!

When Under the Headstocks first set out critics unkindly called our new group, the group that threw people about (to be fair we were a bit physical) – but now I like to think we are the group that throws people together… especially when times are difficult, and everyone is looking for harmony in their lives.

Contact Alan Dawson at