The cast of Lilac Domino 1952
The cast of Lilac Domino 1952

It was 1950 when Mr Archibald Lusty and a small group of his friends decided to form a new amateur operatic society in Reading. There were many Jeremiahs who doubted whether the new venture would survive. But they were confounded and Reading Operatic Society has performed more than 100 shows and operettas for Berkshire audiences since.

The Society opened in 1951 with The Gondoliers, one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s well-known and popular comic operettas, in the Temperance Society Hall in West Street, Reading. This, also known as the Palmer Hall, became the Society’s first regular home until it moved in 1957 to the old Everyman Theatre in London Street.

The Everyman closed its doors for the last time in 1959 and the Society was invited to make its home in the Palace Theatre in Cheapside, the first amateur company to tread its boards since the Royal County Operatic Society was disbanded just after the war.

Unfortunately this also proved to be a short-lived arrangement. The Palace Theatre was sold for re-development after just one ROS show was performed there and again the Society had to search for new premises.

The Co-operative Retail Society’s Rainbow Theatre in Cheapside was chosen in preference to Reading Town Hall because of the former’s better acoustics. The Society remained there until 1968 when the CRS decided it could no longer afford to maintain a theatre within its department store.

This coincided with Reading Borough Council abandoning plans to convert Yeomanry House in Castle Street into a theatre. Hence Reading not only lost the last proper theatre open to amateur companies in the centre of the town, but hopes for future facilities were dashed at the time.

The Town Hall became the only local option available to the Society. ROS performed many successful shows there, improvising

Reading Operatic Society's performance of Show Boat at The Hexagon
Show Boat in 1978, the first musical to be performed at The Hexagon

the open concert platform into a fully lit stage. The Society also moved further afield to play at the Kenton Theatre in Henley-on-Thames.

It took the opening of The Hexagon in 1978, before Reading had its own purpose built 1000-seat theatre which also was available to amateur groups. Reading Operatic Society was privileged to be the first amateur company to perform a full-scale theatrical show in this new venue and chose Jerome Kern’s musical Show Boat for its debut.

The Society then embarked on a regular programme of performing two shows a year at The Hexagon until recent times when the more intimate Kenton Theatre in Henley-upon-Thames, Oxfordshire has become host to our spring show and The Hexagon our autumn show.