It would be safe to assume that the Hastleons is the oldest amateur dramatic society in town.
The name Hastleons is derived from the Hast of Hastings and the Leon of St Leonards.
The society’s first show Veronique was staged at the Gaiety Theatre in 1926. This was the society’s home until 1932, when their Desert Song was the last live show before the theatre became the Gaiety Cinema, (now the Odeon).
Since 1936, the Hastleons stage has been at the White Rock Theatre. For a number of years the society rehearsed at various venues, until securing its current premises, the Hastleon Hall, Bexhill Road.
Only one show was presented during the Second World War. The Vagabond King was the scheduled production for autumn 1939 but it was not staged, as the declaration of war meant that the large, male chorus would be seriously depleted by the men going to war service. However, in the spring of 1940 the Hastleons presented the cheerful and morale-boosting Mr Cinders, the last of their shows at the White Rock for six years.
During the Saturday matinee a large naval convoy was attacked not far off Hastings by German dive-bombers. The performance continued, while the cast did their best to drown out the sound of gunfire, and in the interval society members went onto the theatre roof to watch the vapour trails of the attacking Spitfires.
The Mr Cinders production was the last time society members were together until the after the war ended.
It was fitting that the first Hastleons show staged after the war, in 1946, was The Vagabond King. Unsurprisingly, The Hastleons are part of the town’s collective memory as one resident recalled: “Going to see the Hastleons in 1950 was my first girlhood experience of the theatre. I saw Bitter Sweet and I thought leads Avril Parry and Stephen Brewer were more glamorous than any Hollywood stars.”
Less romantically, a man recalled: “My dentist was a dedicated Hastleons performer. I tried to avoid his late afternoon appointments as he would be in a hurry if he had an after-work rehearsal that day.”
The Hastleons production for autumn 2013 is the musical Guys and Dolls. Its première on Broadway was in 1950, when it ran for 1,200 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Guys and Dolls has had several Broadway and London revivals, as well as a 1955 film adaptation.
In this lively show the debt-laden gambler, Nathan Detroit, bets Sky Masterson $1,000 that he will not be able persuade a Salvation Army girl to accompany him to Cuba. The production is packed with well-known and loved hit songs. Guys and Dolls is at the White Rock Theatre from October 30 to November 2.
For details visit www.whiterocktheatre.org.uk or phone 01424 426288 between 9.30am and 5.30pm Monday to Saturday.
Douglas Verrall compiled a commemorative book, The Hastleons 1926-1986, which is now out of print. There is one copy in Hastings Reference Library and three in the lending section. For further information go to www.hastleons.co.uk.