Forty Years of Second Thoughts – with Ian McLean

“Recollections may vary,” as the Princess of Wales famously said, and it’s probably also true of how Second Thoughts came about!

Back in the early 1980’s, Alan Hawkins, a member of Cygnet Players in Studley, had recently moved to Stratford. His initial inspiration for a new kind of theatre came from attending a classical music concert in Banbury, and his thoughts turned to how classical music and drama could be combined. He discussed his idea with Phil Trory, who had been inspired by the Al Stewart song, ‘Nostradamus’. Phil Trory, a fellow member of Cygnet Players, had been inspired to write a drama based on this song, and the prophecies of Nostradamus to which it referred, and by this time had already developed a working script. Another strand of inspiration was John Barton’s RSC production of The Hollow Crown, certainly in terms of seeing the potential of a historical drama.

So, Alan and Phil took the idea to Cygnet Players, but they couldn’t see its potential. Slightly frustrated, Alan and Phil thought about creating a group in Stratford to develop the idea further and bring it to the stage. Several meetings then took place, some of which also involved Roger Gowland. At one point, Roger and Alan approached The Phoenix Players, but were turned off by what was – then – Phoenix’s taste for pantos, farces and whodunnits. Meanwhile, the idea of setting out to link classical music to drama had somewhat fallen away.

What the initial protagonists were sure of is that they didn’t want to create a “normal” drama group. In Phil’s words, they wanted ‘to move away from a hierarchy of elder statesmen’ and ‘didn’t want a committee to squash ideas’. To this day, Second Thoughts has never had a committee!

Meanwhile, Alan, Phil and Roger had come up with a name for a group to take this forward –The Centuries Drama Workshop. Anxious to attract recruits, they created a recruitment campaign and invited prospective interested parties to attend a meeting at the Thatch Tavern in Stratford. It was at this meeting that Kevin and Estelle Hand, and a certain young man called Steve Farr, were recruited.

Concurrent with these events was the 1983 RSC production of The Dillen, a promenade performance which included ‘the people of Stratford’. Although not directly connected with the development of the Nostradamus project, the energy and climate created by the Dillen revealed a considerable number of performers who were open to the idea of a new drama group in Stratford.

From this point on, there was a series of workshops, many led by Estelle, at the Teachers’ Centre (now the Library Car Park) with a view to developing the script further. Estelle was also instrumental in attracting a number of younger members through her connections with the High School. Besides Phil, Steve Farr and a number of others got involved with developing the script. However, in the end, the project collapsed, probably due to it being overambitious and the perceived difficulties of finding an audience, not to mention a case of too many cooks.

At this point, a desire to work on published scripts emerged, and with the change in philosophy came a desire for a change of name. Various ideas were put forward, from the traditional ‘Stratford upon Avon Players’, to the ‘Royal Martian Theatre Company’ (guess who put that idea forward) and, from Roger Gowland, based on the Thatch Tavern, the pub in which the group met, the ‘Stratford Thatchers’. Given who was Prime Minister at the time, this last suggestion bombed.

In conversation, Alan Hawkins pointed out that the group was having second thoughts, and, at the suggestion of Thelma Sanders, this name was adopted by the nascent group – and so Second Thoughts was born!

So what happened next? See next month’s thrilling instalment!