HAODS: Sixty Glorious Years

Horsham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, commonly known as HAODS, has its origins in an evening class at the old Oxford Road School in the early 1950s. Initially the group specialised in “Gilbert and Sullivan” operettas. Early performances were at the Theatre Royal, which was located behind The Stout House in the Carfax, on the stage where Michael Caine began his acting career.

Horsham Arts Centre

A group of the players decided they would like to perform other musicals and to enable this they contributed £1 each and thus HAODS was born and in 1954 The Desert Song became their debut production.

Money was tight to begin with, but gradually the group established themselves and they persuaded the stage and film actor, Leo Genn to be their president. He was succeeded in that role by Oliver Reed and then Norman Wisdom, who attended the HAOD’s 50th anniversary dinner in 2004. Their current president is Sir Michael Checkland, ex-director general of the BBC.

Initially rehearsals were held in a rented room at the Station Hotel and then a Nissen hut was acquired on the old Army Bomb Disposal Depot at Broadbridge Heath. By this time, performances were taking place at the old Capitol Theatre in London Road.

In the early 1980s there were some major changes for HAODS. The land on which the Nissen hut stood was acquired by the Council to make way for the Tesco superstore. HAODS was compensated for its loss of premises by the provision of rehearsal, storage and workshop facilities within the newly built Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre which is still the society’s home to this day. At around the same time the old Capitol Theatre was demolished to make way for Marks and Spencer and the Swan Walk development, and the Ritz cinema on North Street was converted into the Horsham Arts Centre. This became the location for HAODS performances except for a brief period in 2003 to 2004 when the Arts Centre was undergoing a major refurbishment to become The Capitol. At that time HAODS productions took place at both Christ’s Hospital and the Drill Hall.

Countless members have contributed to HAODS over the last 59 years. Many joined as youngsters and half a century later, some of them are still there, enthusiastically supporting an institution that is dear to their hearts. There is also now a Young HAODS group which runs classes for children aged 7 to 15. At the age of 16, they can join the adult group. The membership is growing all the time. Currently HAODS has over 125 members representing all age groups from those at school or college to those who have retired – all working together to produce musical theatre with the highest production values possible.

HAODS produces two musicals a year at the Capitol Theatre and aims to give both members and audience as near a professional experience as possible. In April 2013, 99 people, including 2 teams of children were in the cast of “Oliver”. The West Sussex County Times reviewer stated that the production was “indistinguishable from a West End show”. HAODS productions can cost up to £25,000 to stage, which is obviously a huge financial risk for a society that receives no external funding. HAODS also stages plays, often in the Capitol Theatre’s Studio. An adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” was performed in June 2013 and was a great success.

However, the last couple of years have been uncertain ones for HAODS after the announcement of Horsham District Council’s decision to demolish Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre and build a new sports facility on land south of the current building. HAODS has been informed that accommodation will not be available to them in the new centre. Whilst HDC has committed to helping HAODS find alternative accommodation, it is unlikely this will match the excellent facilities they currently enjoy. However, it currently looks as if there will be a stay of execution for the current leisure centre in the short term.

Members are only too aware of the huge contribution of previous generations and they are carrying on that tradition, by enthusiastically reorganizing and cataloguing the Wardrobe Department (supported by a generous grant from the Gatwick Airport Community Trust) and refurbishing the Green Room/Coffee Bar. HAODS have recently started rehearsals for not only “The Sound of Music” (the Autumn Show – 12th to 16th November) but also for the hugely ambitious Stephen Sondeim operetta, ”Sweeney Todd” which is to be staged in April 2014. HAODS provides a large number of local people with a creative, challenging and enjoyable activity at least two nights a week. It nurtures talent and brings entertainment to the town. It is to be hoped that the people of Horsham and the surrounding area continue to support HAODS by coming to see their shows in ever greater numbers and make the HAODS 60th year an anniversary to remember.

-- Thanks to Jane O'Sullivan