History

Woking Amateur Operatic Society (WAOS) is a musical theatre company based in Woking, Surrey, United Kingdom. We have produced over 80 shows since its formation more than 40 years ago. We are a registered charity and we produce two shows each year as well as fundraising concerts and other social events.

The original WAOS ran in the 1920s and 1930s but folded for want of a venue. Its re-establishment was in 1972 and the majority of our shows have been staged at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre (apart from during the theatre refurbishment in the 1980s). It is now our regular home for our Spring and Autumn shows.

The variety of shows has been remarkable; from 19th century Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera (The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, The Gondoliers, The Yeomen Of The Guard), through classic 20th century musical theatre (Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, Kiss Me Kate!, Guys & Dolls, My Fair Lady and Fiddler On The Roof to name but a few), to more recent musicals such as Into The Woods, Little Shop Of Horrors, Moll Flanders, The Hired Man, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and The Children Of Eden.

The company is a mix of seasoned performers. Some with professional experience as well as first-timers who have come along to audition and ‘have a go’ and those in between! We also have a solid core of members that take care of the all-important backstage and admin duties, from set build, stage management, crew, lighting and sound to marketing, publishing and all business aspects to the smooth running of our charity.

We are always welcoming new members to get involved with WAOS both on and off stage. Theatre is fantastic to get involved in for both personal development and working as a team. We are a very friendly and social society. We welcome your interest on our Contact page.

The Rhoda McGaw Theatre

The Rhoda McGaw Theatre is a community performance theatre jointly managed by Woking Borough Council and The Ambassadors, Woking. The theatre seats 228 in 9 rows of raked seating and has excellent acoustics. The stage is flat, 58’ wide from wall to wall, with a 36’ curtain opening. From the main tabs it is 19’ back to the cyclorama and 8’ forward to the front of the stage.

Rhoda McGaw was an elected Communist Party councillor for Woking Urban District Council in the 1940s and early 1950s. Rhoda was active in Woking Drama Association and the theatre is named after her.

The Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking, Surrey.

History of the Rhoda McGaw Theatre

Known to most simply as the Rhoda, construction work on the theatre was started in 1973 as part of the larger Woking Centre Halls complex; the cultural part of the redevelopment of Woking town centre at the time. The Centre Halls also included a Concert Hall for large functions, a library, a pool, and dinning facilities (where prices ranged from £2.40 to £3.80 per head for a four course meal).

Work was completed on the complex in 1975 and the theatre was officially opened to the public under the management of Mike ‘wait-a-minute’ Kelly, who remained the Theatre Manager for many years. A brochure produced when the Centre Halls first opened describes the Rhoda as an ‘intimately styled theatre’ with ‘well tiered and comfortable seating – for theatrical, operatic, concert, film and other similar productions’.

Named the Rhoda McGaw Theatre in memory of the local councillor who inspired Woking Council to fund the local dramatic community (a partnership which has continued to this day), the Rhoda has been pivotal in providing a venue for amateur and professional performances for over 40 years.

Terry Chubb, who was Stage Director for the Woking Drama Festival when it moved to the Rhoda in 1975 (and is still an annual event to this day) remembers some of the challenges that came with the new building:

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The Rhoda McGaw Auditorium Front in 1975

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The Rhoda McGaw Auditorium Back in 1975

The architect and council representatives were a bit perturbed when I pointed out the bars for their stage lights were all the wrong size. It got worse when I told them the stage, which was a highly polished, pale golden wood surface, was very beautiful but totally unsuitable for theatre! When I enquired about a stage cloth to cover the stage’s wings I received totally blank looks, before being told there was no budget for one of them, whatever it was. Not to mention the state-of-the-art air-conditioning unit, which was so loud we couldn’t use it during performances! But these hiccups were soon sorted out and the theatre was an amazing place to perform.

The Rhoda continued to be an important part of the Woking community for the next 13 years, putting on a range of popular shows including musicals, opera, dance, ballet, talent contests and dramas, along with the annual Panto and Miss Woking Whirl competition. Bill Payne, Woking Festival Director from 1979 to 1998, recounts one of his favorite Rhoda memories from its early days:

We were doing a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The theatre’s dressing rooms were in a block between the Rhoda and the Concert Hall, where there was wrestling being televised. Some wrestlers lost their way, and the sight of all our little fairies wandering around under the feet of Big Daddy and Kendo Nagasaki was only topped by seeing a fully made-up Titania having a heated debate with Mick McManus!

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Centre Halls Ground Plan 1975

By the late 1980s, the theatre had become such an integral part of Woking life that when the whole of the Centre Halls complex was proposed to be demolished to make way for the creation of a new shopping centre and theatre complex there was outcry from the local community. After a series of arduous and protracted negotiations between local groups, such as the WDA, and Woking Borough Council, it was decided that the Rhoda McGaw Theatre would not be demolished, but instead ‘mothballed’ and incorporated into the new Peacocks centre.

The Rhoda closed in 1988 as the Centre Halls were demolished, and opened again 4 years later in 1992, with just a few modifications but now alongside the 1300-seat New Vicoria Theatre. Overall control of both theatres, along with other arts and entertainment facilities in the new set-up, was vested in a company called Woking Turnstyle Ltd, creating a unique relationship with the local council, whereby the council owned and subsidised the Rhoda McGaw Theatre, with administration, staffing and technical facilities run by Woking Turnstyle Ltd. This was to insure the continued vision of councillor McGaw for the Rhoda to provide community theatre along side the professional New Victoria Theatre, and to this day the Rhoda has been a venue to countless amateur performances by members of the WDA, schools, dance and drama groups, as well as professional touring companies. Terry Chubb describes what makes the Rhoda such an ideal venue:

 

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Centre Halls Program for 1975. Our show ‘Bless the Bride’ performing 11th – 15th November with ticket prices between 50p – 85p.

Well equipped, with excellent acoustics, the 200+ seats are enough for most nights, but not so many that it feels empty with smaller audience, and the size of the stage and its equipment are a big step up for those accustomed to smaller venues, but not so big that it’s intimidating to those more accustomed to an average village hall.

In 1997, the commercial side of the theatre became the Ambassadors Theatre Group (ATG), and over the years since then the Rhoda has had constant improvements. In 2002 the WDA raised £5,000, and together with matching funds from ATG, more stage lights, lighting desk and stage closed-circuit television was purchased. Most recently, 2012 saw the start of a major £400,000 on-going overhaul and refurbishment of the Rhoda’s facilities, funded by ATG and Woking Council, to guarantee that the Rhoda stays a vital part of Woking life for at least the next 40 years.