The Garrison Theatre
What is believed to be the only surviving World War 2 ENSA theatre has been saved by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. Despite having fallen into disrepair, many of the theatre’s original features remain intact despite the Castle’s exposed position at the end of a two-mile shingle spit. Built in a converted Victorian gun emplacement, the hand painted proscenium arch still bears the badge and grenades of the Royal Artillery. The backdrop depicts a romantic restoration scene of Romeo and Juliet or possibly Charles II and Nell Gwyn.
The ravages of time and damp had left the theatre looking tired and unloved. This was until the Friends of Hurst Castle started restoration work in January 2008. The old platform stage, which was removed in the late 1980s, has now been reconstructed. New curtains have been fashioned from hessian, once used to camouflage the Castle’s guns and searchlights, and hang from the original galvanized gas pipe. The only concessions to the twenty first century are modern lights and sound systems.
Visitors can listen to music from the period and learn the history of the theatre and the origins and role of ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association. And now, after a break of more than 60 years, the Garrison Theatre again stages regular shows during the summer months.
To mark the occasion of the first show in the newly-restored theatre in May 2008, BBC South Today TV programme featured Hurst Castle and the Garrison Theatre. Click on the link to watch the BBC feature: Solent Fort to host concert
Betty Hockey and the Nonstops performed at Hurst Castle in 1944 with their much-acclaimed song and dance acts interspersed with comedy routines. Betty, now in her nineties and living in Bournemouth, was famous for her high kicks. During the war years, the Nonstops produced well over 1,000 shows throughout the New Forest helping to maintain morale among servicemen and women, especially in the run-up to D-Day.
To see film clips of Betty interviewed by David Walters on a return visit to Hurst on Friday 16th May 2008, go to:
Please watch this space for news of next year’s events.