Sheep Worrying Theatre Group was launched in the summer of 1980. Part of the wider ‘Sheep Worrying’ scene it’s immediate reason to exist was because the new Tory Government had embarked on major cutbacks nationally and locally and in Somerset that meant the axing of Youth Theatre provision.SWT was formed to challenge those cuts and make sure Youth Theatre continued but with a new, original, local and alternative philosophy to it.
From 1976-1980 many people in the ‘Sheep Worrying’ scene had been in the BYT (Bridgwater Youth Theatre) which met at Cranleigh Gardens Annex – the drama and music department of Bridgwater College. Run by progressive lecturer Tony Collins it became a popular Monday evening activity and Cranleigh Gardens also became the focus for the Dangerous Brothers and other local bands of the 70’s as a rehearsal venue. BYT would do shows at the Bridgwater Art Centre and also link into the wider Somerset Youth Theatre network.
But years before this, Smedley and Newman had met Tony Collins at Dr Morgans. Their first experience with traditional ‘Drama’ (being trees, making yourself as ‘small as possible’ then ‘as large as possible’) wasn’t what they wanted to do and so they approached Tony with the idea of them writing their own plays. Collins was supportive and every week instead of ‘Drama lessons’ they did S&N plays -usually horror themed.
From 1972 to 1975 Smedley and Newman continued to write plays and , joined by Eugene Byrne, Alex Dunn , Dean Skilton and David Newton, they recorded them.
In 1974 Smedley, Newman, Byrne, Dunn and Newton were involved in the Haygrove school play ‘”Twelfth Night”. Newman played Malvolio, Smedley played Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Dunn played Valentine while Byrne and Newton played ‘Guards’. 2017 Chairman of Sedgemoor District Council Ian Dyer also had a small part.
After 1975 Smedley, Newman, Newton and Byrne joined the Bridgwater Youth Theatre and met up with various others who later joined Sheep Worrying. All acted in numerous shows including Hobsons Choice (Smedley played Will Mossop, Tim Mander played Hobson) , By Common Consent (Smedley, Newman and Byrne had roles plus Rod Jones) , Petticoat Rebellion (about the suffragette movement) and The Dragon. Again Collins let Smedley, Newman and others try out their own material and this included ‘a BYT on the side‘ which featured sketches by all concerned. The shows were rehearsed at Cranleigh Annex but staged at the Bridgwater Arts Centre.
Sheep Worrying takes to the stage
By 1980 it was Smedley and Newman who stepped in to write the first post BYT play with their own company ‘Sheep Worrying Theatre’. ‘Another England’-written by Kim Newman with music by Brian Smedley told of a Fascist takeover of England, the resistance to it and the dangers of a divided opposition. Obviously it was a comedy. It was staged at the Bridgwater Arts Centre on September 20th 1980.
The Group immediatly got to work on a follow up and this time they chose the play ‘The Scandalous History of the Reverend Henry James Prince and His Abode of Love‘ by Charles Mander, with music by Brian Smedley. The play was based on a true local story from the 19th century (click here). It was an adventurous choice as it had been the play BYT were going to do next but had been banned by College principal JC Miles as being ‘pornographic and blasphemous’. Newman played Prince, future film actress Liz Hickling also had a lead role. The show was premiered on January 10th 1981 and sold out with queues down the street.
From then on the company did on average 3 shows a year, always original, always by local authors and always with a local cast of amateurs, some of who went on to be not so amateur.
September 1980 ANOTHER ENGLAND (Kim Newman, music by Brian Smedley)
January 1981 THE SCANDALOUS HISTORY OF THE REVEREND HENRY JAMES PRINCE AND HIS ABODE OF LOVE (Charles Mander, music by Brian Smedley)
April 1981 MY ONE LITTLE MURDER WON’T DO ANY HARM (Kim Newman) -By this time SWT had succesfully made the case for the re-introduction of the Youth Theatre and this show was a joint production with ‘THOSE ROMANS‘ by the new BYT
September 1981 THE GOLD DIGGERS OF 1981 (Kim Newman, music by Brian Smedley)
January 1982 THE RIVER (Charles Mander) DEEP SOUTH (Kim Newman) THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER (Stuart Croskell)
April 1982 YOUR TELEVISION KNOWS BEST (created by the cast)
September 1982 THE ROARING ’80s (Kim Newman, music by Brian Smedley)
January 1983 REAL FICTION (Dave Butland) OYSTERS (Eugene Byrne, Brian Smedley)
April 1983 THE EXTREMELY HISTORY OF WESSEX (Eugene Byrne, Brian Smedley)
September 1983 NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR CHAINS, FUTONS, MUESLI BOWLS, STRIPPED PINE, JACUZZIS ETC (Eugene Byrne, Brian Smedley)
January 1984 SPLENDID RODNEY (Charles Mander) NEXT SERVICES PLEASE (Brian Smedley) PANDORAS TUPPERWARE LUNCHBOX (Dave Butland) MANY HAPPY RETURNS (Stuart Croskell)
April 1984 THE KING’S JUSTICE (Charles Mander, music by Brian Smedley)
September 1984 IN SEARCH OF LEGENDS (created by the cast)
January 1985 HARRY (Stuart Croskell) & CAPTAIN HARDBUGGER (Brian Smedley)
April 1985 ROCK’N’ROLL IS PRETTY EXCITING (The Sedgemorons)
September 1985 BANKROBBERS (Calvin Hainsworth and Barry Thompson)
July 1986 BRICKYARD STRIKE (Brian Smedley)
April 1987 SIEGE OF BRIDGWATER (Brian Smedley)
December 1987 ROCK ROCK ROCK ROCK ROCK ROCK ROCK (Kim Newman, Eugene Byrne, Brian Smedley)
April 1988 THE VERNON BARTLETT SHOW (Brian Smedley)
September 1988 NORTH COUNTRY GIRL (Robbie Moffat) ?? (Glenn Cane)
December 1988 SHEEP WORRYING CHRISTMAS REVIEW (created by the cast)
March 1989 THE SUBURBAN APEMAN (Glenn Cane) THE PANDERER (Alexia Vernon)
May 1989 THE OZONE FRIENDLY SCOUT JAMBOREE (Created by the cast)
December 1989 JACK AND THE POLL TAX (Brian Smedley, Mac McCausland, Ann Fraser, Alexia Vernon, Ian Bussell, Jonnuf Richards,)
September 1990 SHEEP WORRYING AT THE MOVIES (Alexia Vernon, Ian Bussell, Ann Fraser, Stuart Croskell)
December 1990 THE BAD NEW DAYS (Created by the cast)