SALOS is affiliated to NODA, the National Operatic and Dramatic Association.
SALOS: Musical Theatre Company, has played an important role within Swindon’s Arts scene since it was formed in 1951.
Based in Swindon, SALOS presents an annual musical at Swindon’s modern, yet intimate, Wyvern Theatre, as well as other concerts throughout the year. We are a company and therefore have a regular membership comprising of members who are involved both on and off stage; the committee is always keen to hear from people interested in joining our membership.
We currently primarily rehearse at Lawn Manor Academy (SN3 1ER). Click here to find us!
70 Years of SALOS
2022 marks the 70th Anniversary of SALOS Musical Theatre Company, known until recently as Swindon Amateur Light Operatic Society (SALOS).
The establishment of a musical theatre company was the fulfilment of an idea born in the minds of a small number of enthusiasts to revive “light operatics” in Swindon. The society’s first production in 1952, for which auditions were held at 79 Bath Road, was The Arcadians. One of our current Vice Presidents, Byron Carron, recalls that his job that day was to greet the would-be, hopeful singers for the production. His father, Arthur Carron, the show’s Producer and an international English Operatic Tenor, was influential in allocating Principal and Leading roles. Although not part of the cast, Bryon was active backstage during the production with a torch, ensuring the cast all looked in the same direction when “at the races”!
No one knew before the show was announced how it would be received by the Swindon public, but the founding members, who had approached numerous businesspeople in the town to provide a financial guarantee in the event of a failure, need not to have worried. It was a great success and played to packed houses for six nights at The Empire Theatre.
Such was The Arcadians’ success, that it justified the belief that Swindon would welcome the return of amateur light opera, with financial success, and SALOS was established as a high quality, society which would stage 70 of the best loved light operatic and musical theatre shows over the next 70 years. Indeed, the society was invited to sing with the BBC West of England Light Orchestra, broadcast on the West Home Service at 8.00pm on 14 July 1953.
Unfortunately, when The Empire Theatre closed its doors in 1954, SALOS was without a home until they moved to the Regal Ballroom of the Playhouse. With a reduced audience capacity, the number of performances was increased to nine and shows were staged in this venue for the next 16 years. Heavy scenery and lighting equipment was lifted into the first-floor scenery dock by “chain block and tackle”, backstage crew designed and built a raked floor, which had to be removed and stored between productions, and chairs were collected by lorry from various council locations, fixed securely in rows before also being returned to storage at the end of the run.
Subsequent Producers after Arthur Carron were Reginald Hipperson, James Ellison, David Wainwright and John Hemming. In 1962, the society found itself without a producer for its 11th production –Carousel, until the arrival of Miss Pat Donovan. This was described at the time by the Chairman, Grahame Hill, as “One of the most momentous things to happen to us as a society… she is a veritable mighty atom”. Pat was quickly embraced by the members – her energy, enthusiasm and personality gaining everyone’s support. Carousel was just the first of 45 shows which Pat would produce/direct for SALOS, including The Merry Widow, Showboat, The Pyjama Game, Bitter Sweet, Finian’s Rainbow and Kiss Me Kate.
On 7 September 1971, The Wyvern Theatre was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, for whom SALOS was honoured and delighted to sing, after meeting them on stage.
The following month, SALOS staged its first production at the new theatre, performing their highly professional shows once again in a professional theatre for the first time in sixteen years.
That first show was, quite appropriately, a classic light opera, The Gypsy Princess, and, as the first major production in the new Wyvern Theatre, it proved to be a revelation about the society’s future. The theatre was a magnificent asset with full stage facilities, an attractive, comfortable auditorium and a welcoming members’ club. There were, however, some negative points which were set to influence the society for years to come. Despite representations by SALOS and others, the theatre had been built with a capacity not dissimilar to that of the Regal Ballroom in The Playhouse, which was less than half that of the old Empire Theatre. Right at the last minute, the council also stipulated that all members of a pit orchestra must be paid at full musician’s rates, a major expense which would affect the society for years to come. It also led to the decision of some orchestra members to leave the pit and membership of the group. A routine of a two-week theatre hire and 13 performances, including two matinees, was established at this time, and this model was to see us into the 2000s.
Our shows at the Wyvern have covered a broad range of styles and are indicative of the many discussions around show selection. With the resources to produce only one show per year, and the often contrasting wishes of singers, dancers, actors and audience, show selection has always been difficult. They have ranged from Wedding in Paris, which straddled the genres of light opera and musical theatre and included very difficult chorus work, a department in which SALOS excelled, and Summer Song, featuring versions of many of Greig’s beautiful classical musical themes, to American blockbusters such as Brigadoon, Hello Dolly and Kiss Me Kate, featuring big production numbers requiring large choruses and dancers, to Borodin’s magnificent classical music arranged into a tale of Arabian Knights, Kismet. Throughout, SALOS continued to present concerts around the area, nearly always in support of local and national charities.
In 1981, we were invited to perform an extra show to augment the theatre’s winter programme, giving SALOS the opportunity for a change of direction and the choice was the now classic Fiddler On The Roof. However, the tremendous organisation required to put on any show made two productions in a year very hard work.
With improved transport and easier access to West End shows, audience expectations about technical content grew over the years and competition from other new companies in the town increased. South Pacific in 1987 presented us with the opportunity to use radio microphones for the first time, which was popular with both audience and leading singers. This, and additional special lighting to supplement the in-house Wyvern equipment, lifted our production quality over subsequent shows. Technological advances and a relay system also gave us the option to move our orchestra to a backstage area, invisible to the audience, providing the opportunity to use a much bigger stage area. It became clear, as time passed, that the society and its audience were expecting productions of a wider range than the ‘Light Opera’ of our title, and so a discussion commenced which ultimately resulted in our name change to the acronym, SALOS.
After an amazing 45 shows, Pat Donovan retired from SALOS in 2005 with a wonderful production of Singin’ in the Rain and, the following year, the society embarked on a production of My Fair Lady, under the direction of Daphne Breakspear. However, disaster struck when, unexpectedly, the Wyvern Theatre had to close temporarily due to discovery of asbestos and SALOS was forced to cancel just 6 weeks before opening night! We were delighted to return in 2007 with Fiddler on the Roof, this time under the direction of Russell Langdown, who has directed all subsequent productions.
Since then, the challenge for Russell and the SALOS team has been to ensure that amateur musical theatre stays relevant, attracts new audiences, tackles new shows and embraces the opportunities that technical advances in professional theatre provides. This has been achieved with a combination of stunningly ‘big’ shows, such as Beauty & The Beast, where SALOS used the set from the professional tour with the production costing approximately £125,000, alongside reinventing earlier shows with specially designed minimalist sets, such as for The Sound of Music in 2019.
In the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, SALOS reluctantly took the decision to postpone the scheduled production of Shrek The Musical, with no idea that it would be nearly two years before we would stage another show. Our members missed each other and missed performing enormously. However, as life starts to return to normal, SALOS is delighted to return to the stage in 2022 with another ‘first’ for Swindon, this spectacular 70th Anniversary production of the recent West End hit, Shrek The Musical.