Charles McEvoy was a playwright whose play ‘The Village Wedding’ was famously premiéred in his own pioneering Aldbourne Village Theatre in 1910. An early typescript of the play, which was discovered as a result of research for this article, was purchased by the Aldbourne Community Heritage Group and can be viewed in the Heritage Centre.
McEvoy was born in 1879 and moved to Aldbourne in 1907. He made a name for himself as a playwright before the age of 30, and became well-connected in the theatrical world. In particular, he and fellow-playwright George Bernard Shaw became good friends.
McEvoy’s fame reached its peak in 1910 when he converted the old thatched barn and malt-house at his home in South Street into The Aldbourne Village Theatre, and then put on his new play The Village Wedding there. The theatre was formally opened by the actor and director Granville Barker on Saturday 26th February, and McEvoy’s play was then performed by a cast consisting entirely of local residents, known collectively as The Aldbourne Players, and accompanied by the Aldbourne Band. The event was widely reported in the British press, but there was also
substantial coverage in The New York Times and The Sydney Herald. Here is an account that appeared in a local newspaper as far away as Colorado, US (the Routt County Republican), on 29 April, 1910:
“The village of Aldbourne, England, though it is seven miles from a railway station, has a theater of its own, which was opened recently with a performance of a three-act cottage drama, The Village Wedding. Charles McEvoy, the
dramatist, who lives at Aldbourne, has transformed a barn in his grounds into ‘The Aldbourne Village Theater’, complete in every essential, even in the matter of an emergency exit, provided by the large double doors. The play, which is by Mr. McEvoy, was acted by a company of villagers, who spoke in the true Wiltshire dialect, and gave the piece an air of convincing realism. Lord Howard de Walden [a patron of the arts], Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Shaw, Granville Barker and William Archer [a noted theatre critic] were among those who witnessed the inauguration of the new theater.”
The production was later successfully taken on tour around the south of England, but received mixed reviews when performed in Manchester and at the Coronet Theatre in London. Although McEvoy had hoped that his ‘village theatre’ idea would catch on and be copied around the country, this did not really happen. The Aldbourne Village Theatre itself closed in 1913 and The Village Wedding eventually vanished from view – until the recent discovery. However, the idea of village-based dramatic societies certainly did take off and is of course still going strong.
Several films based on McEvoy’s plays and novels have been made, including The Man in The Shadows (1915), produced and directed by McEvoy himself and based on The Village Wedding. Sally in our Alley (1931 based on another McEvoy play The Likes of ‘Er was an early Ealing Studios film with screenplay by Alma Revill, Alfred Hitchcock’s wife, and starring Gracie Fields in her first role, The film contains the title song ‘Sally’ which became Gracie Fields’ theme music for the rest of her career.
Charles married Marjorie Gwendoline (née Notley) in 1911 – he was 32 and she was 15. They had two sons, both born
Aldbourne, Christopher (1912) and Patrick (1914). Patrick became well-known as the author of The Gorse and the Briar, an account of life among gypsies in Wiltshire (1938), with illustrations by his brother. Both sons were killed in WW2. Gwen died in 1921 aged just 25, and Charles’ fame and success declined rapidly during the 1920s. He died of cancer in 1929 aged only 49, his debts having been settled by George Bernard Shaw just a year earlier.