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The Old Stagers History (1842 - today)

The Old Stagers (O.S.) were founded in 1842 by Hon. Fred Ponsonby (later Earl of Bessborough) to perform during Kent's  annual Canterbury Cricket Week.  It is the oldest surviving amateur dramatic company in the world, and has given performances every year in Canterbury since 1842 with the exception of the two world wars.  In recent years it has staged plays at Canterbury's Gulbenkian Theatre, but this year the society is moving its production to the new King's School theatre, the Malthouse Theatre. This year's production of Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, will mark the society’s 170th season.


From their earliest days when they attracted professional actresses such as Irene Vanbrugh and Ellen Terry to perform with them, the Old Stagers have enjoyed a reputation for excellence. Some 170 years since their beginnings, firmly established as the oldest surviving amateur dramatic group in the world, they are also acknowledged as one of the best. Their productions are often directed by (and include) professional actors and actresses, and the emphasis now is always on achieving the highest standards possible.


The Old Stagers has close links to Kent County Cricket Club and the I Zingari nomadic amateur cricket club. Ponsonby was also a founder of I Zingari, and later became president of Surrey County Cricket Club. One of the earliest Old Stagers was the Kent and England cricketer Alfred Mynn who first appeared in 1847 and then regularly until his death in 1861.


The Old Stagers have kept archives of all their productions dating right back to the formation of the Society in 1842.  These archives are brought out from safe storage and made available to audience members after performances every year. They provide an intriguing view not only of the history of the Society, but also of the social and political atmosphere of the past two centuries. These archives have been digitised and anyone interested in gaining access can email a request to




The first official history of the Old Stagers, and its association with Canterbury and Cricket, has been written, "The Old Stagers: Canterbury, Cricket and Theatricals".  Please email, if you are interested in buying a copy.


Much has been written about the Old Stagers in books about the Theatre, Cricket and Kent, but this is the first time that a complete history of the Society’s existence, spanning over 170 years, has been written.  Extensive use of the Old Stagers’ unique archive material has been made which, apart from delving into every aspect and event of the Society’s life and its personalities, contributes also to the social history of Canterbury, Kent Cricket and the amateur theatre from Victorian times to the present day.


Read a review here.

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