It seems unimaginable that the creative arts were frowned upon in the school's early days but Quakers had traditionally disapproved of drama in particular, as not reflecting the truth. At the 1897 Christmas Social at Leighton Park, scenes from “The Rivals” were performed but costumes were banned. S Brown writes in the book “Leighton Park”: It was not dressing up that was objected to but the pretence of appearing as someone else-a pretence favoured in the theatre.”
In 1903, RJ Heelas removed his coat and acted in shirt sleeves as Sam Weller (Pickwick Papers), but in 1910, a breakthrough: in Twelfth Night, a £3 grant was made for costume and “Grierson made up as a most convincing Sir Toby, what an Italian ruffling, swaggering, roystering blade to be sure!”
The building of Peckover Hall in 1915 provided a proper stage for concerts, but obviously also for dramatic productions. The tradition of alternating a musical production with a play stemmed from 1930s. Until the 1970s, operas and operettas, particularly Gilbert and Sullivan, were performed, then a flamboyant production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” saw in a new era.
The opening of the Main Hall in 1973 with its large and flexible staging was a huge step forward for the performing arts under the proud eye of Head, Bill Spray. The first play to be performed was “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”. Headmaster Jim Hunter too had a strong interest in drama, directing a number of plays himself and there was a huge output of productions across the age ranges, with legendary Head of English Ian House. Valuable experience was also gained off stage too, with students experimenting with various lighting and sound technologies, leading to successful careers for some.
The acknowledgment of the importance of drama as more than an enjoyable extra-curricular activity was cemented in 1998 when Theatre Studies A Level was added to the curriculum; in 1999, GCSE Drama was added and in 2018, Dance. In 1999 the Squash Court was converted to a desperately needed Drama Studio. The students’ passion for drama is as strong as ever and Leighton Park productions go from strength to strength.