Drusilla Duffill Theatre School offers a glittering celebration

A theatre school is celebrating 60 years of creating magical memories for generations of young people.

The Drusilla Duffill Theatre School is staging a glittering show at The Hawth, Crawley, to celebrate and showcase the talents of its 250 pupils.

Dance Upon A Diamond is the culmination of decades of dedication for Drusilla Duffill herself, who started the school when she was 16.

Drusilla has scrapbooks of press clippings, programmes and cast lists dating from the late 1950s, chronicling fun, creativity and talent across the years.

The first show she staged was Babes In The Wood, as a pantomime, in the hall at Oakmeeds School, Burgess Hill, in 1960, with ticket prices from three shillings. Now, the school aims to fill all 625 seats in the main part of The Hawth.

The theme of the show is ‘diamond’, to link with the school’s 60th anniversary.

A gem stone will be passed between characters across scenes in the show, through classic stories and scenes from popular musical theatre.

Drusilla said: “Originally I wanted to be a ballerina as many children do. When I was 15, against all odds, I went to college in London to train as a dance teacher for four years.”

While a student, Drusilla held classes on Saturday afternoons at The Dene Hollow Hotel, Burgess Hill, with about 50 children. When she graduated in 1960, the school moved to premises in Station Road in the town before establishing in Oakwood Road in 1972.

There, at Grove Lodge, the school operated for more than 40 years. It moved recently to a modern base in Victoria Road, Burgess Hill, and rents dance space at venues around the town.

Drusilla believes the secret of her success is the teaching combined with the sheer pleasure of dance.

“I think it’s about safe, careful training but with the idea that you dance simply for the joy of it. It’s rather like the expression: ‘dance like nobody’s watching’. To dance is to express yourself and express the music.

“It’s about how you give every child the opportunity, not just a favoured few. Dance is also a way of creating lasting friendships.”

By tradition, the last dance in the show before the finale is a ballet group. Drusilla will choreograph the 58 pupils who will take part but will also create dances for scenes featuring the Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast.

All of her family are involved in the theatrical world. Eldest daughter Katy is an artistic director at Disneyland Paris while younger twin daughters Vikki and Lucy are also highly creative; Lucy is wardrobe manager at Glyndebourne opera house, near Lewes, and Vikki became principal of the Drusilla Duffill Theatre School in 1999. Drusilla’s husband Michael, himself a former dancer, is actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the school.

The reward for Drusilla is clear: “It’s all the successes and seeing what pupils we have taught go on to achieve. It has been hard work but it’s been great fun.”

Dance Upon A Diamond is at The Hawth, Crawley, on Saturday, July 16, at 2.30pm and 7.30pm and on Sunday, July 17, at 2.30pm. Tickets from www.hawth.co.uk or 01293 553636.

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