A VILLAGE theatre group has been celebrating its 70th anniversary with record box office sales - and coming into the 21st century by selling tickets online for the first time.

Gainford Drama Club, based in the Academy Theatre in the picturesque village of Gainford, was formed in 1949 by Enid Burdon and her husband Bill. Enid, now 95, still holds the position of club president and continues to help out where she can.

Since its inception the group has put on over 150 plays, the first four of which were staged in the village hall. As audiences grew so did the club’s ability to invest and in 1950 they moved into what is now the Academy Theatre.

The theatre had originally been Gainford Academy, once attended by Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame.

With the help of members a stage was built, lights were fitted, curtains were made, a dressing room equipped and the little theatre, in which members take great pride, came into being.

After 1961 the club became affiliated to the Village Hall complex and in 1983 tip-up seats were obtained from the Civic Theatre, Darlington and installed, paid for by members and friends. In 2016, members were able to procure seats from the Civic Theatre as it underwent refurbishment.

As part of the anniversary the club restaged sell-out production of A Kick in The Barbels.

Club member Emma Simpson said : "It's a really popular little theatre. For example the play we have just put on attracted around 650 people over the two-week run. The theatre seats 90 and most nights it was sold out.

"We are going from strength-to-strength and obviously hope to still be going in 70 years time. We have just moved forward digitally too. We are now selling tickets online for the first time. In the past we have always had a postal system where people could send a form with a cheque to get their tickets.

"We have pushed forward with social media massively, as well. Sales have just skyrocketed this year. I don't know whether it is down to word of mouth or the fact that we have gone online now and are much more visible."

She added: "The audience base has remained faithful. A lot of people have been coming for 30 to 40 years, because there hasn't been a year we haven't done a production.

"Our focus is getting not just younger audience members, but younger members on the stage. A lot of local drama clubs lack young men. we always welcome new members and have social events throughout the year, not just during productions."

The club, whose chairperson is Jan Richardson-Wilde, has a production planned for March or April next year, but has yet to decide on what will be staged.

The theatre is in use throughout the year with rehearsals, play readings and set construction taking place and is always on the lookout for new members and supporters.

It meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7.30 pm, when a production is being prepared.

For more information visit www.gainforddramaclub.co.uk for follow the club on Instagram and Facebook.