THE building behind Toad is not Toad Hall but the equally impressive Newhouse in Redlynch, which will provide the setting and backdrop for the Redlynch Players next production.

The company wanted somewhere a bit different, a bit special, to stage what will be their 50th anniversary production next month.

The beautiful house, with its combination of Jacobean and Georgian architecture fronted by sloping lawns and sweeping drive, provides just that and a warm summer evening here in the company of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger promises to be treat for the whole family.

The actors are, of course, praying for fine weather but you sense it would take quite a downpour to dampen the spirits and enthusiasm of this small village company.

It's the third time they've performed the stage version of Kenneth Grahame's classic story - in fact, the first time was to mark their silver jubilee in 1982 - and some of the performers are back, albeit in different guises.

Behind Badger's brocade waistcoat is Ron Perry, who was Ratty last time round and who directed the 1982 production.

This time, his son Lloyd is in the driving seat, while the character of Mole is played by 28-year-old Sarah Newman, a toddler when the society celebrated its 25th year, and who joined up in 1990 to play a ferret, a rabbit and Marigold for its second stab at Toad.

"I've moved up, but I'm still wearing a fur headpiece," she laughs.

This year's Toad, Pat Cousins, is a relative newcomer. "I joined two years ago to make the tea," she shrugs wryly.

It's a society that includes generations of the same family and the age range of the cast of 25 easily encompasses eight to eighty - Ratty (Lucy Hind) has a daughter among the wild-wooders and Mole's great aunt Beryl Edwards is the bargewoman. Beryl is a company stalwart, a member throughout its 50 years playing everything from royalty to washerwomen. She joined for the Players' second production after her sister Val Elkins persuaded her to go along.

Val was already there, one of Redlynch Players' founder members, who later served as the society's secretary.

She had been looking forward to seeing them celebrate their golden jubilee and I was to meet her a few weeks ago so she could tell me all she knew.

But, sadly Val, who had been suffering from cancer for some time, was taken into hospital and died earlier this month.

Look through programmes from the last five decades and Val's name crops up time and again in so many capacities.

"She did love the players," Beryl tells me.

"She was involved right from the start - she produced, acted, worked backstage - she really didn't mind what she did."

Redlynch Players was started by a small nucleus of villagers, including Doris Maltby and Stan Crouch, who had been involved in staging small shows in the area and floated the idea of starting an amateur drama group.

Early meetings were held in the Methodist Church hall in Vale Road, now home to the SWT Woodfalls Band, and the first production - Easy Money, described as a "a gay little family comedy" by the Salisbury Times - was staged for two nights in December 1957 at what is now Morgans Vale and Woodfalls village hall.

In the cast was Geoff Newman, now 81, and more likely to be found backstage manufacturing props - his loft at home is full to bursting with them - or helping to build the sets.

His wife Yvonne, who has been with the Players for 22 years, is frequently in charge of make-up or costumes.

Animals, Victorian ladies, Elizabethan royalty and murderers - they have all been dressed by Yvonne.

"The hardest one I ever had to make was a guardsman outside the Palace whose buttons had to ping off - and it worked every time," she says with satisfaction.

Active membership, according to current chairman Ruth Frampton, is only about 20 strong, supplemented by children for shows like Toad and The Railway Children.

"We do very well for the number we've got," she says, and indeed they do, with two or three shows produced each year, usually a spring and autumn production, plus occasional open-air summer productions or Christmas pantos.

In the early days, there were certificates of merit from the Wiltshire Drama Council (now defunct) and cups won at festivals for outstanding performances.

Comedies, thrillers and farces feature frequently in the scrapbooks cataloguing the Players' 50 years but the group has also been enterprising enough to stage original plays.

In 2000, they put on Vale of Sparrows, adapted by member Pamela Henderson based on the memoir she wrote about her own childhood.

This was followed a few years later by Forest Boy, based on her father's New Forest childhood.

At Easter, they took a production of a religious play to churches in Redlynch, Lover, Downton and Fordingbridge.

Aside from excursions like these, the Players have been resident at Redlynch village hall since their fourth production where they have a loyal audience following.

Tickets for shows like Crown Matrimonial and Abigail's Party ("quite ground-breaking for a village like ours," I'm told) are sold out well in advance.

Choosing plays is largely determined by democratic decision-making.

"Whoever is producing suggests two or three plays which we read as a club and then decide which we like best," says Ruth.

Lloyd Perry, who has made the transition from juve lead to director, says: "The decision is taken with everyone and then we hold auditions to an extent but it's not the X-factor."

Ask for words to describe the group and I'm told they are friendly, welcoming and close knit, before someone chips in "and slightly mad".

Down on the River Bank, I am sure Toad would be delighted to hear it.

  • Toad of Toad Hall will be staged in the open-air at Newhouse in Redlynch from July 19 until July 21 at 7pm, with a Saturday matinee at 2pm.

The evening performance on July 21 will be a gala performance with SWT Woodfalls band and Fordingbridge Choral Society. Tickets for all performances from Pauline Jones on 01725 510372.