Wick Theatre founder dies aged 83

Betty Dawes, beneath the plaque installed in 2014, with her husband, Ralph, left, and association secretary Dave Comber
Betty Dawes, beneath the plaque installed in 2014, with her husband, Ralph, left, and association secretary Dave Comber

Betty Dawes, who died on May 27, was for many years Wick Theatre Company’s much-loved and now much-mourned president.

She was also president of the Southwick Opera and the Southwick Community Association, and will be a great loss to all who knew and worked with her.

Born Betty Carpenter on July 14, 1932, in Portslade, her great love had always been the theatre.

In 1946, as a member of the Unity Youth club in Fishersgate, she had the idea of forming a drama section. This was set up as the Unity Players, later becoming Young Wick and finally Wick Theatre Company.

She was one of a band of volunteers who helped with the conversion of the old barn into the Barn Theatre, which opened for business in 1951. Wick has performed there ever since.

Betty was constantly working for the company from the earliest days, acting, directing and helping to run the administration.

Also in the early 1970s, she joined Southwick Opera, directing both light and very ambitious grand operas.

Another of the original teenage members of the Young Wick Players was Ralph Dawes, and he and Betty were married in 1959.

They had two children, Amanda in 1963 and Jonathan in 1965, both of whom have theatrical connections.

Amanda is now a busy theatrical costume maker and Jonathan provides percussion when music is required for a Wick or Opera production.

All Betty’s activities did not go unnoticed. In 2006, she was presented by the Brighton and Hove Arts Council with a Contribution to the Arts award for enduring work in the theatre.

In the same year, she and Ralph were invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party in honour of 60 years of working for Wick, and in 2014, a plaque was installed in the Barn Theatre foyer to mark her long and active support of Southwick Community Association.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair in recent years, Betty was still able to contribute and was busy arranging a front of house team for Wick’s next production, up to the day she went into hospital.

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