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1946; Dramatic Society

 

New boys appear, old ones move on a stage, examination results are discussed, holiday stories exchanged, and these preliminaries over, there is time to observe other signs of the beginning of the autumn term. The brows, for instance, of the badminton devotees are black, and in corners they talk darkly of their right to use the hall, and scowl after the figures of A.B. and T.S. These two are seen to be behaving even more strangely than usual. They peer into faces in corridor and classroom, shake their heads and mutter. "Nose won't do . . too fat . . too thin." Completely unoffending boys are seized upon, ordered to say something, only to have to listen to the rudest remarks upon their voices. In the seclusion of room fourteen there are discussions of some liveliness. The observant are aware that the Dramatic Society is wakening after its summer sleep.
This is the term, which the Society normally devotes to the production of group plays. The importance of the group play to the strength of the Society, providing as it does a nursery of talent for more ambitious productions, giving scope for the activities of far more boys than can a single School play, cannot be overestimated, and it has only been unavoidable circumstance which has led to the beginning of rehearsals for a full length production so early, and in apparent competition. But in a School of this size that should be no cause for dismay. The producers of the one-act plays, and it is hoped that some of these producers will be boys. Finding that the services of the more experienced actors are not available, and compelled to cast their nets more widely, may bring ashore a fine haul of new talent.
" The unavoidable circumstance is the decision of the Walthamstow Council to hold a Drama Festival early in the New Year, a Festival which, it is hoped, will demonstrate the capacities of local amateur societies, and encourage an ambitious and enlightened project for the establishment in Walthamstow of a Civic Theatre. To a School with so long and lively an acting tradition as our own, such a scheme must be of great interest, and it seemed obvious from the first that we could hardly confine ourselves to the role of passive observers in a Dramatic Festival held in our own borough. It was decided then, that we should enter the competition, to be held at Lloyd Park Pavilion, with a full length play, which should subsequently be produced on our own stage as the School play for this year.
The preliminary decision was easy enough to reach in the first glow of enthusiasm. Problems remained not least of them the choice of a play. In this we had to bear in mind our own very definite limitations, our advantages, and the fact that we shall be competing with adult societies whose productions can be graced with actresses as well as actors. One initial advantage we have is that we can furnish a large cast, and indeed should do so if only to involve in active participation as many members of the Society as possible. A play with a large cast, then. Costume, we have found, can be of the utmost assistance to boys playing adult parts, and to boys playing female parts. (How thankful we have been to be able to veil a pair of all-too-obviously masculine legs beneath an elegantly trailing skirt.) A costume play, then, and all the more so because the modern comedy with its necessity for an adult manner, and a brittle, highly polished style is not for us. The play with a single setting is tempting; a curtain, a window, a piece of furniture, no scene shifters, how peaceful such a production! But on the other hand, why be lazy, why unimaginative, why avoid challenges to ingenuity and throw away the colour and interest provided by varied settings?
The search began as long ago as July, continued through the holidays, involved frantic digging into memories, ransacking of libraries and bookshops, discussions, endless arguments. Various people had bright ideas, which often proved not so bright on closer examination. There were many suggestions, some only discarded with regret, others rejected with rude laughter, for anxiety was straining politeness. We wanted a play, a good play, but one which we should not insult by our inability to perform adequately. There were less sane moments when we even thought of writing one to fit our peculiar requirements. From that thought we shuddered away to reconsider some rejects. There was one play which we had regretfully decided was too ambitious. We looked at it again. Always attractive, it seemed now more possible. We knew, of course, all about Mr. Pascal and the lovely Miss Leigh, but then there are more ways than one of doing the same thing, other ways of handling a play besides choking it with gorgeous technicolour, stuffing it with pompous direction. The decision was made. The School play for 1947, our entry for the Walthamstow Drama Festival will be Caesar and Cleopatra, by
G. B. Shaw. A play with some dozen important speaking parts, and a host of lesser characters, is not the easiest thing in the world to cast, and especially this year when the Society has to regret the departure of such able and experienced actors as K.Lewis, D.A.D. Smith, and N.J.Maynard. A group of old members remains, however, and it has been encouraging. We find a reserve of promising new talent. Alterations may have to be made, accidents may happen, since at the time of writing we are only in the initial stages of production, but we hope that the people mentioned will be able to survive the rigours of rehearsals, the storms of producers' temperaments. F.G.Claridge is to exchange the drab skirts of a termagant for the martial trappings of a conqueror. He will play Caesar. Already at this early stage his acting gives signs of an increased strength and flexibility, and we feel that a long and difficult part is in capable hands. Cleopatra will be played by a newcomer to the Society, Buck. No prophecies here.
We will leave it for you to decide whether or not a new star has arisen. D.E.Buck, who will be remembered as the "leading lady" of last year's production, will play the Queens ferocious and devoted nurse. J.A.Bastin will play Caesar's comrade in arms, and C.M.Collins his British secretary, parts which should prove to be well within the range of these two experienced and hard working members. A.G. Heliman, after his success as a simpleton in The Devil's Disciple, finds himself now rehearsing in the more exacting role of Pothinus, ambitious and intriguing statesman, guardian of the boy king Ptolemy. The latter is to be played by another discovery, Borrett, who will also act as understudy for Cleopatra.
Cook, who is to decorate the stage as Apollodorus, seems to prove that dramatic talent runs in families, for it was an elder brother of his who earned applause as Derby in the war-time production of Richard of Bordeaux. Other important parts are to be taken by R.E.Durgnat. K.Bridge, R.Gunton. C.J.Sare, B.C.Chaplin, and T.A.James. In addition to the main speaking parts there are a number of boatmen, porters, soldiers to be provided. We have no doubt that the School will be able to furnish plenty of boys capable of giving life-like presentations of these tough, rough parts.
If there should be anyone whose back garden is decorated with a sphinx of modest proportions, we should be grateful for its loan. Mr. Rank has donated his to the Egyptian government, which probably muttered the Arabic equivalent of coals to, Newcastle, so there is little point in approach him.
T. E. N. S.