A.A. Milne's detective play, The Fourth Wall, was produced by the School Dramatic Society in the School Hall, on the evening of Friday, March 14th. The production was in the hands of Messrs. P.B. Whitt and H.J. Hyde, and the cast was as follows:
(In order of appearance.)
Jimmy Ludgrove ... ... ... H.J. Hyde
Susan Cunningham ... ... ... R. A. Dubock
Adams ... ... ... ...E.W.Lear
Edward Laverick ... ... ... D.J Gillett
Edward Carter ... ... ... K.E.Robinson
Major Fothergill ... ... ... W.Gillham
Mrs. Fulverton Fane... ... ... B. M. G. Reardon
Jane: West .. ... ...A.F.Auckland
Arthur Ludgrove ... ... ... S. O. Speakman
P.C. Mallett ... ... ... ... J. S. Durrant
"Sergeant" Mallett... ... ... R. J. North
Messrs. J. S. Durrant and F. G. West were stage-managers, and music was rendered by the Instrumental Society, under the direction of Mr. L. C, Belchambers,
The producers had done their work extremely well. The acting was of high standard and the more technical points of production had been looked to with great effect. It was very gratifying to notice how well the "positions" had been thought out. The setting was pleasant, and costumes and make up unobtrusive.
One regrets that in the first scene of the first act the acting was not so good as in the rest of the play. This was undoubtedly due to the large number of characters on the stage at one time, and the vary frequent exits and entrances. One was left with the feeling that the actors had not yet warmed up to their work. Probably the finest piece of acting of the evening was that of K.E. Robinson as Carter, the cruel cold-blooded murderer, calm and cynical throughout, until he is trapped by Susan, when he gives way to a blaze of fury and shows us the very worst side of his delightfully complex character. K.E. Robinson portrayed this man extremely well. He showed himself alive to many of the finer points of true character acting. Mr. H.J. Hyde also gave a splendid display as Jimmy, the young hero. This type of part by reason of its very ordinariness is very difficult to play convincingly, but Mr. Hyde succeeded in "getting across " with every line he spoke.
R.A. Dubock as Susan, "the sweet young thing," looked charming and acted with clever feminine mannerisms, but was inclined to speak rather too quickly and indistinctly. He should also vary the pitch of his voice more often during a long speech. The part was one which any boy would have found difficult, and R.A.Dubock gave a creditable performance.
Among the parts of lesser importance J. S. Durrant, as P.C. Mallett (so well described by his name), scored an undoubted triumph. His fine Sussex accent and the rich humour of his acting were a source of great delight to the audience. R.J. North, as Sergeant Mallett, acted efficiently though a trifle insipidly, and appeared rather insignificant beside his father. A taller person could have taken this part to greater advantage.
S.O. Speakman made a convincing Arthur Ludgrove. He showed us something of that character's great strength of mind, but was at times a little too deliberate in his actions and too slow in his speech. E.W. Lear showed a good voice and some interesting facial expressions in the role of Adams, Arthur Ludgrove's butler. We look forward to seeing him in a part of greater importance in some future production.
J. D. Gillett played Edward Laverick satisfactorily, but was unfortunately over-shadowed by Carter, his partner in crime. His sinister drawl was overdone and marred a piece of acting otherwise quite good. W. Gillham as Major Fothergill did his best with a thankless part. His acting appeared to lack force.
B.M.G. Reardon and A.F. Auckland looked quite fascinating as Mrs. Fulverton Fane and Jane West respectively. Mrs. Fulverton Fane had little to do and gave Reardon no opportunity of showing his powers. Auckland, however, did some very good work in the last scene, but appeared conspicuously left-handed.
We congratulate the Society on what was on the whole a very fine performance, but venture to express the hope that next year they will choose a play more worthy of their attention. The Fourth Wall provided an excellent evening's entertainment, and yet it must have been rather boring for those who had to spend weeks rehearsing it. The commonplace dialogue and conventional plot of this play amuse at first, but admit of no serious study or analysis.
Against the strong counter-attraction provided by the many new School Societies, the Dramatic Society, we are pleased to state, has more than held its own; indeed, we have had very reluctantly to shut our gates against the importunate hordes of would-be actors in order to keep our numbers within working limits.
A revised form of last term's group system is now in existence and nine groups are rehearsing plays. These will be produced if possible this term, but it may be found necessary to hold them over till a later date. We can assure the School of some good entertainment when these plays are produced.
If anyone has been inclined to wax somewhat satirical concerning last term's plays, we would remind him that everything must have a beginning. Not only were the actors handicapped by their inexperience, but they had very few opportunities for rehearsing on the stage. We think the groups are to be congratulated on their efforts. The outstanding fault, which marred all but one of the plays, was inaudibility. If the groups have only learnt the art of making themselves heard, their future productions will be greatly improved.
We congratulate Group IX on their performance, notable for its audibility and the amusement it provided, and for the vigorous acting of Payton as the man who forgot to put his trousers on; Group VI. produced a play full of action with some effective crooks, a diamond, and a useful piece of chewing gum; and Group IV had a very laughable cockney valet, though some of the other characters were very nervous and some very incoherent. The other groups achieved varying degrees of success. One play, The Master of the House, was really unsuitable and should not have been attempted.
The Sixth Form also perpetrated a play. Whenever the actors spoke they were heard; but in spite of the amazing spectacle of august members of the Sixth wrapped up in green curtains and grease paint and guzzling ginger beer, the School remained unimpressed. There is a moral somewhere in this, we leave you to discover it.
The Society's three-act play has been settled at the last moment as The Ghost Train. At the time of writing intensive rehearsals are taking place under the supervision of the Headmaster, who has undertaken the production of the play. The "noises-off" and lighting in this play are of great importance: Messrs. Arthur and Brobyn are in charge of this department. A large number of bells, drums, mallets, rollers, whistles, etc. has been gathered together, and on certain nights in the week the workshop shakes to the rhythmic roaring of a railway train, to the great delight of a curious audience in the cloisters.
The membership of the Society is now about fifty. This is very satisfactory when the number and attraction of the other societies are taken into account. The members have been separated into groups according to the usual practice, and the plays to be performed by the various groups at the end of term have already been chosen. Competition is very keen.
Members are looking forward with eagerness to some excursions which the Society proposes to organise to St. Pancras People's Theatre, where several enjoyable evenings were spent last year.
It is hoped that the three-act play which is to be presented in March will have been chosen before Christmas.
[The dramatic performances on Speech Day had no connection with the Dramatic Society. The performance of the scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream was directed by Mr.Whitt, while the presentation from St. Joan was supervised by Mr. Brobyn.-Editor.]
The active and all-embracing nature of the Dramatic Society was well illustrated at the end of last term by the success of the plays performed as part of the breaking-up celebrations. Five plays, all humorous, were presented. The performers ranged from the Second to the Fifth Forms, and the improvement on a similar entertainment at Christmas, 1932, was most noticeable.
The choice of plays was more suitable and the acting and clearness of speech were greatly improved. The audience enthusiastically applauded each play, and the Society is justifiably proud of being able to entertain the whole School for two and a half hours.
A select party of four went to the People's Theatre, St. Pancras, to see Rodney Ackland's Strange Orchestra, but (owing to the bad attendance) no further visits have been arranged.
After much discussion, the Committee decided upon Twelth Night as the March play, and rehearsals are being held several times a week. Messrs. Whitt, Hyde, and Brobyn are in charge, and the Society is confident of a successful production.
The large cast employs many members of the Society, and those left over will doubtless be glad to assist in making our intrepid Shakespearian venture go down in the annals of the Society as a great success.
A play set in Ancient Rome, written in Elizabethan days, and performed in modern times with incidental music from a loudspeaker, was presented to the audience in the School Hall on Saturday, December 12th, when The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was performed by the Fourth and Fifth Forms. The choice of the play is interesting, for it is one of the set books for the 1937 and '38 General School Examination. The cast, which devoted a great deal of time and enthusiasm to the production, should, therefore, have no cause to regret the time thus expended. Judged by the sparseness of the audience the venture was hardly an unqualified financial success. But the blame for this rests largely on the surly elements, which were almost as bad as on that historical night in Rome before Caesar's death, when "'Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds."
A play with a little less of Julius Caesar's unrelieved tragedy would probably have been more acceptable on that dismal night, but this did not prevent the cast, especially the principals, from playing their parts with a wealth of real feeling for the unhappy characters whom they represented. In creating the requisite air of tragedy, the actors were greatly aided by the very effective lighting and sound effects achieved by Mr. J.S.Arthur and his fawn-coated henchmen, who faithfully portrayed the obliging elements.
Perhaps the outstanding performance among so many good ones was that of D.E.H.Miller as Cassius. His diction was very distinct, and he conveyed a very real idea of the Roman's bitter mind, his cunning methods, and his compelling tongue.
E.E.Knight's performance as Marcus Antonius was also an outstanding one. His diction was by far the best. His words reached every member of the audience, and every syllable was clearly and incisively uttered. His lamentation and subsequent speech over Caesar's corpse were memorable, and his cleverly controlled outbursts of grief and anger admirably interpreted Shakespeare's own conception of the speech which is now familiar to almost everyone.
S.W.Payton as Marcus Brutus, the noble Roman who is inveigled by Cassius into killing Caesar "for the good of the people of Rome," was also admirable, although the first half of his performance was perhaps a little too restrained, and would have been improved by more variation of tone.
As Julius Caesar, N.P.Bruce, though slimmer than the Caesar of popular conception, acted well, spoke clearly and firmly, and looked the patrician he was meant to be.
It was a great pity that E.J.Catmull should have contracted asthma so inopportunely, for this meant that G.E.Lloyd-Jones had less than two days in which to learn his lines. In spite of this, he began well and struggled bravely to remember with the aid of the prompter, R.C.Meek, whose voice was almost more audible than Lloyd-Jones's, although he appeared very ill at ease and uncomfortable in his toga.
The programme also begged the indulgence of the audience for S.T. Southgate, who replaced K.H.G.McKie as Ligarius, the old invalid who yet possesses strength to fight for Brutus and the well-being of Rome. He, however, needed no such compassion; for, having had three days' notice, he remembered his lines most commendably. His quavering voice was very appropriate to the part, but inaudible at times. Incidentally, in his other role of the poet, Cinna, he provided the only comic element of the play, when the crowd carried him, a many-limbed bundle of rag's, from the stage. Of the other players, G.H.J.Robinson, as Lucius, servant to Brutus, was perhaps the best. He came in at the right moment, spoke clearly, and walked composedly across the stage when required, virtues so rare in the supporting players of amateur dramatics.
The weakest point of the production was undoubtedly the portrayal of the women characters, of whom there are, fortunately, but two. Of the two, A.L.Dallas as, Portia, Brutus's wife, was the better; he (she) was certainly of more womanly appearance than Calpurnia, as interpreted by D.J.M.Bush, though neither was a very stately Roman lady. Dallas's voice was rather too quiet and his diction too hurried; Bush's voice was too strident for a woman. But it must be remembered that the portrayal of female characters is very difficult, especially for boys of the Fourth and Fifth Forms, and both certainly did their best, in which they were assisted by their make-up, for which Mr. S.J.Harris must be thanked.
For the first time in history, perhaps, the problem of where to put the crowd players when not wanted was solved. In this production a narrow platform, lower than, and in front of, the stage was erected, and the brightly-clad crowd waited behind a low barrier for their cue; when needed, they flocked on to the minor platform and crouched there, while others, entered from the wings. Due partly to this, and partly to the unflagging energy of the Headmaster, the whole play was efficiently produced and carried through without a mishap. For the bright, effective dressing of the players, which contributed in no small way to the play's success, our sincere thanks and congratulations go to Miss Edna Wilsdon and the ladies of the Parents' Association, who together made the costumes, despite very short notice.
On Monday, the 21st of December, six groups of players presented six much rehearsed plays (it is whispered that a certain group were feverishly rehearsing in a form-room during the first part of the programme) to the usual mixed audience of boys, prefects, and staff. The lights went out reluctantly, it seemed, at the flash of the red light as Mr. Tysall, the producer of the first play, announced Find Beverley-Brown.
It was a pity that this effort was so long and the plot so unsuited to the audience, who became restive. The resulting prefectorial commands seemed somewhat lacking in the Christmas spirit. The players acted well, but tended at times to become very inaudible.
Mr. Durrant's group, presenting The Man in the Bowler Hat, were somewhat uncertain of their parts, a fault which spoilt the otherwise enjoyable play.
Five at the "George", presented by Mr. West's' group, presented great difficulties because of the lack of action throughout. In spite of this, the play was well put over by a cast who showed commendable ignorance of the art of cigarette smoking. This particularly poisonous appearance of the "absinthe" is also worthy of mention.
Queer Street, acted by Dr. Whitt's group, was, the most humerous play of the morning. The players were sure of their wrds and actions, and consequently acted with assurance. Outstanding in the cast were Taylor, as a burglar, and Lempriere, as his prospective son-in-law (also a burglar).
In Mr. Hyde's presentation of The Purple Bedroom, Wildman played the important role of Basset, the imperturbable valet, very efficiently, and, his encounter with three disturbingly solid ghosts, D.Pettegree, Ingram, and Brockman, provided us with a pleasant half-hour.
When the curtain fell at the end of the play by Mr. Hammer's group, The Dentist's Chair, we were left wondering what happened to the murderer, played by Humphries, after his neighbour in which the dentist and his assistants, Knappett and Fitt largely figured. In spite of this we enjoyed the play immensely.
We were very pleased to notice that, in the main, the actors were much more audible than in previous years. The last three plays mentioned were outstanding in this respect. We would like to congratulate and thank all those who contributed to our morning's very enjoyable entertainment.
Performed in the School Hall, February 16th, 17th and 18th, 1939. The curtain rose upon a Court of Justice in full and, for the moment, agitated session. (For readers of this notice not cognizant with the play it may be indicated that it presents the trial of three persons, two of them members of the People's Party, accused of making an attempt on the life of the Leader of a totalitarian state in south-east Europe.) And a very fine Court of Justice it is, with its compact elaborateness and firm construction, doing great credit to the creators of it, Mr. Brobyn and Mr. Starbuck, and to the ladies who helped to deck it, Mrs. E.G.Bull, Mrs. W.W.Pttegree, and Mrs. T.C Taylor.
To the right is the dock, in which George Khitov (Harry Hyde) is receiving one of his periodical suppressions for aiming yet another admirable thrust at the Prosecutor or at the proceedings in general. A splendid performance is Mr. Hyde's, a white and fearless flame, witheringly scornful of this mockery of justice and, in a noble passage protesting before the world against the persecution of a race and the horrors of the concentration camp. Beside him sits Lydia Kuman, played by Yvonne Durgnat with an utter sincerity and a shining integrity; we know that each of the five judges in his inmost mind believes the truth of the evidence by which she clears herself, and so the play surely assumes its sinister significance. Behind these two mopes the duped Kurt Schneider of Albert Brobyn, a fine and terrible study, whose disastrous outburst of laughter provided an even better curtain than the slightly anaemic explosion.
In the well of the court ranged at large the Prosecutor of Leonard Moules, bullying and incisive, revelling in the loaded dice, without scruples, but not without nerves, a strong and excellently judged performance. The duties of his assistant, Malinov, were little more than those of an usher, but Arthur Davis ushered well. As Dr. Stambulov, chief defending counsel, Ernest Starkey lacked conviction, even allowing for his ambiguous position, but the aggrieved deference of Schneider's much snubbed counsel (Thomas Starbuck) was admirably revealing. As Lydia's lawyer brother from America, who is allowed to participate in the defence, Roy Ford gave a very human and attractive performance, a comforting oasis of Anglo-Saxon solidity and alien's immunity.
In addition to the prisoners, the witness-box had a variety of occupants in the course of the evening: the Leader's Private Secretary (Anthony Waizeneker), a wisely restrained performance amid such a galaxy of character; a gloriously irrelevant and transparently primed prosecution witness, the cafe waiter Vasili Bassarabba, who was played by Jack Allen with a gusto that kept this side of improbability and who left the box in a state of perspiring relief that spoke volumes. Another bribed and uneasy witness, Mme. Marthe Teodorova, competently acted by Elizabeth Lee; Sonia Kuman, Lydia's daughter, a moving little sketch by Joy Wood; General Rakovski. Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, of whom Ronald Burrage, handicapped (or helped) by an ill-fitting uniform, made a grimly vital and formidable figure; and finally, the florid and indignant prima donna of Julia Epton, an immense performance, which the house greatly enjoyed.
We move on to the Bench. Here were five admirably differentiated performances. George Chapman played judge Tsankov with a snarling malignancy that was extremely effective. Llewellyn Elliott gave a telling edge of joviality to his ruthless judge Sturdza, a capital figure, this. Judge Murusi, cheaply sneering at the prisoners from the bench and seeking refuge in contemptible equivocation when he has to condemn them, was played with the right touch by Harry Epton. Of the one judge of relentless integrity, Count Slatarski, Ronald Dubock gave a convincingly aged and consistently dignified portrayal, upon which he is particularly to be congratulated. John Payling's presiding judge, though his course was rightly set, was not wholly satisfying. That he should have been a. judge for eighteen years was frankly incredible; even when allowance is made for the circumstances of the trial, he failed sufficiently to assert himself; above all, in the scene in which the judges confer on their verdict he did not adequately portray, or even adequately imply, a soul in torment, a good man struggling to remain true to himself, the ultimate and tragic conflict of a terrorist regime. It may here be remarked that this vital scene had a general air of being under produced.
It was a marked merit of this production that almost all the subsidiary characters were well acted. As the Clerk, of the Court, Edward Bull administered the oath with polish; Florence Billson stenographed busily throughout the evening; Robert Woollard and Peter McDermott appeared vigorously, if ephemerally, as a Captain of Police and Lieutenant Nekludov respectively; Douglas Peacock made a very effective and convincing figure of Alexander Kuman, disguised as Father Sebastian; Messrs. Robert Hodd, Trevor Morgan, Brian Phelps, Claude Payne and Reginald Duffell made a stalwart scattering of guards and rebelled with aplomb; while the crowd in the public benches wavered not in its attention to the proceedings, applauded energetically at the appropriate political moments and Hailed Vesnic to the manner born. Sidney Williamson seemed miscast as the Dictator, whom he failed to invest with the qualities associated with that calling.
A play that could hardly fail? Possibly. But this production did much more than not fail. Through the whole-hearted energy of all concerned, the high level of the acting, the admirable staging and competent production, the performance took on an urgent rhythm and a vivid reality that passionately conveyed its message.
A. E. H.
Last term we held our own Drama Festival. Six plays were presented, and Mr. Brobyn, Mr. Hyde, and Mr. T.M. Morgan consented to select the group which in their opinion gave the most meritorious performance.
The competitive element resulted in a greater keenness on the part of the actors themselves, and a more critical attention on the part of the audience.
K. Paton's group gave a performance of Anthony's Gale's Execution. It should have been possible for the players to construct a setting which indicated that the action took place in the bar of an inn. It would have helped to make the play more convincing.
The female characters lacked conviction and elegance, and were often inaudible. The chief male parts, however, were exceedingly well played, Sorensen being outstanding. Execution is a difficult play to put over, and great credit must be given to the cast for their attempt.
R. Davis produced Banquo's Chair, a popular thriller by R. Croft-Cooke. Inaudibility robbed the production of any entertainment value it may have possessed, and a high percentage of marks was lost on this account. It is quite useless for a group to spend a great deal of time on movement, grouping, make-up and scenery, and to neglect this first essential of clear and audible speaking.
The play improved considerably towards the end when Young gave us some quite good stage hysterics.
Mr. Starbuck's group played The Golden Doom by Lord Dunsany. Here we had a large cast, and the play, thoughtfully produced, held the audience. The costumes, brightly coloured material decorated with sections of gilt doyleys, were a brilliant effort.
The play was marred by the soldiers who, on more than one occasion, surrendered their statuesque pose in order to indulge in some private joke. D. Pettegree and Hull gave excellent performances.
Scuttleboom's Treasure, by Ronald Gow, was produced by Mr. Hammer, Chairman of the Dramatic Society. Mr. Hammer's difficulty was to include all the boys who had not obtained parts in the other plays. .Scuttleboom's Treasure, with its innumerable pirates and schoolboys, enabled him to do this, but the very large cast must have presented many difficulties of production.
Apart from an uncomfortable pirate chief and a slightly overdrawn schoolmaster, the group gave some first-class acting. The tempo was fast and the speech clear. Stringer was considered to have given the best individual performance of the morning. Lugsden, too, was very good indeed.
Chittenden produced The Dear Departed by Stanley Houghton. This play has three important female roles, and is not, therefore, the easiest of plays for a group of boys to choose. The difficulties of production were increased by the fact that the producer himself played one of the chief parts, and he was not able to study the action from the position of the audience. This was the direct cause of the occasional bad positioning of a player. The acting was, however, excellent, and there was a fine sense of point and climax. The whole play moved swiftly and smoothly.
The Dear Departed was placed first by the judges. The producer and his cast, "team" is probably a better word, are to be warmly congratulated.
The Rehearsal, by Maurice Baring, was produced by Mr. Campbell. Like The Golden Doom, this play was beautifully dressed: the costumes were rich and colourful; the make-up, too, was excellent. Curtains provided all the setting that was necessary.
Yet the play failed badly. Inaudibility-this word cannot be repeated too often in dealing with stage matters-was the first reason for the failure. Even in the centre of the Hall very little could be heard. The second reason was the slowness of the action. The players would pause between speeches. Spragg and Thompson deserve special mention because they could he heard.
The glorious fight of John, Brown and his family and followers to release from their bondage the American slaves, which is the theme of Ronald Gow's play "Gallows Glorious" performed at the Monoux Grammar School, Walthamstow, by the Dramatic Society, if it is to be sincerely depicted, requires a depth of religious feeling in some parts which constitutes no mean task for established actors.
It was not to be expected that schoolboys would achieve this, but so intelligently did the Monoux players set about their task, upheld by their more than efficient producer, Mr.H.Hyde, that the result was a very moving whole; a most satisfactory "comeback" for the Society, the activities of which have been in abeyance at the School during the war.
Donald Ridealgh not only looked the part as John Brown, but spoke his lines impressively, and a matching performance was that of Walter Ridgway as the son, Owen Brown, an intense and almost fanatical follower of his father. Geoffrey Barrett made a very pretty Annie Brown. Both he and Stuart Barker as Kagi, John Brown's secretary, made a most valiant effort to appear in love! The important part of Mrs. John Brown was played by Mr Hyde, a practised player in amateur dramatics, and among the chief supporting parts Peter Dunn's portrayal of Watson Brown, a casualty of the Harper's Ferry episode, was notable. Other performances of merit were those of Anthony Risley (Ellen Brown), Charles Plouviez (Uncle Jeremiah), Raymond Hastings (Shields Green. a negro), and Kenneth Lewis as a gum-chewing reporter with a bent for fiction. Others in the cast were Keith Jefferies, Dennis Butcher, Robert Sandow, Ronald Lander, Peter Mitchell, Derek Smith, Bill Norris, Keith Pearce and John Percival.
A School orchestra played under Mr. L.C.Belchatnbcrs, and Messrs. A.C.Brobyn and. A.L.Hayes looked after the staging and lighting; one of the unlooked-for "hits" of the evening was the sang-froid of Mr. Hyde when difficulties were encountered with the "utility" lighting.
[The above account is reproduced by kind permission or the Walthamstow Guardian - ED.].
The Fourth Wall, by A. A. Milne.
On May 31st and June 2nd the School Dramatic Society presented A.A.Milne's Fourth Wall. The play did not offer very good material, but had the advantage of requiring only three women characters.
The piece opens in the serene atmosphere of a house-party at Arthur Ludgrove's country house. The two lovers (excellently and naturally portrayed by Stuart Barker and Geoffrey Barrett) are discussing their uncle's guests. Susan (Barrett) distrusts Laverick (Ken Schrouder), but Jimmy (Barker) points out that they know just as little about some of the other guests, notably Carter. Most of the guests then set off for a tennis party, to the sound of a B.B.C. recording of a car starting up. Left behind is the host, Arthur Ludgrove (Roy Stables), Laverick, who is going bird-watching, and. Carter (J. A. Bastin), who is going to potter by the lake. We then learn that Arthur Ludgrove is expecting a visit from Laverick. Carter claims to distrust him, and hides behind the curtains. Laverick comes, and Ludgrove threatens him with a gun. Carter, on the pretext of holding the gun while Ludgrove phones the police, shoots his host. The ingenious plot is revealed. Laverick and Carter are criminals who had previously been caught and sentenced through Ludgrove. In Act II the household and guests are interviewed by the village constable (Raymond Hastings) and his slick up-to-dale son. Sergeant Mallett, from Scotland Yard (Ken. Lewis). These two played up to each other admirably, and soon won the approval of the audience. Then follows a midnight scene, which dragged a little, during which the lovers, by brilliant deduction, discover the real authors of the crime. Finally, there is a tense denouement in which Susan and Jane force Carter into a confession. The play ends on a note of comic anticlimax, with the brave heroine in tears and Jimmy helplessly wringing his hands.
Altogether the performance was a credit to its producer, Mr. Hyde. The actors all set a high standard. Particularly enjoyable were Jane's (Bernard Smith's) drawling, "Shall we tell him?" and Lander's accomplished sketch of the merry widow, Mrs. Fulverton-Fane. The make-up and lighting were both very skilfully done. School furniture made a surprisingly attractive decor. The costumes were both appropriate and charming. The only serious criticism was that the production would have benefited from clearer speech. At times the actors were barely audible from the back of the hall. However, this is a difficulty common in school plays.
From the School Bulletin.
In this year's play, the Dramatic Society, after considering many suggestions, finally decided to revive A.A.Milne's The Fourth Wall, after a lapse of fourteen years. The conditions of production, in spite of repeated and unavoidable delays for various reasons, were much superior to those in 1931 when our stage was only a platform at the vestibule end of the hall and the lighting arrangements suggested a Heath Robinson nightmare.
The choice of The Fourth Wall may cause some inquiry, but the ever-present difficulty of finding plays with few female characters explains it. The play has some good moments, but also some long and rather tedious portions, though it never sinks to the level of sheer boredom. Mr. Hyde's production maintained a high level of interest even if, on Thursday, there were few "high spots." The old difficulty of audibility in a hall built without any application of the principles of acoustics was still present. In spite of the limitations of the play itself and the stage conditions, those who took part in the production in any way can regard their efforts with quiet satisfaction. The audience showed a generous appreciation of such a good production under difficult conditions of time and place.
It would be invidious to deal with all the actors in detail: it must suffice to say that all had worked hard and responded well to the producer's interpretation. Barker and Barrett, the Society's stage lovers, played their parts well and with few traces of embarrassment. Bernard Smith, a newcomer, showed promise as Jane West. His "Shall we tell him?" was delivered with an effective blase drawl. Lander was highly successful in the all too small part of Mrs. Fulverton-Fane. His mannerisms and gestures were admirable and deserved a more important role.
Of the male characters the most attractive perhaps was Hastings as P.C. Mallet, a natural bit of acting, in which Hastings enhanced the reputation he made in last year's production. Lewis, as the suave but pertinacious Scotland Yard man, had a part which suited hint. Bastin had a long and rather thankless part as Carter, but he acquitted himself well and showed some appreciation of the variation of moods. Stables, Sandow, Schrouder and D.A.Smith maintained a good standard.
The setting, always a difficult task on our stage, was convincing and adequate. Even School furniture had an attractiveness when seen in stage lighting, and borrowed classics from the Library looked most impressive in the bookcase. Mr. Brobyn had done some hard work to produce the successful lighting and scenery. Knowles managed the radio-gram and the "noises off." If the wigs were a trifle obvious, the women's dresses were certainly not. Barrett's ravishing kimono in Act III Scene I (Midnight) was the cynosure of all feminine eyes in the audience. Miss Fortescue, Miss Owen and Mr. Brobyn were responsible for the successful ''make-up," and Mr. Rayner was, as ever, an efficient business manager.
With the coming of more normal times and the resumption next term of full Dramatic Society activity, it is hoped that all boys a with any liking and talent for acting will rally to the support of the society.
NOTE ON THE SATURDAY PERFORMANCE.
It would not normally be considered a very inspiring experience to attend three successive amateur performances of a play, the denouement of which depends mainly on an ingenious but not very credible series of events, especially when one is already familiar with the plot. Thanks, however, to the care which Mr. Hyde had bestowed upon his production, and to the ability of the actors, the performance on the Saturday exceeded that on the Thursday in interest almost as much as the latter performance exceeded the dress rehearsal. It was not merely that the actors had learned their parts by Saturday; they had also improved noticeably both in the delivery of their lines and in their actions. Perhaps the most important feature of the Saturday performance was that, although all the actors played their parts capably, and in some cases with a touch of brilliance, no individual character dominated the stage: the cast played as a team. Especially effective were Roy Stables's quiet and convincing performance as Mr. Ludgrove, the two policemen of Ken Lewis and Pat Hastings, Ron Lander's characterisation of the seductive Mrs. Fulverton-Fane and Ken Schrouder's Laverick. Geoffrey Barrctt was more convincing us Susan at the Saturday performance than on the Thursday, and the other parts were all played satisfactorily, Robert Sandow's accent as Major Fothergill being delightful, even if improbable.
Mr. Hyde, in a short curtain speech, thanked all those who had helped with the production, and his sentiments would undoubtedly be echoed by the audience.
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.
MISS MANSELL'S CRITICISM
Miss Julia Mansell, a professional actress and adjudicator for the British Drama League, who was prevented by illness from judging the School's production of Caesar and Cleopatra, at the Walthamstow Drama Festival, was kind enough to attend the final performance at the School. We would like here to record our sincere thanks to Miss Mansell for attending this performance at a time when her professional duties were very heavy, and when, in addition, she was in the middle of preparations for a journey to the Continent.
To both producers and cast Miss Mansell gave some very useful advice and criticism.
The settings Miss Mansell described as both beautiful and clever, and for the costumes, all of which were hired, except for Cleopatra's dresses in the first and second acts and in the final scene, she reserved the word " superb."
Considerable praise was also given to the lighting; but here the criticism was made that the Sphinx scene was underlit.
Of the speaking of the lines, Miss Mansell remarked that there were moments of inaudibility, particularly in the Sphinx and Boudoir scenes, and that certain characters were at times guilty of "gabbling."
From a large cast some members were picked out for special commendation. Bastin was praised for the acting ability which he displayed in the part of Rufio, and of Chaplin, in the role of Caesar, it was said that he sustained excellently a long and difficult part. In addition, particular praise was given to Buck as Cleopatra, Gunton as Lucius Septimius, Hellman as Pothinus, and Collins as Britannus.
Miss Mansell considered that the choice of play was ambitious, but went on to add that the production had not only succeeded, but had been "put over magnificently." She commented on the excellent pace
which had been maintained, and remarked that the whole play showed that much work had been done to excellent effect.
Concluding her remarks to cast and producers, Miss Mansell made a strong plea for continued ambition in future productions, hoping particularly that the Dramatic Society would embark next on the production of Shakespeare. Her final words were : "Let me implore you always to be ambitious."
CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA.
It is not intended to debate here the wisdom of the choice of Caesar and Cleopatra to be this year's School play. Let it suffice to say that there has been much comment, favourable and otherwise, and all awaited the performance with ill-concealed cynicism or enthusiasm, according to their convictions. From the beginning much reshuffling of the cast was necessitated and the part of Caesar was finally given to B.G.Chaplin, a discovery from the Christmas one-act plays.
The production at the School was criticised because it lacked "atmosphere," but Shaw says in his notes to Caesar and Cleopatra;
"The only way to write a play which shall convey to the general public an impression of antiquity is to make the characters speak blank verse and abstain from reference to steam, telegraphy or any of the material conditions of their existence."
Should producers of the play, with this comment in mind, strive after atmosphere when Shaw himself is very little concerned with it? On the stage this would be exceedingly difficult to achieve, and Messrs.
Brobyn and Starbuck, although the scenery and costumes were in keeping with the period, did not appear to have attempted the near impossible.
Caesar and Cleopatra gives a great deal of temptation to overload the stage with scenery; it was, therefore, pleasing to see that the producers had not succumbed. The Drama Festival Adjudicator commented favourably on the use of indication in preference to stuffy detail, and this was certainly a good feature of the production. The difficulty of providing a suitable Sphinx was overcome, the result appearing very convincing on the School stage. Throughout, the scenery was simple but effective and a great deal of time had obviously been spent in painting it.
If scenery was not elaborate, the costumes certainly were, with armour and rich dresses everywhere in evidence, and the beauty of these was unquestionable.
Turning to the actors themselves, there are one or two general observations to be made. The impression gained from the three School performances was of extremely competent part-learning, but not enough study of the actual character; limitation of time may, however, account for this. Another limitation, that of the School Hall acoustics, was not sufficiently realised, and in certain sections of the hall some characters were completely inaudible. There is one more point, perhaps small, but one which is essential to a really first class performance. It should be borne in mind that gesture and portrayal of emotion on the stage, to be effective, must be "larger than life." To take one example: Theodotus's grief, hand-wringing, etc. at the burning of the library at Alexandria was evident enough from the first row, but from the back of the hall his sorrow appeared to be confined to vocal emotion and kneeling at Caesar's feet; other instances of this fault could be quoted.
There is no doubt that many of the roles in Caesar and Cleopatra are long and difficult, that of Caesar being no exception. B.G.Chaplin, who took the part in place of Claridge, did not have a great deal of time to learn it; all the more reason, therefore, to congratulate him on knowing his lines so well. In spite of this, he did not seem to enter into the spirit of the role: not enough contrast was afforded between Caesar the peace-lover, irritated with the "tedious military life," and Caesar the man of action. He was word-perfect in the few moments where the Roman shows any deep emotion, but feeling was lacking. Caesar's quiet humour was, however, conveyed quite well. There was no lack of promise and it is probable that, given more time, Chaplin's performance would have been irreproachable.
P.J.Buck was excellent as Cleopatra, apart from a tendency to gabble, and the transition from the coquettish, silly young girl to what that same girl thought was a Queen, was admirable. Very little constructive criticism can be made of the performance, but one thing is certain: Buck is a definite discovery and he will become a mainstay of the Dramatic Society in the years to come.
From the sweet and gentle Judith in The Devil's Disciple to the evil Ftatateeta in Caesar and Cleapatra: that was the gamut run by D. E. Buck in one year; he adapted himself well, giving of his best in the latter role, far from easy, although his voice did tend to become flat and lifeless in the attempt to be menacing, and it must be said that Ftatateeta sometimes appeared to be merely an irritable old shrew, instead of a malignant influence in Egypt.
Another Devil's Disciple stalwart, A.G.Hellman, gave a restrained and convincing performance as Pothinus, Ptolemy's guardian. He is to be praised all the more because he came from a sick bed to play the first night at the School.
J.A.Bastin was very good as Caesar's friend and lieutenant, Rufio, but in the scenes with Caesar he appeared too rough and dominant, tending to bully his leader too much. The bluff "camp-fed bear" was apparent throughout, and we saw a faithful, brave Roman officer, who, although disagreeing with Caesar at times, certainly loved him.
Shaw could not resist his customary dig at the English even in Caesar and Cleopatra, and C.M.Collins had a part which suited him in Britannus, secretary to Caesar. The pompous Briton, with his fetish of respectability, had the stuffy quality which Collins excels in portraying, and the result was an amusing interpretation.
The part of Theodotus, Ptolemy's tutor, was played by R.E.Durgnat, who introduced the right touch of humour, or rather, pathos into his performance.
J.W.Cook "decorated the stage" as Apollodorus, the flattering Sicilian soldier-artist, as was intended; although at times he delivered his lines in a sing-song fashion.
Minor characters in Caesar and Cleopatra are far too numerous to deal with individually, but especially worthy of mention are K.J.Bridge as Bel Affris and P.F.Borrett as Ptolemy; the latter also understudying the part of Cleopatra.
T.James was excellent as the coarser type of Roman, and R.Gunton who earned praise at Lloyd Park was again Lucius Septimius, Pompey's slayer. Others taking part were C.J Sare, C.T.Withrington, J.L.Mason, S.Gunter, T.R.Round, D.W.Spencer, L.J.Collis, C.D.Risby, W.M.J.Hemmings, J.K.Bird, K.P.Millard, S.Black, J.Orris, J.D.Winslow, D.Oswald, R.A.Quirk, B.P.Goodall, and A.Bowker.
Mr. Brobyn and Mr. Starbuck are to be heartily congratulated on the ambitious production, which far exceeded expectations. The amount of time they spent on preparation of the play was enormous.
Gaslight, the famous Victorian thriller by Patrick Hamilton, was presented in the School Hall on January 29th & 30th. The Friday night was unfortunately that of the notorious fog which caused so much havoc in London, and the attendance was therefore very small. Saturday night's audience, though not constituting a full house, was
Gaslight needs very much the intimate audience of tete a tete theatre and so was well suited to the somewhat limited space of the School Hall. The play is one that demands an attentive and appreciative audience, for, though called a "thriller'' by the author it is not so much a thriller in the normal sense of the word as a psychological drama. It has its melodramatic features, but its appeal does not depend on on violent action. It is a carefully written study of a conflict of wills. A husband tries to cow his wife's will into the belief that she is mad, and the play traces the gradual effort of the wife's will as it tries to reject the insidious poison of her husband's suggestions. She comes perilously near real madness, but is saved in time by the intervention of a kindly old detective, Rough, who also appears in Hamilton's other Victorian thriller. The Governess. Both plays are dark and sombre, almost unerlieved by humour, andit must have needed some courage to present Gaslight on the School stage.
From the point of view of acting ability, the play was extremely successful. Harry Hyde took the part of the husband, a marvellous character study in ruthlessness and determination. and interpreted it with consumate skill. Hazel Kidder played the wife, Mrs. Man-ningham, with feeling and expression: the difficult passage at the close of the play, where her husband, bound by the police, asks her to free him and she pretends to be mad, she accomplished magnificently. The genial inspector Rough was played by Bert Brobyn, who brought out very well the few touches of lightness, the play possesses. His performance, like that of Hazel Kidder, was marred by a tendency to mumble. Supporting parts were well taken by Irene Beaufoy, as Nancy. the cheeky Cockney maid: Eva Ganderton, as Elizabeth, the only comfort that Mrs. Manningham has; Philip Oliver and Colin Morgan as policemen.
Scenery was excellent, and created a Victorian drawing room, even to the aspidistra, on the gym. floor. Thanks are due to David Buck for his lighting, to boys of the School, who were responsible for the scenery, and most particularly to the members of the cast, who all gace their service, for the benefit of the War Memorial Fund.
At last critics of the Dramatic Society have got what they have been clamouring for, a real, genuine Shakespeare play on the School stage. One great advantage of producing a play that has already become famous is that the audience, or at least the Shakespeare students in it, will imagine what ought to be happen-ing when the production is weak and boring. There is too great a likelihood of the play sustaining the actors rather than the actors making the play, and this is exactly what happened in the production of Julius Caesar, which contained some of the best and some of the worst acting I have seen in the Dramatic Society.
Mr. G. E. Bence tackled the problem of production skilfully, for the play ran smoothly, without any unpleasant pauses. The best methods of modern shakesperian production were used: tile back-cloth of trees took the audience swiftly from house to ramp, easily portable scenery was moved by attendants before the audience, and more substantial changes were made in a black-out to avoid the fatal error of delaying the action by drawing the main curtains. The positioning of characters was carefully prepared, if we neglect Brutus's urge in the early scenes to look for an imaginary needle on the floor in the wings; when many actors were on the stage together there was no masking and no confusion as to where to go. The crowd of soldiers, citizens and attendants was well managed and attentive, knowing always how to react to events of the play, and they provided a vital background to the production. Music and effects by J.L. Pritchard greatly added to the atmosphere, and showed a marked improvement. There was, however, one irritating fault common to almost everyone: the unnatural position of the bent arm round the toga.
The scenery, by Messrs. Brobyn, Fortey, and Wood, was simple yet entirely satisfying and original. Throughout the first part of the play the stage was divided into various levels, so enabling many People to be present together. The setting for the battle of Philippi was exactly what was needed. Then there was a wonderful table with intriguingly carved and painted legs! Lighting as usual was good, especially in the terrifrying storm scene with its vivid flashes of lightning. Members of the Parents' Association had made the excellent costumes.
Unfortunately, there were only two completely satisfactory leading actors: F.M.L. Smith as Marcus Antonius, and M.N. Fullagar as Marcus Brutus. Both understood the words they were speaking and grasped the exact significance of their parts, and with both of them the audience was able to hear the poetry and feel the emotions arising from it. Antony spoke authorita-tively with perfect diction so that every word could be heard; he paused where appropriate, and never rushed a sentence. His stance, too, was free and natural yet always noble, and he even mastered the way to hold the toga with his arm. F.M.L. Smith gave probably the most effective performance I have seen by a member of the Dramatic Society, and part at least of his success arose from his complete self-confidence.
M.N. Fullagar as Brutus gave a very different interpretation, for he attempted to emphasise the tragic element by greatly varying the pitch of his voice and the speed of his words, though never obscuring the form of the verse he was speaking. It was an ambitious approach that could have been disastrous, but he had sufficient ability to make it successful. Brutus was shown as one more worthy than a bloody murderer; incited by Cassius and having no active hatred of Caesar, he realised the grimness and serious consequences of murder.
In contrast to Brutus and Antony, B.H. Wood's Julius Caesar was not impressive enough. The part was well played, but on no occasion did Wood achieve the grandeur and power of Caesar; and it had unfortunate consequences in that the tragedy is based on the murder of the commander of the world. However, the fault lay in the fact that the part was not suitably cast, and not with the actor. A far greater error was the miscasting of P.B. Collins as Cassius, since a completely serious part just does not seem to suit him. His method of dramatic caricature is entirely unfitted for a tragedy. P.B. Collins spoiled many lines by trying to stress too much, laying undue emphasis on practically everything.
The rest of the characters were an inglorious mixture of good, bad and indifferent, and when neither Antony nor Brutus was present the interest of the audience was left dependent upon Shakespeare's blank verse, which is usually pleasant, however badly it is spoken. :\numg the fully competent were C. V'illi<ims as a Soothsayer, A. "fcl>bs as tlrtemidorus, all(] I. Glogowsky as Casca, though he was perhaps a little too curt. B. G. Abbott was totallV lacking in confidence as 1'urtia and was unsatisfactory in the part, while Calpurnia ((:. P. Forsdyke) was little better. Among tile remainder of the cast some newcomers showed promise for the future when they are more experienced, but some of the experienced hands seemed to have lapsed into a state of mediocrity for this performance.
Yet the general impression left by the play was favourable largely because of Mr. Bence's skilled production, backed by F. Smith, M. Fullagar, the scenery and the lighting. The most memorable scene on the School stage for a long time was the fine dramatic curtain at the end of the first part of the play when Antony was silhouetted against the darkening sky which gradually turned to the red of sunset.
"Good evening, sir. May I see your ticket please?' asks the rather formal and pompous commissionaire as I ascend the rich, crimson-carpeted steps which lead to the auditorium. I hand him the ticket. "Oh, sorry mate," continues the commissionaire, relapsing into a familiar sort of sluggish, cockney intonation, " I thought for one moment yon was a dress circle. A yeller ticket hindercates yer a gallery."
The brown-garbed custodian of the 'four-and-sixpennies plus,' standing on guard rather like a one-headed Cerberus whose lot it is to prevent unqualified persons from stealing surreptitiously into the stalls, wrinkles up his long, Roman nose in perceptible disgust and jerks his thumb indifferently towards a side door. As he does so a shining row of silver medals bounces up and down on his tunic. These are our reminder of the days when he, the pukka private of Poona. fought off single-handed a whole detachment of bearded hillsmen somewhere near the Khyber Pass. Nowadays his task is a far more arduous one- that of warding off single-handed the invading hordes of bearded galleryites, who, if given the chance, would throng into the stalls with wild whoops of triumph.
I follow the direction of the jerked thumb and pass through the narrow side door over which hangs a noticeboard bearing the gilded letters G-A-L-L-E-R-Y. At the same time, I face the grim, the bitter, nay, the slightly nauseating realisation that, after all, I am not a dress circle, not even a back stalls, but, as is the case if 'yer got a yeller ticket,' only a gallery. The way up to the gallery is long, lugubrious, and tedious. The cold, grey flights of steps wind upwards in almost spiral and seemingly never-ending manner. On either side the icy, stone staircase is flanked by monotonous, cream walls, from which jut a long succession of the most revoltingly-coloured electric lights imaginable, that give you alternately either a slight anaemic or a jaundiced appearance. The monotony of the walls, as you plod your way steadfastly upwards in the direction of the gallery, is occasionally relieved by two .or three etchings of the theatre as it was in its more riotous days.
Those were the days when the theatre was renowned as the roughest, toughest, beeriest, most daring spot of entertainment this side of the English Channel-the days when the strength of the beer was matched only by the force of the criticism coming from the sixpenny seats. The etchings are our reminder of the time when actors and actresses were feted, neither by sweetly cynical comments in the Press the next morning, nor by depreciatory remarks hurled on first nights from the back row of the stalls and accompanied by raucous bursts of laughter. Today we are timid. In former times it was that far more practical form of criticism, the delicately aimed beer bottle (empty of course) accompanied by the over-ripe tomato, that reflected one's opinion of the stuff they were serving up behind the footlights. (Or, if you could afford to occupy a box, then the bottle of champagne-emptv of course--and the plate of caviar sufficed well enough.)
Cry woe for the glorious days of the music hall! Cry woe for the Golden Ages of the stage-door! Then, as the etchings show, the place was famed for its famous gaiety girls of the nineties, whose long, flowing locks hid their blushes as they dared to display shapely ankles in front of bulging-eyed barons. And bulging-eyed barons, seated invariably in the front rows of the stalls, would adjust their monocles and wear through three pairs of opera-glasses in one evening. And clerical gentlemen, scheduled by the local ladies' league to write lengthy protests to their member of parliament, stayed to see the second performance at half-past-eight.
Queues of earls and dukes, all eager to be caught within the grasp of matrimony, were to be seen waiting impatiently at the stage-door. Each had his sickly gaze turned for ever down at bunches of fast-withering floral offerings, while he himself composed poetry with the aid of his "inner eye" and omnibus editions of the works of the Romantics. Stage-doorkeepers earned many a glass of Scotch through carrying hastily-composed sonnets (which, no doubt, ignored all the rules of poesy) to the alluring belles of the footlights on behalf of some poor idiot of a beau. Earls and sons of earls drank champagne from the slipper of their favourite chorus girl and became violently ill the next morning. Distracted lovers hanged themselves in the stage curtains. and younger sons of younger sons married the beautiful objects of their affections and slouched off to tame the untamed parts of the then-existent Empire.
For the more proletarian members of the audience the theatre held no less a fascination. Senile old gentlemen will remember with a twinkle in their eves how Milly Bloggins, the darling of the 'nineties, used to sing a little ditty about taking her "morning promenade" and another one which invited you to "all go down the Strand-have a banana." Senile old ladies will remember with a sigh in their hearts how Ernie Entwhistle, the Huddcrsfield lad with he golden voice, used to sing in the melodious strains of "Boiled beef and carrots" and "Pretty little Polly Perkins of Paddington Green."
Ah, yes ! These were truly the glorious days of the place. But they are now firmly rooted in the dim and distant past. Never again will Milly Bloggins take her curtain-call, never again will Ernie Entwhistle's golden voice thrill sweet young creatures who will one day be senile old ladies, never again (well, probably never again) will bottles of milk stout hurtle their way down from the gallery-these are delights that are lost to the present generation of theatregoers. Nowadays the management has seen fit to restrict its programme almost entirely to presentations of the works of that lesser, Elizabethan dramatist, whose claim to fame is founded on, amongst other things, his ability to spell his name in twenty-four different ways.
I arrive at the top of the stairs. Anybody who has had the temerity to make the perilous ascent to the gallery will well understand why they colloquially refer to that place as' the gods.' The very atmosphere of the surroundings betokens a close affinity to heavenly regions and ethereal scenes. Wisps of cigarette smoke twist their way mysteriously into the body of the theatre as do the thin streams of incense which pour forth from golden censers in classical myths. The inner roof of the theatre bears a strong resemblance to the 'dome of heaven' to which epic writers are continually referring. Naked nymphs, sylphs. cherubs, angels-call them what you will-gaze down impudently out of a celestial sphere done in gilt at refined, elderly ladies. And refined. elderly ladies glance up at naked nymphs, sylphs, cherubs and angels and are shocked at such a shameless exhibition. Ponderous chandeliers hang down from the gilded dome and cast a brilliant glow about them with the aid of their dusters of little, astral lights. A veritable heaven, resplendent in its brilliant lustre, opens itself before my eyes. I am standing on the threshold of "the gods"!
My divine reverie is rudely interrupted.
"Tickets, please," chants the voice of cruel Juno. I hand my 'yeller ticket' to this brusque breaker of day-dreams. With a flick of her nimble wrists she terminates the life of my 'yeller ticket' and thrusts a small, weak, mutilated portion of it back at me. " Middle gangway," she screeches and jerks her thumb indifferently into space--apparently the conventional method of communicating one's message in this theatre.
The gallery resembles very closely part of a Roman amphitheatre which has been cut away in the form of a wide, sweeping semicircle. Tier upon tier of hard, leather-covered benches rise up in rapid succession. I take my place on one of these long, rounded benches and sit down to wait expectantly for the throwing back of the stage curtains. Waiting for the start of a play always seems to be a most tiresome business. I while away the time by perusing my programme. Among the scant number of pages I find an exhortation from the Lord Chamberlain telling me not to park my bath chair in the corridor and another telling me not to trample my fellow theatregoers to death in the event of a fire. A further request comes from the 'National Union of Backstage Operative Assistants,' who express their wish that the safety curtains he lowered once during every performance. This, they say, is a precautionary measure to ensure full employment for safety curtain operators. An elaborately designed advertisement invites me to dine at the ' Confucius Eating House, Shaftesbury Avenue,' where the proprietors profess to serve 'the most delectable Chinese noodles and the tastiest birds' nests-previous experience with chopsticks not essential-this side of the Bamboo Curtain.' Another advertisement tells me that I shall be able to balance half-a-dozen elephants on my head if I drink a glass of Guinness every day. The stage manager's acknowledgements are also very entertaining. From them I learn that the knives used in act three, scene one, of Julius Cesar are a product of the Sheffield Stainless Steel Syndicate,' that Malvolio's yellow hose was made by the ' Scunthorpe Sock Company,' and that the Ghost of Hamlet's father is on loan from the Tower of London.
After a very short time I have completed my excursion through these archives of modern, commercial dramatics, and now pass the time in studying my neighbours. On my right are seated two of the most atrociously-garbed persons I have ever set eves on. The man is wearing orange, corduroy trousers, stiff collar, pink shirt and a massive, red neck-tie. His lady friend is no less vivid in her clown-like attire. She is clothed in a dazzling green jumper, sky-blue trousers and hob-nailed boots, and she too wears a massive, red tie. Both are also wearing camel-hair coats of the type favoured by Communists, Fascists, liberals, radicals, vegetarians, artists, musicians, naturists, and by every other sort of extremist! These people all like to be called individual thinkers; that thousands of other individualists wear camel-hair overcoats does not deter them.
When my eyes have become accustomed to the brilliant blaze of colour shining from their gaudy garments, the element of surprise wears off. After all, am I not seated in the gallery, where such sights are continually inflicted upon the eyes of the more consrvatively-drcssed theatregoer? I am.
The man is poring intently over a battered copy of this morning's Daily Artisan, that turbulent, journalistic effort whose tremendous sales are said to surpass those of' its nearest rivals with convincing and commanding magnitude. I have never yet seen anybody buying a copy.. From time to time his eyes fall upon some obviously exciting piece of news, for he thrusts the journal in front of his lady friend's face and starts communicating to her in an agitated whisper. Inariably she replies with a high-pitched squeak, Don't be a silly, old bean, Cecil," and continues to munch her way nonchalantly through a bag of roasted peanuts.
Dismayed at such indifference, the orange-trousered gentleman turns to me in an attempt to gain sympathy for the fortunes of the Party as expressed through the pages of the Daily Artisan. "When the Revolution comes we'll be the ones sitting in the dress circle," he cries out, pointing down forcefully at the crimson-covered "five-and-sixpennies."
"And they, I suppose. will be sitting up here?" I venture.
He wrinkles up his brow in quiet disgust at such an inane comment, shakes his fist in the air, and continues, "When the Revolution conies there won't be an up here,"
Don't you find Shakespeare a little too bourgeois? " I query, in an attempt to discover why the poor fellow has come to the theatre.
"A very searching question and one that is connected with my own particular branch of activity," he replies. " It is my intention to re-write Shakespeare to suit the changed requirements of a more technologically advanced age. I have just completed a thorough revision of Romeo and JuIiet in which I have made Capulct an assistant chief of the secret police, Juliet a machine operator in a hot water bottle factory, and Romeo a tractor mechanic on a collective farm."
I wince at such shameful suggestions. My mind becomes saturated with horrible visions of Juliet robed in blue overalls and working some sort of clattering machine, while Romeo is on his way to the salt mines for driving over Tybalt with a combined harvester. I ask, I beseech, I plead to hear no more of this mundane talk. My orange-trousered, pink-shirted neighbour is highly indignant at my failure to appreciate his talent and refuses to say another word. He will be a great asset to the Party when the Revolution comes.
By this time, the gallery has become filled with theatregoers, some like my orange-trousered neighbour garbed in the robes of sham-bohemianism, and others dressed like normal human beings. A sudden, penetrating ring from a sort of groaning alarm-clock signifies the commencement of the evening's entertainment. The last, mad rush of the stragglers to their seats begins. The faithful patrons of the bar hastily gulp down the remaining drops of their Cognac. My neighbour takes his last glance at the Daily Artisan. His lady friend chews her way through her last roasted peanut, wipes her ruby lips on her sleeve, and, in a rash, impetuous, daring moment of impulse, hurls the bag high into the air whence it descends speedily to the stalls and lands on the shiny pate of an unsuspecting old gentleman.
The play begins to the accompaniment of some wispy, haunting strains of musical fantasia coming from the orchestra. In an instant the gallery melts and dissolves and is no more. We have been transported back through time to an Anglicised, verse-speaking Padua of about four hundred years ago. It is a Padua where imagery, metaphor, simile and all the arts, crafts and majesty of verse roll and tumble from the tongues of its citizens like crystal cascades from a waterfall: it is a Padua of wealthy merchants and fortune-seeking, young bucks; a Padua of gay Petruchios who startle sober people with their eccentricities; a Padua of shrewish Katharinas with scolding tongues; a Padua of pretty, sweet, charming little Biancas.
At first, however, I am barred from such a veritable paradise by the spacious head-gear of a rather fat lady who has decided to sit in front of me. Apples, grapes, carrots and lettuce leaves, or some such edible collection, reside in the shape of a hat upon her head, and block my view of the players. By contorting my neck into a most ungainly position, I at last succeed in seeing over the top of this miniature Covent Garden.
It is about a quarter-of-an-hour after the commencement of the play that the gallery is visited by Miss Late Arrival. In whatever part of the building you sit it is inevitable that she will disturb you. Her seat is never placed conveniently by the door. It is always placed inconveniently at the end of a very long row. As she pushes her way behind the orange-trousered gentleman on my right she gives him a hearty blow on his head with the aid of her handbag, and mutters 'Sorry' in a whisper sufficiently loud to divert the attention of half of the gallery. I receive no less violent a treatment at her hands, for, as she passes behind me, I also obtain a hefty blow on the head. Miss Late Arrival completes her hat-trick on a Frenchman who is sitting on my left. Her whispered 'Sorry ' meets with a forceful 'Que Diable' on his part. (The French, I am told, are on very intimate terms with the Devil.)
After this rude disturbance the gallery once again becomes quiet and the audience attentive to the colourful performance on the other side of the footlights. An occasional munch coming from the direction of the fat lady ('liberally-spread ' is the more polite phraseology), as she steadily devours the contents of a box of chocolates, is the sole reminder that we arc not really in Padua but in the gallery. After a while, the dainty munchings are joined by a succession of snores coming from the Frenchman. He apparently is unable to understand anything of the finer language of Shakespeare and has decided that the best thing to do is to go to sleep.
By the time the interval arrives, he is fast asleep. The liberally-spread woman still continues to eat her way through the box of chocolates. The orange-trousered fellow returns to his newspaper from the inferior technologies of the sixteenth century. His lady friend, having long since chewed her last roasted peanut, sits with a bored and intelligently expressionless look on her face. I escape to the bar.
At first sight the gallery bar presents a most disorderly spectacle. Some people are pushing and jostling their way to the sanctity of the counter; others are draining their glasses in one gulp for fear of losing the precious contents amidst the general hurly-burly: and others are taking surreptitious sips at glasses which apparently do not belong to them. After closer inspection, however, one is able to discern small groups of people engaged industriously in inflicting their inane prattle upon one another, and even smaller groups making the mental effort necessary to say something sensible. The gallery bar is. in fact, a haven of culture, the home of a venerable Bacchus. This is the place where people like their alcoholic beverage diluted with their Shakespeare, and conversely their Shakespeare diluted with their alcoholic beverage. And, after all, travelling back four hundred years or so is very thirsty work.
I take my place in a queue of Bacchus worshippers moving in slow, reverent file towards the altar. There a priestess, standing in the shape of a barmaid with peroxided locks, is pouring the gifts of the deity into a row of small glasses. Behind me a couple of American women are conversing in the sophisticated accents of Boston about a song-and-dance version of Hamlet running on Broadway. They have evidently enjoyed this, for they frequently burst into expressions of praise such as "I just love that Immoral Bard guy. He sure is cute." Never before has Shakespeare had two such ardent supporters.
In front of me a massive, beefy-faced man, with an uncountable number of chins, is busy reading the Racing Gazette Suddenly he turns to me and asks, "What do you think of it, o' man?"
A very fine production, although Katharina is too charming to be the Shrew," I reply.
"No, not that," he continues, "I mean the St. Leger at Doncaster next week. Those idiots down there on the stage don't know the first thing about acting. Why, the day after I played Othello at the Birkenhead Playhouse, wife-beatings along the Mersey increased by seventy per cent.! And another thing-those actors down there are too stereotyped. I remember once playing Falstaff for the matinée and Puck in the evening." He is certainly a very versatile fellow. " I say, o' man, you couldn't possibly lend me a fiver could you? Thcre's a dashed good filly running at Sandown tomorrow."
A sharp ring from the groaning alarm clock marks the end of the interval. I am saved by the bell and escape back to the seats from the more perilous, financial enterprises of Sandown Park. The Frenchman is still asleep, the liberally-spread woman is still steadily devouring her chocolates, and the orange trousercd gentleman is looking vacantly into space. About a quartcr-of-an-hour before the end of the play, Miss Late Arrival, her role now changed to that of Miss Leave Early, falls over everyone in a frantic attempt to catch the last bus to Putney. As she passes along the row, my two neighbours and I receive our customary blow on the side of our heads, and the Frenchman wakes up with another 'Que Diable.'
The play is over. The actors take their curtain call. Half of the galleryites rush wildly to the bar in order to sample the fruits of Bacchus before the end of licensing hours. And I go home.
P. K. SEN.
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
The subject of Our Town extends far beyond Grover's Corners: the subject is life. Life is traced from childhood to first love, to marriage, and finally to death. The more startling aspect of the play is its form. Wilder was greatly influenced by the German Expressionist School, and his characters are not complex individuals but abstract types. These "types" he tries to hold together by the use of a chorus in the form of the Stage Manager. In addition it is the Stage Manager's job to create the scene and the atmosphere, to invite the co-operation of the audience's imagination, and to move the plot.
To many amateur productions the lack of scenery and the mid-western accent must be major stumbling blocks, and it gave great pleasure to see both of these mastered by an exceptionally fine school production.
Outstanding among the cast were Norman Davis, as the Stage Manager, and Pauline Clark, as Emily Webb. (I understand that Miss Valerie Gray gave an equally fine performance in this part on the Thursday and Saturday evenings). The part of the Stage Manager is probably the most difficult to portray, requiring both apparent ease and the ability to command attention. Davis combined both these qualities with praiseworthy maturity. The other extremely difficult part is that of Emily. The third act is particularly challenging, since Miss Clark has to portray two "characters" at once: the vivacious young Emily who is celebrating her twelfth birthday, and the dead Emily corning back to have another look at life. This exceptionally difficult act was carried off with delicacy and sensitivity by Miss Clark, who well earned her enthusiastic applause.
Both actors were backed up by a fine supporting cast. Anne Waymark gave an intelligent performance as Mrs. Webb, and Mrs. Pat Boulter deserves a special word of praise for standing in at extremely short notice. Praiseworthy performances were given by Joseph Beighton, Richard Telford, and Anthony Ceeney, who portrayed the inherent conceit and diffidence of a "gangling", "gawky" adolescent with great skill.
Among the minor characters mention must be made of the imperturbable Howie Newsome acted with an incredibly natural accent by Colin Martin, who was superbly supported by Mr. Rudkins's Bessie! David Wigston was equally amusing as Professor Willard.
Our Town is a difficult play to perform, and Mr. Croft's production deserves nothing but praise. Thanks must he given to those who put in so much hard work behind the scene and the warm appreciation of their efforts shown by the audience on each occasion was no more than their due.
The lack of scenery and complex characters throw great emphasis on the themes and ideas of Our Town. Any interpretation of these must, in the final count, be subjective. For me, Wilder depicts life as a goldfish in a bowl: it goes round and round and round: "You've got to love life to have life and you've got to have life to love life ... it's what they call a vicious circle."
Footnote: On Thursday and Saturday, the part of Emily Webb was played by Miss Valerie Gray, and that of George Gibbs by John Harrison.
This year the School presented "Macbeth", to celebrate the quatercentary of Shakespeare, on the evenings of the 19th, 20th and 21st March, and also gave a special performance on the afternoon of the 19th March for the schools of the district. Mr. J. Graham Jones created a strikingly original production with an unorthodox stage setting of geometric shapes dominated by the imposing throne. This, together with outstanding sound and lighting effects, of which the apparition scene deserves special mention in creating a visionary, phantasmagorical effect of the degeneration of a man's mind, and sufficiently harsh cuts in the play to compress it effectively to two and a half hours, added to the intense emotion created by the actors. Henry Morgan as Macbeth dominated the play, giving a wonderful picture of the noble man, overcome by ambition, tortured by guilt and finally overthrown. Perhaps the only criticism to be made is that he did not bring out the poetry of Shakespeare's words to the full, but this was counterbalanced by his purposeful actions and the clarity of diction by Gillian Pettit as Lady Macbeth. She gave a sensitive and stirring interpretation of a great tragic role but perhaps in her appearance and tone lacked the malevolence to dominate her husband; this, however, intentionally or not, created great dramatic shock when the significance of her intentions was made known to the audience and added much to the pathos in the later scenes.
Kenneth Walmsley was a sincere and resolute Banquo and Anthony Turner was effective as Macduff, although he lacked a little of the sincerity and virility of the part. Lionel Wiseman had sufficient nobility in his portrayal of King Duncan and Clive Underdown as Malcolm added a rare forcefulness and completely dominated the final scene. Of the minor parts Philip Giles as Ross and Christopher Emmins as Siward distinguished themselves and Richard Telford relieved the dramatic emotion by a magnificent portrayal of the grotesque drunken porter.
The hard work put in by all concerned was aptly rewarded by the size of the audiences on all three evenings and it was evident that all who saw the performance agreed that it was one of the finest ever put on by the School.
P. Stas and D. Gorrie.
(Presented in the School Hall 12, 13, 14 December, 1968)
Luke ...........................................Ian Barnett
Esmarelda ...................................Margaret Johnson
Mr. Croke ................................... Alan Bretman
Mrs. Croke..................................... Lyndsey Mercer
William........................................ Danny Bootle
The Constable.............................. Roy Phillips
Under Constable........................... James Nicholls
Mrs. Higginbottom.........................Janet Skipp
Lord Chamberlain............... .............Christopher Brock
King of England............................. Duncan Kirkland
Prince of England............................ Peter Cozens
A French Officer............................. Nigel Reynolds
A French Actress............................ Isabel Hobbs
A French Actor .............................Andrew Cork
French King .................................Ian Rathbone
French Princess.....................................Maureen McDowell
French Cook.................................. Neil Rathbone
Gentlemen-in-Waiting................... Tom Braun & Philip Dulieu
Producer ... ........... Martin Daniels
Stage Manager ... Duncan Kirkland
Music specially composed by Gary Carpenter and played by "Gloriana":
Gary Carpenter (Flute, Treble Recorder, Descant recorder, Ocarina, Crumhorn)
Pay Arrowsmith ('Cello)
Chris. Page (Guitar, Mandolin, Cittern).
I saw this play on its last night, when the cast decided to send up the work they were supposed to be performing, and it is therefore difficult for me to pass judgement on the production. It is probably fair to say that the actors were somewhat embarrassed at finding themselves in a children's play, and failed to achieve the panache, the disciplined extravagance, which it requires. I also missed in this performance any sense of enthusiasm for the play's outrageously stereotyped accounts of the French and English national characters: an honourable exception was Nigel Reynolds' French officer.
In general, the men were more successful than the women. Ian Barnett compensated with vigour for what he lacked in subtlety, but was sometimes difficult to hear. Alan Bretman gave a colourful characterization of Mr. Croke, though he spoke too slowly, and moved about too much. Roy Phillips deserves much praise for his splendidly knock-about Constable. Duncan Kirkland and Ian Rathbone, who took over important parts at short notice, gave very enjoyable performances.
As with many recent Monoux plays, the specially composed music was by Gary Carpenter, and his inventive and tuneful score was deservedly applauded.
All in all, it was an enjoyable evening, and the producer is to be congratulated on a substantial success; but how splendid it could have been if he had had the wholehearted co-operation of the large cast (from two widely separate schools) in such tiresome but necessary details as attending rehearsals.