1950; The Mikado
If an after-dinner speaker starts his speech with the time-worn phrase "Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking," he is almost doomed to failure: and yet, I know of no other manner in which I can completely express my position. The field of dramatic criticism is notorious for its "closed-shop" policy and yet here am I, a complete outsider, venturing into its sacred preserves.
It may be taken as axiomatic that one can write only of what one sees, and so my remarks must be concerned only with the performance on Friday. March 31st. To say that the evening was enjoyable is to express only mildly my feelings as the simple yet satirical story unwound. The appearance of Peep-Bo early in the evening beautifully costumed and by both gesture and smile playing her part to perfection, aroused the liveliest anticipation of pleasurable moments to come.
The mention of one costume leads on quite naturally to those of all other members of the cast, and I have nothing but praise for all concerned. The exquisite colouring and the almost magical genius of the dressers who persuaded the costumes to fit so well leave me almost helpless in a frenzy of admiration. And now to personalities in the order in which they appear on the programme.
In a comparatively short appearance Norfolk played the Mikado with great zest and enthusiasm. The sadistic glee, which he infused into his voice during his singing of "The Punishment and the Crime" could hardly have been bettered. He wore his costume well and on the stage his bearing and dignity were both satisfactory and sustained.
The part of Nanki - Poo was put over with a remarkably high degree of success by Pritchard. With a very pleasant singing voice he swept through his part, so obviously enjoying himself that one finds it easy to forgive his minor faults and mistakes of stagecraft.
The part of Ko-Ko played by B. C. Brown provides many of the highlights of the play and calls for dramatic ability of a high order. That he succeeded admirably throughout the evening gives a fair impression of the sustained quality of his acting; his facial gestures during the " Tit Willow" song were indeed worthy of Groucho Marx his best. Unfortunately, especially during the latter scenes, he tended to mouth the parts of other characters-a fault which I am informed is due to the amount of help he had given other members of the cast during rehearsals.
The cynical, sneering and corrupt Pooh-Bah was well played by H.W. Spencer, who although loaded with much surplus avoirdupois still retained a lordly bearing in all his movements and gestures. Tall, slight and dear spoken, A.J. Knock was indeed a Noble Lord. His manner and deportment left nothing to be desired. He carefully enunciated each word and seemed to lend added weight every sentence and syllable of his part.
To play the part of the irritatingly vacillating Yum -Yum must at all times be a difficult task: all the more credit then to Chapman for the charming manner in which he presented her. Possessing a pleasant, if not penetrating, singing voice, he seemed much more confident in the songs than in the dialogue.
Both Barnes and Pritchard moved, acted and sang extremely well: at all times they even looked like girls: there could be no greater praise for the manner in which these two youngsters carried off their parts.
Rider's Katisha suffered from the disadvantage of being occasionally inaudible. To play the part of an unlovely and universally disliked lady calls for a high degree of self-confidence, and Rider acquitted himself in a very praiseworthy manner.
Of the two choruses, I think the girls deserve rather more of praise. They looked, sang and acted like girls: but both choruses carried out their parts extremely well and the timing of their gestures speaks of much hard work during rehearsals.
Under the very able direction of Mr. Belchambers, the orchestra put over the animated and charming music extremely well. Always "easy on the ear" they were never too obtrusive and never did they "crowd out" the performers on the stage.
Possibly the most striking pointer to the quality of the production was the grace with which the performers took their places in a series of really charming stage-groups. Never crowded, even during those scenes when the whole chorus was on view, the stage often presented a picture of lovely colour and surprising beauty: a fact which speaks well for the artistic imagination and hard work of the producer.
From among so many who had obviously done much hard work it seems invidious to mention individuals. To players, orchestra producers, dressers, etc., the School owes a real debt of gratitude. The Mikado was a courageous and excellent production, which proved a worthy successor to The Pirates.
A note from The Producer
A production requiring a company of 43 and an orchestra of 20 must, if it is to be a success, be a happy one, and ours this year was unusually so. For we had no one in the cast who did not see the work as a whole, no one who did not appreciate the need for fitting himself into the pattern which was the whole work. When rehearsal was really under way few changes had to be made, and in all three of them the member relinquishing the part suggested his successor. We were fortunate also in the versatility of many members: Pish-Tush could, and often did, sing any part required: Ko-Ko knew all the dialogue and was a most useful prompter: Spencer, Brown and Patterson accompanied at sight and held frequent solo rehearsals.
We invested early in a copy of the libretto supplied by D'Oyly Carte, which gives general directions as to production. This because of its cover, was known as The Red Book" and it was read with enthusiasm by most of the company. Interest centred on our substitution of groupings and stage pictures for movements and dispositions impossible on our small stage; and the company was full of suggestions as, for example, the best way to take eight strides forward in a space of some twelve inches. Such matters as the contrast of style of walking between stately nobles and tittering schoolgirls was quickly appreciated, but far, far more slowly realised, and then only after much patient rehearsal. But careful attention at rehearsal resulted in performances that were smooth, slick and Japanese (operatic style!).
We also had and appreciated help from many. Mr.Bewick, Twyman anti Ashton designed and painted excellent scenery. Mr. Hall made us a really lovely Japanese arch which, like the Pagoda, was to Mr Bewick's design: Twyman and Ashton with floral sprays and splashes of green disguised flats not clear, clean or in the least suitable as background for Japanese scenes or costumes, but of an indescribable, bilious colour.
The orchestra consisting of three boys and O.M.s and parents was ably led by P. A. Timberlake. We should all have liked more rehearsal, but the parts were available only for the statutory three weeks and not for some two or three months as in previous productions. But the orchestra gave firm and tactful support to a company whose capacity for hard work they admired.
Our regular accompanist, N. A. C. Bignell, gave his generous and very useful help from the start until the beginning of March when he fell ill. He and we hoped that he would have been well enough to play for the production. He was not able to come and see even the last performance and it was ten weeks before he could return He was disappointed and so were we all. I am glad to say he is quite fit again. His place was taken at very short notice by Timms and we were grateful for his excellent work.
Our own impressions are of a happy company whose work gave them and us much pleasure. We are also grateful to the Headmaster for a beautiful set of photographs, twenty-eight in all, which will serve as a permanent reminder of an enjoyable season.