1937; Julius Caesar
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.