Stanhoe pantomimes, 1948–9
Gillian Beckett writes:
During the war when my father (Alfred Tuck) was stationed at Wentworth Wodehouse in Yorkshire with the Intelligence Corps, the entertainments committee decided to put on a pantomime. One of the members had a script of Cinderella which he had kept from a pre-war London performance and it was decided to use this, with a few topical amendments. A lieutenant had offered to play the piano accompaniment to the songs and dances, however, he soon realised that there was no manuscript music to play from and resigned.
This is where my mother, who could play any piece if she knew the basic tune, took his place and improvised very successfully through the performances. This also meant that she had to attend almost every rehearsal, so had an insider’s view of the whole performance.
In autumn of 1948, having got to know many of her Stanhoe neighbours, she decided to have a go at producing the show in the village. Problems there were in plenty, but none more obvious than the change of venue.
In Yorkshire the play had been performed in the Marble Salon (reputedly an 80-foot cube) in Wentworth Wodehouse, the piano was a Bluthner grand and lighting was provided by a phalanx of spotlights, floodlights, dimmers etc., worked by an expert. In Stanhoe the stage would be the one in the Village Hall, alias –The Hut’, a small wooden building seating just 40 people with an ancient, unreliable piano and only paraffin lamps!
When she asked for volunteers for the cast, however, she got such a great response that she was determined that all could – and would – be overcome. The cast was chosen and, in time, all learned their parts and regular rehearsals went ahead.
The only minor hitch was the tendency of the players, egged on by the ugly sisters (father and son, Jimmy Steward and his son Peter), to see the wrong side of things that went wrong – including, most memorably, the Fairy Godmother, Hilary Plummer, saying to Cinderella, quite unintentionally, –Wait until I cast my magic smell!’ For much of the next couple of weeks the cast tried to get past that point with straight faces, but someone always managed to giggle and finally everyone would collapse with laughter. We were all very young!
The ugly sisters often introduced a little extra ‘business’ to their routine, often retained for the final performances, but causing hilarity at rehearsals. It was probably the laughing that kept everyone going and certainly encouraged mother to continue with her task, for example when one or two of the chorus girls, preparing their interlude dances, regularly forgot left from right.
Costumes were also a headache, especially for the ball scene, and finally the main ones were hired from Samuels, the London theatrical costumiers, for the grand sum of £8.12s. Other costumes had to be improvised and many people came to the rescue with, for example, the outlandish gear worn by the ugly sisters which for one, included very long stockings, one finishing with a couple of dusters, showing below ‘her’ skirt. When the Prince arrived, the stocking had to be removed causing much laughter as the various materials and items used to make up its length came into view. With clothes rationing still in force ingenuity was at a premium.
These performances also had their memorable moments. Docking was fairly straightforward, but at Creake it was realised that there was only one entrance to the stage, which meant some rapid adjustments. To make sure we weren’t caught out again, Sedgeford village hall was checked and found to have entrances at both sides, but no one told us that to get from one door to the other involved going out of the hall and walking through rough grass to the door on the other side! The evening was pitch dark, cold and with sleety rain so our costumes had to be hauled up to prevent them getting wet or dirty and incur a penalty from the costumiers, and as for our shoes – enough said.
The last performance was at Syderstone. Mother struck up the opening chords, then found that once hit, most of the keys stuck down and had to be manually pulled up before they would play again. Happily she was adept at changing key and only a few people noticed that each ‘song’ had all its verses in different keys, or in one case, with the accompaniment an octave lower and then higher than normal. It was an evening to remember.
Researcher: Gillian Beckett
Transcriber: Mary-Anne Hallinan, 2007