Lawnswood High School's music department has always been ambitious, and "Merrie England" is the most difficult presentation that it has yet attempted. The finale of Act I. is the girls' nearest approach to grand opera and Edward German's best-known work is not often produced by such young but enthusiastic amateurs. On the first night, the warm reception was more than deserved, not only by the principals, but also by the chorus and the many backstage helpers, headed by Mr. Lund, Lawnswood's stage carpenter and electrician. Miss Hodgetts, in the prompt-corner, radiated confidence and was ready to assist with costumes and "props" and to make helpful last-minute suggestions, after coaching the young actresses during the rehearsal period. The entire cast entered into the spirit of the occasion and each girl gave of her best recalling Miss Clayton's often re-iterated insistence, "It has got to be good." And it was!
Mary Simpson (indeed a "king of comedians") as "Wilkins," a player in Shakespeare's Company, was really outstanding. From the very first, she completely captured the hearts and imagination of the audience, and rapturous applause greeted her Shakespeare song and hornpipe, her perfectly timed "Romeo and Juliet" alphabet and the "Fishy song" (as the cast affectionately called it) in which Pamela Taylor, as the queen's fool, gave an excellent imitation of Mary's miming. In the "Brass Band" interlude, Mary was ably supported by Jean Whewell (as "Simpkins," another plaver) and Joan Balmforth (the "Butcher"). The audience was delighted by Mary's antics as the Drum Major and the entirely spontaneous exchange of hats.
Jean Hindmarsh made a dashing Sir Walter Raleigh, and all again admired her clear and faultless tones, while the particularly pleasing rendering of "The Perfect English Rose," on the last night—in theatrical parlance "stopped the show." Playing opposite her was Pauline Harrison, a charming "Bessie Throckmorton," who soon established an intimate sympathy between herself and the audience. Shirley Wise, as the cynical "Earl of Essex," made an impressive Elizabethan gallant, while June Gledhill, almost unrecognisable in a red wig, expressed a wealth of emotion with her hands without losing the detached hauteur of "Queen Elizabeth."
Jean Boyes was an attractive "Jill-all-alone," and everyone was delighted when she was proved innocent of witchcraft. Brenda Harrison, with her poise and excellent vocal range, and Shirley Patrick (mistaken by some for Brenda's twin!) played "Long Tom" and "Big Ben" respectively, and Dorothy Prideaux made an engaging "May-Queen," attended by members of Lower III. Miss Boyd did much to help these youngest members of the large cast and also arranged the country dances and ballet sequences, enchantingly executed by aspiring "Fonteyn and Shearer."
The scenery and costumes gave a lavish appearance to the production. Mrs. Bradford and the art department were responsible for the impressive back-cloths, while Miss Overend and her noble band of volunteers beautified the entire cast by their cosmetic art. Some of the girls made their own costumes, after Miss Lee's untiring efforts had provided a colourful assortment of materials, and thanks to her helpful advice, tuniced adolescents were transfigured into gaily dressed townsfolk and elegant courtiers. Much imagination was displayed and a missing jumper was discovered to have been used as padding for one of the Court gentlemen!
Backstage? The word conjures up romantic illusions. In the wings, members of the cast essential to swell the choruses, but temporarily not needed on the stage, endeavoured to catch illicit glimpses of the performance, some even lying on their stomachs trying to peer under the backcloths! Literature read ranged from Jane Austen to "Girls' Crystal." and furious knitting relieved the nervous tension—no easy matter in a confined space, and even more difficult for the "gentlemen" wearing beards which tend to adhere to the wool or get caught on the needles! Principals muttered for their script when they came off-stage, and everyone fidgeted anxiously with folds of their garments and strands of hair which refused to stay piled up "on top." A bag of brandy-snap enlivened the proceedings, and one of the principals, making polite conversation with the members of the chorus during one of the "big" scenes expressed her desire for "refreshments," served by Miss Taylor during the interval.
Many members of the audience said that this production had been Lawnswood's "finest ever," and congratulations were showered upon Miss Clayton, the producer and accompanist, on whose shoulders rested the ultimate responsibility for the whole show, (aided by innumerable cups of "hot and strong" tea!). She gave up many lunch hours to coach the choral work, so that the very high standard of singing which she has built up might he maintained.
There was also a materialistic motive for this production as well as desire for artistic achievement. The proceeds of the opera went towards the cost of Lawnswood's new Steinway grand piano, so that besides the many recollections of this pleasing production, there is a more tangible reminder of "Merrie England." Congratulations to everyone concerned, upon a fine piece of entertainment, which will be recorded in the annals of Lawnswood's musical history.
M. N. COTTIER.
THE PEASANT CANTATA
To celebrate the Bach Bi-Centenary, which falls this year, the Lawnswood High School embarked on a new and exciting chapter of its history—its ranks were augmented by both members of the staff and some of the girls' fathers, so that, for the first time, the valiant "thirds" did not have to endeavour to account for the tenor and bass parts.
When the stirring chords of "God Save the King" had died away, the choir, conducted by Miss Clayton, opened the concert with Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Here indeed was some very fine singing, and the sensitive interpretation of the smooth, flowing melody created the atmosphere for the whole evening's entertainment. Miss Kathleen Frise-Smith's piano recital delighted the audience and a separate account of this has been written by Miss Clayton. After refreshments (thanks to Miss Heap .and her band of volunteers) the choir again took their places for Bach's "Peasant Cantata," which filled the second half of the programme.
Mr. Hanson, the accompanist, plaved the overture with spirit and the choir rose to sing the rousing chorus, "Good Neighbours All." The soloists, Mr. Rollinson (tenor), Mr. Chamberlain (bass), Jean Hindmarsh (first soprano) and Audrey Twigg (second soprano) shared the applause tor the recitatives and arias, of which "Of Flowers the Fairest" and "Good Fellows be Merry," were particularly pleasing. The choir excelled in "Good Cause Have We," "If Fortune had made Me the Master" and in the triumphal final chorus, "Now Let us to the Bagpipes Sound," in which the impression of the peasants gradually making their way homewards was admirably achieved.
At the end of the performance, Miss Clayton was given a warm reception both by the appreciative audience and by the Choir itself. She could be justly proud of the success of the experiment, made possible only by the enthusiastic support of the fathers, to whom the School was most grateful for making time to attend the evening rehearsals which, needless to say, were enjoyed by all.
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