Throwback Thursdays Archive
26 March 2020: In these strange times, when we are confined to our homes spare a thought for the villagers of Eyam, in Derbyshire. Eyam is known as the Plague Village when during the plague of 1665-1666, they shut themselves off from the rest of the country, knowing that they risked death, but with the intention of sparing their fellow citizens.
The beginning was innocuous enough. A box of old clothes was sent from London, where the plague had already taken hold, to the local tailor. The clothes were infected and the tailor died within four days. During the following thirteen months 259 out of a population of 350 perished.
Weymouth Drama Club presented the play, The Roses of Eyam, in November 1979, directed by Kay Thorneycroft. It was an epic production, but unusually the cast were happy to "die" as they wouldn't be taking the curtain call and could retreat to the bar!
2 April 2020: Although we usually spend 6-8 weeks rehearsing each production, there have been some memorable productions that took just 24 hours to put together. Starting at 10.00pm, after the normal rehearsals have finished, writers work away putting together a unique storyline, using all the actors who have signed up for the play. By 6.00am, as the actors arrive for breakfast, there is a complete script in outline; no actual lines of dialogue have been committed to paper as it more successful when they are improvised. During the day, lines are learnt, costumes sourced and altered, music and lighting chosen, and props and a set constructed. Then there is advertising, front of house, programmes and catering all to be organised. By 8.00pm the curtain goes up on a world premiere. As it ends everything is packed away before the 24 hours is up. It's as if it never happened. The photos shown are from a 2010 production of Torn, about a family devastated by war.
Thursday 9 April 2020: Between 1938 and the outbreak of war, almost 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, were sent by their parents from Germany to Britain…9 year old Eva ends up in Manchester…When Eva's parents fail to escape Germany, the child changes her name and begins the process of denial of her roots…It is only when her own daughter discovers some old letters in the attic that Eva is forced to confront the truth about her past… Dianne Samuel's play Kindertransport tells Eva's story and explores the pain and passion of mother/daughter relationships. Weymouth Drama Club presented this play in 2015.
16 April 2020: Derek Sawtell directed our production of Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular in 2010; ten years ago. You know how they say the party always happens in the kitchen? Well this play looks at the changing fortunes of three couples over three Christmas parties. Kitchen Craft built an entire kitchen for the production: Derek had only asked to borrow a few cupboards! Most of the cast are still with the Club ten years on, although sadly our Dave Moore passed away a few years ago.
23 April 2020: 15 years ago the Drama Club embarked on a modern, bawdy and colourful production of The Canterbury Tales. The excellent cast made the whole experience a triumph, right from the day of the auditions. We had several new members in the cast - I'm not totally sure they knew what they had let themselves in for, but it's good to note that for two of them their connection with the Club continues as their children now belong to our Curtain Raisers.
Marital mishaps and misunderstandings were the Drama Club offering in April 2000 when we presented Anyone for Breakfast. Yes, it really was 20 years ago. The farce by Derek Benfield was directed by Derek Sawtell and featured a cast of new talent alongside some familiar faces. Nobody was playing fair as each character was having an illicit affair and the plot confused the audience as the mice that played when the cat was away desperately tried to cover their tracks and the complicated romantic entanglements got even more tangled.
Our junior section, known as The Curtain Raisers, started in 1982, but it was not until 2009 that they got to perform in their own right at Weymouth Pavilion. Their first production was I never saw another butterfly, a play set in WWII about the Terezin ghetto which was used as a stopping off point to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The play centres around one child, Raja Englanderova, who amazingly survived the ordeal and returned to Prague after the war. All the Curtain Raisers took part and they also entertained parents in the first half of the evening with fun things they had been doing in class, including a great slapstick scene from the Cheers group. The photos show a workshop we held to create the butterflies that Raja hoped to see again one day and the cast backstage after the performance. There is quite a contrast between their costumes and their faces!
The Curtain Raisers next major production was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The lead roles were taken by Charley Vincent and Owen Lewis, who are both now professional performers. Peter Wheeldon, the then local representative of NODA, National Operatic and Dramatic Association, said in his report on the show " taking the big stage can be daunting enough, but add to that the task of portraying the manners and speech of the American Deep South and it becomes a real challenge- one that was convincingly met by the young cast with enthusiasm and aplomb." A real credit to the Club and to the director, Deborah Walton, and only the second major production this group had undertaken. Along with Charley and Owen, James Baird, Mimi Roe-White and Laura Sharpe were all singled out for praise. A talented lot.
It was good to be contacted by a former member with his reminiscences of Tango, directed by Gean Browning back in 1978. It was Kevin Kibbey's first role with the Club, a role which kickstarted an acting career that has spanned 50 years. Greville Poultney, the then local Dorset Evening Echo critic, was less than complimentary about the actual script describing it as a "basically savage play" and he remained totally unmoved, although he did mention the good acting performances from Kay Thorneycroft, Ben Grassby and Tricia Cane. The less than kind review didn't put Kevin off though and he appeared in another Drama Club production that same year, The Male of the Species. Kevin is still acting, though no longer in the Weymouth area and has recently appeared in The Ladykillers and In the Club.
A form of theatre that will always remind me of Dennis is panto. I was his assistant back in the 90s and learned so much during that time. The first drama club panto I worked with him was on Babes in the Wood in 1991. I had appeared in many panto casts before that, including another version of Babes in the Wood in 1981 as the Dorset Fairy although the character was actually called Fairy Nightingale.
Babes in the Wood was our 13th panto to presented at the Pavilion Theatre, in what was the Drama Club's Diamond Jubilee Year. It was also just the second of our productions to be interpreted for a deaf audience. Chris Steadman and Amanda Nash, British Sign Language interpreters, had signed another Dennis Dunford production, Johnny Belinda, which was about a girl who could neither speak nor hear, and it had been well received. Belinda signed herself to communicate with the other characters. It is a tremendous skill to be able to do these interpretations, including the songs. One mother, who had brought her deaf daughter, to see the panto said it was one of the first times she can remember her and her daughter laughing at the same time, without the delay of having to explain what had just been said. Jacqui Trent