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Past Productions

1924-1931

Iolanthe

The next production, in May, 1924, was 'Iolanthe', which was put into rehearsal after the unusual course of taking a vote from the audience at the previous show. Due to various causes, chiefly the difficulty in filling the men's parts, it had never previously been undertaken. The audiences seem to have received it warmly, however, and the critic of the Letchworth 'Citizen' was moved to write: 'What Struck me most about the Thespians.

Their innate modesty when discussing other Societies. The beauty of the men's chorus. The pereniallity of the members ... Their joy at being Thespians.'

In November of the same year came the third production of 'The Gondoliers.' Mr Edgar Wilby being unable to spare time for rehearsals of the show because of other engagements, his place was taken by Mr R. H. O. Wright, who was to remain the Society's Musical Director until 1952.

Mr Symmons has a story to tell of this production.

'I remember that the gondola, which came down with the scenery, was much too wide to use in the narrow space available at the back of the stage, so it was decided to use the. one which Mr Sharman and my father had made for the performance of the same opera in 1907, which had been in store all those years. It was a rather crude affair, with a nicely shaped prow mounted on a scaffold board on which were fitted two pairs of wheels: but as these were not set dead accurately, it never ran properly straight. Before each performance, several trial runs were made to get it into the right position. However, on one occasion it must have become moved, and when it was pushed on with a long pole, the gondola, carrying the Duke, Duchess, Casiida and Luiz became stuck halfway to the landing-stage at the centre of the stage, and could not be moved either way. The whole party of four had to step into the 'canal' and get on to the stage as best they could. Mr. Jack Dent, who was playing the Duke, passed the incident off by making some remarks about wet feet.'

The following May, the Thespians broke away once more from Gilbert & Sullivan with their production of Edward German's 'Merrie England'. Mr Sharman, who had produced nearly every show until this date, decided to hand over to a professional producer and Mr Sydney Rendell was engaged. This was also the first appearance of his wife Eisie, who came to help with the dancing, and who was to remain closely associated with the Society for nearly forty years.

It was after this production that negotiations were begun with the Customs & Excise authorities, with a view to obtaining exemption from Entertainments Tax. Among the stipulations made by the authorities was that which required a certain percentage of total takings to be given to charity. To show the necessary balance on the accounts of this performance, an appeal was made to some good friends of the Society to become Patrons, and the number of these has increased with the years. In the autumn of 1925, the Thespians again returned to Gilbert & Sullivan, putting on 'The Yeomen of the Guard' for the fourth time. The production was in the hands of Eisie Rendell' 'whose energy and marvellous vitality', wrote Mr Sharman later, 'have put new life into the Society and won the hearts of all who have had the privilege of working with her or under her.' Certainly she was much-loved by the Thespians, remaining their loyal friend and supporter until her death. Financial considerations - the Society's inability to come to what the committee considered satisfactory terms with the management of the Playhouse - dictated a return to the Town Hall in the following year.

The decision was undoubtedly a wise one, for the sums the Thespians were able to hand over to local charities in subsequent years were substantially greater than before. First choice for the April production was 'Princess lda', which had been considered on several previous occasions but never done. Rehearsals were begun but owing to difficulties, including casting, it was decided to revive 'Patience' and this was duly performed. 'Trial by Jury' and 'H.M.S. Pinafore' formed a double bill in November and a revival of 'The Mikado' the third production - followed in April, 1927. The rather splendid programme for the November 1926 production, lavishly illustrated with photographs of Thespian principals in costume, reminds us that hats still presented a problem. The request to the audience, however, had been revised and was strikingly polite - 'The Committee would esteem it a favour if ladies would remove their hats during the performance.' Mr Sharman undertook the production because of the pressure of Eisie Rendell's other engagements, though she came to help at a few rehearsals. 'On the Saturday night', he recalls, 'when Pooh Bah exclaimed,' "I don't want any breakfast," I heard an unusual burst of laughter and looking across the stage was horrified to see a large beefbone, which had been lowered from the flies by an irresponsible stage hand. For this misdemeanour we justly got into trouble with Mr D'Oyly Carte.'

In the autumn of 1927 came a new departure - a musical comedy, 'Miss Hook of Holland', by Paul Rubens, which proved very popular with the audiences. Financially, the show was a success and 144.0s.0d., the largest sum to that date, was given to charities. Nevertheless, the production was not without its difficulties, for during the Saturday matinee, the town's electricity supply failed and the stage was suddenly plunged into darkness. The chorus continued to sing, clutching candies, but the performance had in the end to be abandoned. Fortunately, the supply was restored in time for the evening performance. 'THE NATIONAL OMNIBUS CO. LTD,' announced the programme, 'will run a Special Service to Letchworth and Norton after each performance. Messrs. FRANKLIN BRIDEN will run a Charabanc from Stevenage each evening at 7 p.m." The next year two productions were given. 'The Geisha', staged in April, proved very popular and a record profit was made. This was followed in the autumn by 'A Country Girl', which was equally well received. Evidently more patrons now travelled by motor-car, for the 'Geisha' programme noted 'FREE GARAGE accommodation for cars is provided in The Cattle Market, next to the Fire Station.' The Society still cherished the Savoy operas, however, and to the delight of most of its members, returned to Gilbert & Sullivan with a production of 'Princess lda' in the spring of 1929. The choice for the autumn was Andr6 Messager's 'Veronique', remembered as the show in which the live donkey stole most of the limelight. Having completely overcome his stage fright, it is reported, he duly came on and took a bouquet of vegetables at the close on Saturday night! 'On account of the length of the Opera', said the programme modestly ,no encores can be given'.

In 1930 came another new production, 'Tom Jones', and in 1931 there were repeats of 'The Pirates of Penzance' and 'Merrie England'.

 

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