What’s the School Play this year? (1)

A high proportion of secondary schools in England put on an annual school play, and the High School, even back in the 1920s, was no exception. In the distant past, I have paraphrased the main problem faced by those who sought to put on a School Play, years before things changed for ever in the 1970s:

“The Dramatic Society would put on an annual play, usually, a classic, although not always by Shakespeare. The problem was that Nottingham High School was for boys only, and, in the words of the School Magazine: “The Dramatic Society has always hesitated to produce a modern play because of the difficulty of satisfactorily filling the female parts. Twentieth Century dress does not lend itself so well to the purpose of transformation as do Elizabethan and Georgian costumes”.

I also pointed out that even with the classics, the problems may only just be beginning. This photograph by the Reverend Stephens is from a post-war School Play, and shows one of the leading characters. The Reverend captioned it “Williams”, and, poor lad, Williams could almost stand there and represent fifty years’ worth of completely insoluble difficulties with School Plays. No matter how well he learns his lines, young Williams cannot change the size of his hands or the size of his feet or the firmness of his jaw-line:

Similar problems occurred in the same era with “The Rivals”. This was in 1953. Here is Miss Lydia Languish. Better hands, admittedly, (except for the knuckles) but that’s not a woman’s nose :

Here is Miss Julia Melville, perhaps the best so far:

And here is the famous Mrs Malaprop. Did you spot my malapropism in the previous post about Junior Plays?

What you can’t miss is that great wide barrel chest, ever ready to control a hard driven football. And look at that chin and that nose.  Those hands and those knuckles.

Things were no different by 1962 when Gogol’s “Government Inspector” came to call. Messrs Boyden and Taylor, try as they might, were still two strapping great lads, whether Russian Woman 1 was standing and Russian Woman 2 was sitting down :

Or whether Russian Woman 2 was standing and Russian Woman 1 was sitting down:

And just why does he/she have a table tennis bat? Both pictures, incidentally, come from the Reverend Stephens.

Just as a taster for next time, let’s think about some of the other problems faced by the School’s Dramatic Society. As we have seen, there were no girls from Nottingham Girls’ High School to play the female parts but, on occasion,  even the props and costumes could be rather unimpressive.

This is a very poor reproduction, by myself, of the School’s 1924 production of Aristophanes’ side splitter, “The Frogs”. I would contend that they should have called it “The Beards”. Or it could have been read out merely as “Black Beards 6 White Beards 2″. And while you’re trying to find all eight, don’t miss the two boys who are having to hold their badly behaved beards in place with their hands:

20 Comments

Filed under Film & TV, History, Humour, Literature, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

20 responses to “What’s the School Play this year? (1)

  1. I remember the school play. I was hopeless as an actor but did get the part of an ‘extra’ in Henry V.

    • Did you have more than one job as an extra, which is what happened in our school plays? Perhaps a servant in Act 1, a soldier in Act 2, filling the breech in Act 3 and firing arrows at Agincourt towards the end.
      I did make up in the Second Year Sixth, and what a problem we had when the beards failed to arrive. I had to paint them on in light or dark brown, which was pretty boring, until I started doing piebald ones of both shades, and then stripes. Nobody really noticed as the audience were well set back from the stage.

      • I was a servant first and carried the casket of tennis balls and a soldier later on.

        This was a photograph in the Rugby Advertiser…

      • Thanks very much for that, Andrew. The King would have looked pretty damned stupid all on his own, though, if it were not for the crowd of extras, of which you seem to be the undoubted star.

  2. I had one line in one school play. I remember it to this day. It brought the house down. It wasn’t meant to be funny.

    • Oh, don’t leave it there, Derrick. What was the line? Or give us a clue. What was the play?

      • Dammit, I knew someone would ask. The line was easy : “Faith, may we put up our pipes and be gone”. What I couldn’t remember was that it was Romeo and Juliet 🙂

      • Very difficult, though, for an actor of your undoubted quality to make much of a line which does not even make clear what sort of pipes we’re dealing with. Bag or shag ? as you might say. (I’m proud of that!!)

  3. I know I was in a grammar school play and had to do a sort of minuet dance, but for the life of me I can’t remember the title of the play!

    • Well, perhaps one of the WordPressers reading this will know what it was called. It’s surprising what we forget, and how quickly and how easily. In a Reply above I mentioned a school play where I did the makeup and I know that one of the characters was called Möbius but, like your good self, I don’t have a clue what the play was called, unless of course, it was “Mobius”, which would leave me looking rather foolish !

  4. Chris Waller

    I would imagine that many of those boys are probably still in therapy.

    • Purely by coincidence, I think that the photographs in this blog post actually seem to deteriorate as they appear. The first one, with Williams, allows him to hide behind his Greek costume to some extent, but by the time you get to Mrs Malaprop, the actors are getting much less convincing, and the two Russian ladies at the end are both shockers. They look like two rugby forwards dressed up for a stag night.
      Some boys, of course, were extremely convincing as athletic young women. “Dab Furley” who I have written about before was an excellent female lead, and Alfred Warren, who appears in my first book about the High School’s war dead, seems to have been absolutely superb when asked to dress up as a woman and pretend to entice men to their doom. I feel sure that he would have become a professional actor (or female impersonator) if he had not been killed defending the old brick version of the modern concrete motorway bridge which now carries the N39a / N330 over the “Dijk”, a large canal a few miles from Dunkirk.

  5. Just brilliant John. We do a school play every year and often have to give a boy a girls part or Vice versa. Last year we did ‘Cinderella Rockerfella’ with a boy as one of the ugly (that’ll be censored) sisters. Once he’d got over the embarrassment of wearing a dress, he was fantastic! The unlikely pair really hit it off! I’d imagine with these ‘gender less’ people now coming through it’ll be a thing of the past. Those boys in your pictures could consider themselves trend setters!

    • Thank you for your kind words. I do appreciate your encouragement. Sometimes I despair about what I might possibly write about, but something always seems to emerge.
      Perhaps Mrs Malaprop was a trend setter but I really can’t imagine that that was the first thing his mates thought about him when he first appeared in costume !

      • You’re welcome John, I know what it’s like but something does seem to crop up doesn’t it. I wonder if any of these boys ever see you posts, their comments would be so interesting to see!

  6. How I enjoyed reading this, John. I must admit that the way gender is today and all that entails, those boys dressed as women reminded me of transvestites. Isn’t that terrible of me to say? I really thought that most of the boys who played women really looked like women. Yet what do I know? LOL

    • Certainly, some boys were very good women but, to a man, most of them were obviously masculine. In more modern times, the cross dresser has got just better and better. I think you might enjoy “Lola” by the Kinks, complete with sub-titles for the lyrics:

  7. Jan

    Pity the poor NHS boy who rejoiced in the nickname “B-cup”. The 70s were hard times.

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