What’s the School Play this year? (5)

The last year before the war, 1938, saw a marvellous School Play in “Knock ou la Triomphe de la Médecine”. The following year, though, saw, arguably, the greatest play ever in the long and distinguished history of the School Play. It should have been called “Androclès ou la Triomphe de la Zoologie”. Instead, George Bernard Shaw stuck with the tried and trusted “Androcles and the Lion”. Here’s the Great Man in his bathing suit, standing next to one of the great female impersonators of the era, Hermann Goering:

In 1938, the star of the show had been:

“…the Car, with all its rattles, its backfiring and trick number plates, which very nearly stole the performance.” Not to mention those high heels:

That car had been constructed by Mr James Harold Norris, a builder, of 6 Hillside, Derby Road, TN 75331. Hillside is off Derby Road just before the junction with the Ring Road, and roughly opposite the end of Wollaton Hall Drive. The star of our show, of course, as always, is that debonair man about town, the Orange Arrow:

James Harold Norris was perhaps the third generation of this building and contracting firm. Before James, it was presumably his father or perhaps uncle, Mr William Thomas Norris, who was operating at either 3 or 333 Lenton Boulevard, TN 75423, as early as 1904. Before that, there was a William Norris at 60 Willoughby Street, New Lenton in 1891-1899 at least.

This year, then, 1938, the School Play was by George Bernard Shaw. It was called “Androcles and the Lion” and had first been performed in 1912. One peculiarity is that when it was published, Shaw’s preface was longer than his play.

“Knock” had given Mr Norris the Builder the opportunity to build “The car that nearly stole the show”, but “Androcles and the Lion” was way beyond the wildest dreams of the wildest optimist in the Dramatic Society. It was just wonderful. A creation, a creature, years ahead of its time.

Interestingly, the lion was played, or perhaps “operated” would be a better word, by Mr Norris’ fourteen year old son, James Harold Norris. I wonder if a deal was cut. Did Mr Norris and James come in one day and demonstrate what they had made:

“Yes, it is marvellous, isn’t it? Would you like to borrow our lion for your play? You would? Who did you have in mind to play the part of the lion? Billy Smith? Oh, dear.”

Well, that’s a pity because the lion is already booked for three birthday parties on those three evenings. How unfortunate.”

“What? Billy Smith is going to be ill on all of those three days? My son is his replacement? Why, that’s excellent news! For James, certainly, but most of all for the play. Now you won’t have to use that old army blanket and the papier-mâché head of a donkey from that other play years back.”

At this point, I cannot resist quoting one of the reviews in the School Magazine:

“What acting talents were shown by James Harold Norris, the fourteen year old son of a builder from 6 Hillside, off Derby Road. James made a remarkable lion, a lion of distinction and of individuality; a lion of understanding and of gratitude. What mattered a tail whose length varied from one night to another in a lion whose eyes could wink either separately or together at will? A delightful lion, the sort of lion anyone should be proud to know.”

And here he is. The only thing we have left of “The Lion”. A Photoshopped photograph. Unless, of course, he still roams the grassy savannahs of Ebay, waiting for somebody to recognise him and scoop him up for £15.13.

Here is that photograph in its entirety. Lots of Roman soldiers and, on the extreme right, the boy who had already played Madame Knock in the play about her husband, seventeen year old Eric Richard Gale:

In “Androcles and the Lion”, as Lavinia, though, Eric now had the biggest female part in the play. He was generally judged as “excellent” throughout, even though now, he did not have the benefit of those extremely elegant high heels of yesteryear. The Nottinghamian said:

“ER Gale was an extremely convincing lady in voice, manner and appearance; one of the best “ladies” the school has ever produced.”

Here is my best effort at a picture:

The programme for this production is still in the School Archives and, a very nice gesture, it actually lists the eleven members of the School’s Hobbies Club who made all of the: “armour, helmets, swords and other stage properties”. That doesn’t happen for every School Play. Indeed, I would take a wild bet that it doesn’t happen for any of them.



Filed under Cryptozoology, History, Humour, Literature, Nottingham, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

15 responses to “What’s the School Play this year? (5)

  1. Whatever it takes to get the play on! Too bad it was the last play.

    • I think it was the last play before the war, but, after the conflict, they went on to stage other plays in the late forties and the fifties. Today, of course, a play is put on every single year, and now that the school is co-educational, finding girls to play the female parts is no problem.

  2. So much of this resonates with me. The parent who buys the costume for the star role only to find out little jimmy (or Jane), hasn’t actually got the part and is a mere ‘extra’ in the side lines. How disappointed they were, poor jimmy (or Jane) is now distraught and it’s our fault! We don’t trust the children with making props, we like them to be of a reasonable quality, and so end up making them ourselves. The hours after school I’ve spent painting or making hats, swords and shields from papier-mâché must account for half my teaching life! It’s good to see the orange arrow playing a major role, he’s going from strength to strength with each performance!

    • To be honest, the orange arrow is the only person connected with these blog posts who knows what he is doing. My wife was an art teacher so she was always asked to make the props and to paint the backcloths etc, but she never received any words of thanks for it, which she found, at best, disappointing. As you have learnt the hard way, there can be hours of work involved in making a Roman soldier’s uniform and slave girl costumes can only be bought at certain sites on the internet.

  3. In more ways than one the last of an era

    • It certainly was. And so many other things would change, not least our perception of the depths of depravity of the Germans and the Japanese.
      It’s a pity that the School’s Founder’s Day is not particularly interesting, or I could have done a post or two about how that particular event had to be cancelled from 1940-1945. It is perhaps a measure of how serious the current situation is, that 2020 was the next School Founder’s Day to be cancelled.

  4. A piece of history. Lion does look good.

    • Yes, he does look good, Lloyd. As the man said, “A lion of distinction and of individuality; a lion of understanding and of gratitude. A delightful lion, the sort of lion anyone should be proud to know.” Believe me, no boy’s school report was ever that good, although, on the other hand, not every boy had “a tail whose length varied from one night to another”.

  5. Wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  6. What a delightful story, John. So much went into this play, something that you just don’t see in our present day. What imagination. What gifted boys! I think my favorite part in all this is GR Gale’s expression. And of course that lion!!

    • I’m glad you liked it, Amy. I would love to know how the boys felt about dressing up as women or in many cases.as girls. On one occasion the boy playing a female part was around 14-15 years old and just after most of the rehearsals had finished, his voice began to break. It didn’t go well in performance. In modern terms, it was a little like casting Lee Marvin as Marilyn Monroe.

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