Now that’s a year which everyone of a certain age tends to remember as rather momentous. The BBC first broadcast in colour, the first credit card was launched in the UK, the Aberfan disaster happened, Henry Cooper managed the seemingly impossible by flooring Muhammud Ali and, of course, England won the World Cup (those were the days). I remember 1966 for another particular reason – it was the year I took my first steps on the amateur stage at a local church hall with a group called the St Mary’s Players. It was in a somewhat creaky old farce called Caught Napping by Geoffrey Lumsden who later regularly appeared in Dad’s Army as Mainwaring’s rival Captain Square. By a strange quirk of fate he also played Egeus in a 1981 TV version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I can’t really recall much about Caught Napping but according to www.doollee.com/ it is set in a boys’ school at the beginning of the Easter holidays, when all the pupils should have departed for the vacation. But one remains behind surreptitiously for the sake of a racehorse called Gwendoline. In no time at all his housemaster’s home is brought to a state of upheaval, made even more complicated by the fact that an effigy of the headmaster has been found in the square, seated in a bath subsequently discovered missing from a bathroom in another teacher, Mr. Potts’s house. Well, it was one of those farces! Somebody definitely lost their trousers en route though I don’t recall any feather dusting maids or doddery vicars; there were, however, definitely french windows! I played the aforementioned schoolboy who rejoiced in the name of Laker-Hopp – not a great stretch of my nascent acting abilities at the time (though I did have to try and be posh). His big scene was to pretend that a rare illness he had contracted caused him to bound about the stage croaking like a Greek frog (brekke-ke-kex, ko-ax, ko-ax!) My only other real memory was thinking I knew what I was doing with stage makeup and producing something that was a cross between a circus clown and Frankenstein’s Creature. And now here I am 50 years later in Stratford-upon-Avon…and what a way to celebrate that particular anniversary!
As I sit here in the Falcon Hotel (where all the amateurs are being put up) I can reflect on what a long road I’ve travelled. Nearly 150 productions working with groups such as Actors Anonymous, Mark II, most particularly and fondly with the Redbridge Stage Company (the other RSC) and more latterly with Tower Theatre and SEDOS. Highlights abound such as playing Hector in The History Boys, appearing at the Minack as Mr Micawber in David Copperfield, being in the amateur premiere of Noises Off, directing 30 productions including some cracking school plays (Lord of the Flies a particular favourite) and best of all getting to work with scores, even hundreds of other like-minded performers, directors, technicians and theatre folk; it has been a constant thread in my life.
I’m just about to set off for a day’s rehearsal and performance with the world renowned Royal Shakespeare Company on their home territory at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d be writing). It’s only taken 50 years to get here. Has it been worth it? Methinks it most definitely hath!
Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th July at 7.15