LARGE audiences welcomed the innovation of Middle School Plays, performed on November 28th and 29th. This was not the kind of occasion where parents and friends find themselves being charitable about some rather embarrassing acting or floundering production. Anyone who came to be patronisingly tolerant will have stayed to admire.
From the Second Form one is entitled to expect an enthusiasm for the job and some sense of clear diction; The Hiding Place gave them little scope for much else. It was a childish play, as opposed to a play suitable for children; nevertheless the producer (Mr. Burns) and his cast brought out what qualities there were, and D. W. Williams, as Captain Dallas, must be commended for his performance. He remained on stage throughout the play, seated in a chair as a cripple. Only once did one feel this as a handicap to his acting, and that was when he was unable to depict convincing frustration at being unable to help the dying Granville Hughes. W. B. Amos as "The Shepherd" had a sinister geniality and a well maintained Irish accent, but regularly dropped his voice at the end of a sentence. We shall look out for impressive work in the future from I. Sarginson and M. J. Bryars, who brought zest to their parts of the Inventor and the Inspector.
The most interesting play was The Thistle in the Donkey Field (a Vegetable Parable with distinct Animal connections) given by the Third Form, Mr. Hersee producing. The allegory was neither subtle nor quickly established, but it caught the imagination, and the producer contrived the varied characterisation with a nicely chosen " Cabinet ". I. W. Barrow and S. A. Morant, dwarfed but not dominated by their female colleagues, were amusingly lively. Perhaps the gestures and the drunkenness were overdone, but both these actors have a stage presence and sense of timing. M. A. Hall, the Minister of Roots, was an admirable contrast, and made the most of the rather querulous sermonising which the part required. D. Mingay started uncertainly in the unrewarding part of Lady Chloe, Minister of Health and Welfare, but soon showed his very real ability. N. P. Jowett as Edda (the Bees' Friend) and R. A. Hollands as Maya, were decorative and competent; P. J. Grimsditch was a confidential clerk, though he was unable to suggest terror at the approach of the Donkey. Mingay and Bell, on their knees, controlled an awkward moment here. P. N. Bell, the President, brought variety to what was inevitably a static play, and is to be congratulated on an unselfish and disciplined performance.
We expected most in the way of acting from the Fourth Form (directed by Mr. Chalmers) in The Dumb Wife of Cheapside, and we were not disappointed. Its lively opening promised well, and from his first entrance P. Johnson as Alderman Groat showed his commanding stage presence. He has a memorable voice, a variety of pace and gesture, and gave the part the dignity it needed. He was well supported by his Attorney, R. N. Crookes, whose only weakness was a tendency to incoherent speaking. His expressions were eloquent, and he saved the situation with dignity on one night when the curtain failed to close. M. J. Grundmann was admirably cast as Master Julep, leader of the mountebanks. In impressive control, he failed only when he had to end the first scene on a burst of laughter. P. M. Hetherington, Master Sunder, though obsessed with his beard, was in great voice, but in an evening of efficient secondary performances R. Mingay's portrayal of Master Ounce was a gem. A Jonsonian figure with the voice of Larry the Lamb, his best moment was when he was enduring Mistress Groat's eloquence on " intemperance in meat and drink". Of Ann Groat one can say that J. A. Cunningham had the most difficult part of the evening, and that it would have needed a boy actor of considerable skill to bring complete success to it. Cunningham provoked the necessary reactions in the audience as well as the actors, and even when we failed to hear we remained amused at the gabble. With more variety of tone and timing he would have done better.
It remains to thank and praise all those back-stage workers, masters and boys, whose various considerable talents contributed so much to the success of the occasion.
P. D. C. P.