From: KES MAGAZINE SPRING 1967

THE SCHOOL PLAYS

ON 16th, 17th and 18th March [1967], the Dramatic Society, following the classical order of the serious and the comic, performed The Resurrection by W. B. Yeats and The Liar, translated and adapted by the producer from Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille.

A week before Easter, many of the audience may have been ready for a Miracle Play; some may have understood the symbolism of a Noh play or the stylization of a Greek tragedy; but all were sternly tested by the allusive poetry and metaphysical exploration of The Resurrection. Yet the play is topical, in that it reminds us that all the variety of attitudes to Christianity upon which we pride ourselves today was present from the beginning: the rationalism of The Hebrew ("He was the best man who ever lived"), played with authority by E. R. Hemming; the scepticism of The Greek ("There was nothing there but a phantom"), played by C. R. Ellins; the anxious doubts of the Apostles, reported by the Hebrew, and the plain credulity of the women, reported by the devoted Syrian (C. B. Wilson).

 

PHILISTE (J. H. Taylor), CLIFTON (R. H. Falk)
DORANTE (A. J. Robinson), ALCIPPE (T. C. Ramsden)

At the same time, Yeats contrasts the tenuous, emergent worship of the Eleven in the inner room with the vigorous, age-old ritual of Dionysus being performed outside: each involved violence and the death of its God, each inspired devotion; but the more popular would soon be obliterated by that of the tiny minority. It is to the credit of the cast, which included R. J. Williams as the Commentator and M. G. Machin as Christ, that this contrast shone through. The performance was enhanced by the atmospheric, Levantine music of M. P. R. Linskill, performed by G. Hulse (oboe) and P. G. Meredith (drum).

CHRIST (M. G. Machin) THE GREEK (C. R. Ellins)

For The Liar, D. M. N. Higgins had transformed the stage with an imaginative set of varied angles and levels, including a minute balcony and a musicians' gallery. Here was disclosed a string quartet, Crawford and Jenkins with Linskill and D. Clark, playing a catchy, nagging entr'acte by I. C. A. F. Robinson: a parody of music with corresponding intonation, and some subtle acting by the second violin, to set the mood authentically for gaiety and intrigue.

 

 

LUCRECE (Joyce Kenworthy), FELIX (A. D. Falk)

Dorante (A. J. Robinson) arrived, leaving his books for a Seventeenth Century playboy's life in Paris, lying his way with style into a love-affair and a duel, and out of an arranged marriage. R. H. Falk played his valet, Cliton, confidently and unselfishly, with broad voice and rough but loyal attitude providing an excellent foil. T. C. Ramsden gave a delightful performance of the vain dandy Alcippe, supported with taste and control by J. H. Taylor as his friend Philiste. M. R. Ainsworth was excellent as Geronte, rousing the audience with his mimicry of an irate old father, and showing great power and flexibility of voice. A. D. Falk, A. R. Wyatt and G. B. Darvill as servants played well, enjoying their parts without detracting from the main actors. The important innovation of the production, so clearly right that one must wonder that it was not done long ago, was the invitation of Ruth Askham, Helen Ashe and Joyce Kenworthy from Grange Grammar School to play the pert, provocative Clarice, her friend and confidante Isabelle, and the quiet Lucrece, whom Dorante chose in a last-minute escape from his gross error and confusion of the girls. They brought to the play a charm and realism that would otherwise have been missed, and are to be thanked for helping to make such an attractive production.

GERONTE (M. R. Ainsworth), MUSICIANS

The whole cast, like that of The Resurrection, moved easily and spoke with admirable clarity; Miss Askham, Ramsden and Ainsworth enlivened the play with their songs. In the fluency of their entrances, the actors went far to overcome the problems of our Hall; and for the sake of realism, endured the rigours of the "Green Room." They were supported, as always, by an army of workers: electricians capable of instantaneous response; carpenters to construct our most elaborate set; members of staff and wives to guide them and to deal with costume, make-up and all the varied business of a play. The achievement of Mr. Axford's production was rewarding, both for the entertainment of the audience and for the experience gained by the players. We look forward to the next School Play with pleasant anticipation.

G. W. T.

We are grateful to D. P. Oldfield for allowing us to use his photographs of the School plays.

Junior Play

THE Junior Play this year was a production of three of the Wakefield Mystery plays. Two of these--the famous Second Shepherds' Play and the Offering of the Three Kings-are from the pen of the anonymous Wakefield Master, working shortly before 1420 and probably a monk at Nostell Priory, to which house the cycle probably belongs. The Second Shepherds' Play with its comic sub-plot of Mak the sheep-stealer really makes an independent secular farce, until its close connection with the structure of the shepherds' arrival at the scene of Christ's nativity, and the presentation of the Magi becomes clear. The medieval love of echoing a religious theme in a grotesque context is well established (think of gargoyles and misericords) so need not concern us as being inappropriate. The contrast between the cold windy moors and the calm scene in the stable, the hectic boisterousness of the shepherds and the quiet silence of the Virgin is well made and in effect gives tension to the otherwise undramatic nativity scenes. Compare this with the third play of the Flight into Egypt, stilted and without tension. The Wakefield Master produced, according to E. K. Chambers, `the pick of medieval vernacular drama,' and certainly there is nothing in any of the other cycles to approach his style. Many of the other plays in the Wakefield Cycle are derivatives from that of York, hieratic, formal and stiff, the humour forced and unconvincing. The Wakefield Master's sense of humour points his intense feeling for the human situation, and it is this more than anything else that makes his work outstanding. Here is a short section from another of his plays, that of Noah and his Wife. This play is established in the manuscripts as being of Wakefield, and is the key to localising the entire cycle.

Noah:-Lord, homward will I hast as fast that as I may;
My wife will I frast what she will say,
And I am agast that we get some fray
Betwixt us both;
For she is full tethee,
For litill oft angre;
If any thyng wrang be,
Soyne is she wroth.             (enter his wife)
God spede, dere wife, how fayre ye?
Wife:-Now, as ever myght I thryfe, the wars I thee see.
Do tell me belife where hast thou thus long be?
To dede may we dryfe, or lif, for the,
For want.

The play was produced by Mr. C. I. Cook, who also did the transcription into modern English. His production made clear the structural echoes in the double nativity in the Shepherds' Play and, with the aid of subtle lighting and stage composition, he carried this over to the play of the Three Wise Men. The stage movement and expression were of a high standard, and there was some amusing and convincing mime, always difficult with young actors. The enjoyment of the cast was reflected in the pace of the action which bubbled along in the early scenes, but was contained in the stable, where the awe of the rustics was most impressive. The Three Kings play was more formal, the dignity of the Magi being well contrasted to the evil of Herod. This effect was heightened by the imaginative use of make-up and splendidly appropriate costumes. The actors in the third play manfully tackled their thankless task. This is not a rewarding piece and its main function was to show the depth and power of the anonymous writer of the two previous plays.

This was a most rewarding and enjoyable production and all connected with it should be warmly congratulated. Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Cook for his unpretentious transcription. It is not an easy task to make Middle English palatable to modern ears without straining its atmosphere. Here is a section of the original accompanied by two famous modern versions-

Mak-How? Gyll, art thou in? Get us som lyght.
 Gyll--Who makys sich dyn this tyme of the nyght?
I am sett for to spyn I hope not I myght
Ryse a penny to wyn, I shrew them on hyght.

Here is A. W. Pollard-
Mac-How, Gill, art thou in? Get us some light.
Wife-Who makes such din this time of night?
I am set for to spin: I hope not I might
Rise a penny to win: I shrew them on height.

The American scholar John Gassner-
Mak-How, Gill, art thou in? Get us some light.
Wife-Who makes such din this time of the night?
I am set for to spin: I think not I might
Rise a penny to win-a curse on him alight.

Mr. Cook's much freer version-
Mak--Hey Gill, are you there? Bring us a light.
Gill-Who makes so much row at this time of night?
I'm all set to spin. I hoped that I might
Make a penny or two. I don't think it's right.

I think it was all very right indeed-and we got more than our money's worth.

W.D.L.S.