Masque Theatre History
The Northampton Drama Club (later to be renamed Masque Theatre) managed to stage plays during the Second World War.
TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, about an individual's opposition to authority, was an apt choice of play for the group to perform in the dark days of 1940.
The following year, as the nightly blitz killed hundreds of thousands of people across Britain, the drama group appears to have ceased putting on plays.
The war meant that fuel supplies were scarce and non-essential travel was frowned upon. One official attempt to persuade civilians to conserve fuel was the ‘Holidays at Home’ campaign during 1942-3. Local authorities drew up a programme of summertime events and in Northampton, the Borough Council engaged the help of the Northampton Drama Club.
In the summer of 1942, the Drama Club presented Twelfth Night. It was directed by Tom Osborne Robinson and Lawrence Baskcomb, the set designer and an actor at the Rep (now better known as the Royal Theatre). Appearing in the play was Richard Baker who had been evacuated to Northampton. He later went on to become the first BBC TV newsreader.
Alison Dunmore recalls that during the war years, fabric was rationed causing challenges for costumes: “only felt, net and lace were available without coupons. Using felt, a brilliantly coloured but unwieldy fabric, Tom [Osborne Robinson] evolved a style that used the distinctive outline of Elizabethan costumes and enhanced it with bold appliquéd design that suggested the ornament of that time. ‘Shakespeare costumed all his plays in contemporary dress,’ said Tom, ‘and so should the Drama Club.’”
During the war, the summer shows were presented outdoors in local parks. The Importance of Being Earnest (1943) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1945) were performed beside Abington Park lake. Toad of Toad Hall (1944) was staged near Delapre Abbey.
Following the defeat of Germany, plans could at last be made for the future. “There was an energetic infusion of recently demobbed young talent,” remembers Alison Dunmore. “Notably Geoffrey Brightman who soon turned professional and two young journalists from the local paper: Jack Alcock and Michael Green. Mike was to draw on his experience at that time when writing his Art of Coarse Acting. Also from the literary world was writer and broadcaster Eric Roberts who wrote for the Chronicle & Echo”.
In 1946, the courtyard of Abington Park Museum was the venue for Much Ado About Nothing, a space that become home to the summer shows for many years.
In 1947, after several temporary homes, a dirty warehouse in Thenford Street was rented. After pigeon evictions, structural alteration, painting and cleaning, Northampton Drama Cub finally had its own little theatre, although it was initially used as a club house and for studio performances.
Amongst the members rolling up their sleeves to remove what the pigeons had left behind was Sybil Williams. She’d taken the lead role in Goodness How Sad (1947) and was trying hard to break into the acting profession. She went on to become the first wife of the celebrated stage and film actor Richard Burton and, decades later, is said to have opened the first disco in the United States.
Michael Green recalls a memorable production in 1948 featuring another member: “My first part was in The Merchant of Venice in Abington Park when I was a young reporter on the Chronicle and Echo. What I remember most (apart from a wonderful performance of Shylock by John Parkin) was the man playing Launcelot Gobbo who during the play would pull his trousers over his tights and sprint across the park to a pub for a couple of pints before hastening back for the final scene which can only be described as unusually vigorous!”.
20 1940 The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
21 1940 Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
22 1942 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
23 1943 Getting Married by George Bernard Shaw
24 1943 The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
25 1944 Toad of Toad Hall by A.A. Milne
26 1944 The Good Natured Man by Oliver Goldsmith
27 1945 A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
28 1945 The Silver Cord by Sidney Howard
29 1946 The Dark Lady of the Sonnets by George Bernard Shaw
30 1946 Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
31 1947 And So To Bed by J.B. Fagin
32 1947 A Florentine Tragedy by Oscar Wilde
33 1947 Loser Takes All by L. Du Garde Peach
34 1947 Goodness How Sad by Robert Morley
35 1948 Dark Victory by George Brewster & Bertram Block
36 1948 The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
37 1948 The Intruder by Francois Mauriac
38 1949 The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
39 1949 The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
40 1949 The Linden Tree by J.B. Priestley
41 1949 Christmas Crackers
Distinctive amateur drama
in Northampton since 1932
Registered Charity No. 294848
This information is adapted from the history researched and written by John and Greta Hendy with Alison Dunmore; edited and conceived by Rob Kendall and published in 2000. New material has been compiled and written by Martin Borley-Cox.
Page last updated: 14/04/2014 Masque Theatre © 2014
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