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No better summary can be given of the important historical role of dramatics at Mexborough Grammar School, than by the historical account reproduced below. This has been transcribed from the 1954 edition of the annual school magazine (The Don & Dearne), which had a special issue to commemorate the Jubilee of the founding of the school in 1904.
   This Jubilee also chanced to coincide with that of the retirement of headmaster Hugh Leslie Watkinson, who served from 1931 to 1954, and who gave so much of his generous personal support to both staff and student dramatics within the school.  
Thus for many of we students within that era, it provided our first access to the serious theatre, and was a natural complement to the classroom emphasis on an all-round classical education. The writer of the following review went only under the initials of ‘S. C. H.’, who, judging by the contents, was a student and perhaps later a

 teacher during the earliest days of the school, and otherwise only reveals herself as the sister of J. F. Hacking, who I recall being a leading Mexborough dignitary.
   During my own times, the students presented Major Barbara, Abraham Lincoln, Noah, Our Town and The Ascent of F6, while the staff staged their own productions of The Wind of Heaven, The Farmer’s Wife, St Joan, When We Are Married, and The White Sheep of the Family.
   If memory serves me correctly local famous actor Brian Blessed, though never attending the school as a student, played a young ‘carried-on’ role in the Emlyn Williams drama, The Wind of Heaven, which features a dying child being carried on to the stage.
   Detailed reviews and cast lists for all these productions are on record for posterity in the annual school magazines published during that era.                             
Contributed by Rodney Shaw

 

School dramatics: The Don & Dearne magazine, 1954
 

Mexborough Grammar School produced a school play before it possessed a school building. Miss J. E. Crowther reminded us of this at the old students ‘ Jubilee Reunion’ on November 13th. That was long before my time but I have pleasant, though incomplete recollections of the development of the School’s strong theatrical tradition during the last 35 years. It was Shakespeare, Shakespeare, all the way until I left school in 1927. The pageantry and poetry of the plays gripped us on the stage however unresponsive we may have been in the classroom. Beginning to con our parts a little self-consciously we ended playing them with zest, if not always perhaps with art. The plays were written to be acted – not pored over on desks – and we were allowed to discover this truth in practical ways. Our mentors in the main were Miss Crowther and Miss Blazeby, though Mr. Ireland would often emerge from his room during rehearsals, pause for a moment, and then comment: “ I can’t hear you at the back of the hall.” This, of course was the signal for even more forceful coaching in voice production from Miss Blazeby, with whose own penetrating tones every “boding trembler” who attended the School during the first 30 years or so of its existence is everlastingly familiar. One of the loveliest and jolliest productions I recall was “Twelfth Night”. It was staged, I think, in 1920 and marked the emergence of the School from the sombre period of austerity impose by the 1914-18 war. It was lavishly costumed and staged by the standards of those days and the wistful romance and broad comedy of those days were adroitly balanced to ensure a memorable production. The tragedies were tackled too. “Hamlet” was put on in, I believe, 1923 and 1927 and merits a modest mention as my brother (J. F. Hacking) and I played the name parts in the respective productions; a unique circumstance prompted by the play coming round as set book in both our Upper Sixth years. In between, probably in 1925, I remember an exciting   “As You Like It”  which  roused  the  junior

school to rare enthusiasm by virtue of a spectacular wrestling bout between Stanley Meanley and Roland Jackson. Unforgettable, too, is a riotous version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when Bully Bottom’s mechanicals so far forgot themselves as to respond to the audience’s wild applause by giving an encore of their Pyramus and Thisbe scene. It took Mis Blazeby half a term to recover from the horror which this solecism aroused in her. Time gilds memories and there is always a nostalgic pleasure in looking back, but I count myself fortunate to have seen, too, so many of the school plays the School have produced in the last 25 years. On the whole I think the students today are bolder and less self-conscious in their acting than we were. Under the guidance of Miss E. M. Ginn they have added fresh lustre to the School’s theatrical reputation. “Noah” and “Our Town” are two excellent examples of modern plays which suggest that nothing is too difficult for a school so well equipped with staff, stage facilities and willing and imaginative children to attempt. Thanks to Mr. H. L. Watkinson’s personal interest in the drama there is now a staff play tradition, also. The choice of play has ranged from “St Joan” to the airiest of comedies, but the “box office” success of these productions has been remarkably and consistently high. There has been benefit for School, staff and district in these enterprises. Qualities of versatility, unsuspected because not ordinarily evoked teachers, have been discovered to the world of pupil and parent at large through this medium. A humanizing process of this sort is a valuable leaven in a 900-strong grammar school. The staff have done very much more than merely entertain us and I hope Mr. Watkinson’s innovation will always remain a part of the School as it moves towards its centenary. Whatever the aspirations of those responsible for that production before ever the School itself was built they have surely been handsomely rewarded in the succeeding 50 years. 
                                                                                                          S. C. H


REVIEW: Our Town


The assembled cast of Thorton Wilders’ Our Town, staged in October 1952. Although written in 1938, and now an American staple, this was  still a very experimental form of drama for an English audience in 1952, and was generally acknowledged to  be one of the superior sixth-form productions of all time. The cast list (with apologies for any miss-identifications and misspellings) includes several well-known Mexborough names of that era, as does the  review (printed below), which was written by two sixth-form students and was featured in the 1953 school magazine. The picture was kindly provided by Nina Elliott, herself a member of the cast.
Back row: Philip Goddard, Eric Senior, Trevor Skirrow, Reg Squires, Raymond Taylor, Robert Leach, Aubrey Venables, ?
Middle row: June Mellor, Janet Sharman, Brian Beaumont, Miss Ginn, Eldon Burley, Margaret Kennedy,  John Turner, Bill Bailey, Ernest Forbes.
Sitting: Joan Darley, Elizabeth Brockelsby, John Ward, Norman Farmer, Margaret Bamford, Cynthia Dawson, Mary Hobson.
Front, floor: Pat Toulson, Nina Elliott.
 

OUR Town This year under the able leadership of Miss Ginn, the school dramatic Society presented the original and true-to-life play “Our Town”, by the American playwright, Thornton Wilder.
This play is an unusual attempt to portray everyday life in a small American town at the beginning of the century.
Through the medium of the Stage Manager, we pursue the eternal themes of birth, marriage and death.
The wholes plot centers round the love-story of Emily Webb and George Gibbs.
Thornton Wilder places before our eyes, simply yet effectively, his philosophic views on life and death.
Brian Beaumont gave a truly magnificent and mature performance as the omniscient Stage manager.
It was due to his skilful efforts that the whole play ran smoothly and harmoniously.
A bouquet should certainly be handed to Nina Elliott for her sympathetic and sincere rendering of the difficult role of Emily Webb.
From being an impetuous and ambitious teenager until her death, she convincingly moved through the stages of a woman’s life.
No-one will ever forget her pathetic return to earth, in the last act, and her disillusionment shown in the poignant 
speech, which reduced many of the audience to tears.
Philip Goddard as a gangling adolescent and later as Emily’s husband, combined naturalness and sophistication to portray effectively, throughout the play, the life of George Gibbs, with it’s moments of great happiness and intense grief.
Elizabeth Brockelsby and Margaret Bamford gave charming and realistic renderings of the characters of next-door neighbours, the mothers of George and Emily.
John Ward, as Doctor Gibbs, and Norman Farmer as the editor of the local newspaper, deserve mention for their splendid portrayal of two typical inhabitants of a small town.
Other performances which were well done were those of Aubrey Venables as the absent-minded, long-winded professor; Eldon Burley as the tipsy choirmaster, with a tough of pathos in his drunkenness; and that of Janet Sharman, as a typical town gossip.
The parts of younger members of the two families were capably played by Joan Darley and John Turner.
 
 A startling innovation, in the form of questions from the audience itself, proved a most effective medium of presenting  information about Grovers
Corners and its inhabitants.
The questions were asked by June  Mellor, Margaret Kennedy, and Robert Leach.
Other parts were well taken by Peter Eldridge, Ernest Forbes, Reginald Squires, Eric Senior, Trevor Skirrow, Raymond Taylor, Cynthia Dawson, Mary Hobson and Pat Toulson.
Miss Ginn was the producer, and it is owing to her unflagging interest and hard work that the play was such a success.
We all appreciated the assistance of Mr. Burleigh, who among other things helped us considerably with the American accent.
The unusual and attractive set was designed and painted by Miss Turner, and built by Mr. Leach and Mr. Myers.
Our thanks go also to Mr Siddall, Mr Hill, and Mr Howard for their hard work as stage managers; to Mr Staniforth, Foy and Bort for the splendid lighting effects; to MissMartin and Miss Flinders as wardrobe mistresses; to the business manager, Mrs Lewis; and to Mrs Roberts, Mrs Bayes, Miss Paley and Mr Watkinson for their valuable help in making up the cast.
This play, thanks to Miss Ginn, the cast, and all other helpers, was one of the best productions the School has given.

 
M. R. A. and M. K. (VI.Alpha)

 

   
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