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
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
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”
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
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,
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.
plot centers round the love-story of Emily Webb and George
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
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.
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
The parts of younger members of the two
families were capably played by Joan Darley and John Turner.
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
M. R. A. and M. K. (VI.Alpha)