A Brief History of the Dramatic Society


THE Dramatic Society of the School now has a history of eleven years, during which it has evolved from small and tentative beginning, into the much more formidable organisation which it is today. At first it was a rather vague and loose association of very few interested masters; only in recent years has it become a Society in the true sense of the word.

Its founders, in 1944 were our present Headmaster, Dr. Whiteley, and Mr. Payton, who jointly produced the first three plays, "Henry IV, Part I", "Twelfth Night" and "Julius Caesar" thereby establishing the "Shakespearean tradition" which has been followed since for the annual Christmas production of the Society. At the same time, an attempt was made to interest boys in making their own productions, by the institution of one-act plays, put on by each of the four Houses of the School in the Easter term. These at times produced some interesting results, but on the whole were not considered very successful, and were discontinued after 1948.

Until 1948, all these various productions, including the fourth Shakespearean play, "Richard II", the first in which the writer of this article took a hand, were put on at the hall of the Girls' Grammar School, as in our old School premises there was no suitable hall for the presentation of a play. But for the next Shakespearean production, "The Tempest", in 1948, it was decided to use the Town Hall stage. This practice continued with "King Lear" (1949), "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1950) and "Henry V" (1951), until the School moved to its new premises and received, for the first time, its own hall fully equipped as a theatre. The Town Hall stage had many advantages, chiefly its size and its nearness to the School, and after 1948 the Society only seldom returned to its old theatre in the Girls' School.

Meanwhile, the number of masters interested in dramatic production increased rapidly year by year. Mr. Spencer, in 1947, first designed the scenery and has done so for moat productions ever since. In 1948 Mr. Hill, in 1949 Mr. Vennis, and in 1951 Mr. Ingram, swelled the ranks of the producers of Shakespearean plays; they also started a new series of non-Shakespearean productions for the Easter term:- two Greek plays, produced in both Creek and English by Mr. Vennis, "The Cyclops" of Euripides (1950) and "The Peace" of Aristophanes (1952); and two Moliere comedies produced in French by Mr. Hill and other French masters, "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" (1951) and "L'Avare" (1953). Lastly, in 1954, a new type of production was put on by Mr. Ingram, Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance".

To complete the Society's list of productions there only remain to be mentioned the last three Shakespearean plays produced since the School moved to its new site: "Macbeth" (1953), and "Henry IV, Part II" (1954), produced by Mr. Vennis, and "The Merchant of Venice" (1952) produced jointly by Mr. Moss and Mr. Vennis.

In 1951, owing to the large number of members of Staff interested in dramatic production, and the conflict of interests which this situation provoked, the need was felt for the constitution of a Dramatic Society existing in fact and not in name only, as previously. From then on, the Society met whenever necessary, to decide and discuss its future productions; it opened its own bank account; and it embarked on a new venture, that of providing to a large extent its own costumes instead of hiring them at great cost from theatrical costumiers. Mr. Payton accepted the office of wardrobe master, and a very special tribute of praise and gratitude is due to him for the zeal with which be has performed the task and the immense amount of hard work he has put into it. An imposing stock of costumes now stands, or rather hangs, as a lasting memorial to his work.

Another decision taken by the Society was to participate in the East Ham Drama Festival, which takes place early in every year. Since 1952 excerpts from the latest Shakespearean play, and other short productions, usually in the hands of Mr. Moss and Mr. Mason, haw been presented at the Festival.

Since the School moved to its new site with its present magnificent hall fully equipped as a theatre, a greater interest has been taken largely through the inspiration of Mr. Vennis, in the technical problems of stage properties and lighting. Mr. Graves became our first permanent stage manager, and was in due course succeeded by Mr. Canning, who has carried out some quite revolutionary improvements

As the Dramatic Society has expanded, it has called more and more on the services of several departments in the School, and assistance and technical advice has been generously given by Mr. Handley, in the construction of properties, by Mr, Orchard, in musical matters, by the Science Staff, and many others.

Today the Dramatic Society is a flourishing concern and has a number of extremely good productions to its credit. It is hoped that it will continue in the future to proceed from strength to strength as it fulfil, effectively, and not too obtrusively, its important cultural mission in the life of the School.