When you reflect on your school days do you think about all those things you did outside the classroom? Often they are the most important memories you have. I know that for many people music and sport are the great joys they can look back on with pleasure, as much for the friendships made as for the results achieved. But I want to remind you of another area of school life which has given to some an enormous wealth of satisfaction and enjoyment. Drama productions.
In 1969 the English master Hardcastle staged a production of the play The Long, the Tall and the Short. It was so well received that when the master left, the school wanted to appoint someone willing to produce more plays – and that’s how I came to Woodbridge! My first effort was Becket, which broke one of the unwritten rules of single-sex school drama: I brought in girls to play the female roles. There was some unease but it worked well, and after that the problem was solved. Not only was Roger Finbow one of the cast but his sister was as well!
In quick succession I went on to stage Billy Budd, A Man for all Seasons, A Woman Killed with Kindness, Heil Caesar, The Public Prosecutor, The Field of Golgotha and after an interval, Hobson’s Choice and The Sutton Hoo Show. These productions involved hundreds of pupils and many staff who helped in so many ways. For all of us it was a great way to share in a project. Being in a play is a team activity and the memories are of people not just costumes! I recently came across a programme signed by all the cast and crew and it was able to provoke sheer delight!
Tim Nightingale came to Woodbridge from the RSC so his talents were soon employed to tremendous effect. I remember his Macbeth lit by candlelight (this was before H&S took over) and a stunning Three Sisters which was brilliantly performed by a dedicated cast. The Importance of being Earnest suited his gifts perfectly, but it was with Nuts in May that we realised Tim was a talented composer too.
Throughout my time there were staff who were prepared to cope with the limitations of the old school stage. The Seckford Theatre was not even a dream for them! Mike James did The Happiest Days of your Life, and Pauline Moore added The Winslow Boy, Twelfth Night and the Mikado among others.
That brings me to Graeme Hall, Director of Music who brought G&S to the school and musically put it on the map. It is no exaggeration to say that the comic operas inspired the powers-that-be to give music the facilities and recognition that we all enjoy today. Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and Ruddigore, performed by vast casts with full orchestral accompaniment were a revelation to audiences who could not get enough of it. Everything followed on from those evenings of magic.
Of course, the super Seckford Theatre has enabled us to build on earlier success and there have been some wonderful plays staged there. I think my strongest memories of a perfect theatrical experience were Michael Troughton’s Wind in the Willows by Alan Bennett and Dahl’s The Witches. Already, another generation of pupils is assured of vivid memories.
My point in writing this is to trigger memories in my readers. Perhaps you were able to step on to a stage for the first time, and discovered that you loved it, and that it did you a world of good. What about a drama aspect to the OW Dinner? Could you face a room of ex-actors reminiscing about their triumphs? Of course you could – you’d love every minute of it.
PS. Deeply sorry if I’ve missed out your play.