My First Play

published: Thu, 17-Aug-2006   |   updated: Sat, 6-Aug-2016

I was ferreting around in the basement this morning looking for something completely different, when I came across the programme and a photo of the cast of the very first play I was in. Oh, man! This one takes me back. Waaaay back. It was just before my seventeenth birthday, I was in the Lower Sixth at Ernest Bailey Grammar School in Matlock (that's in Derbyshire, England, for my non-UK readers, and for my American readers it's pronounced "darby-shih"), and I had a part in The Diary of Anne Frank. So, be warned: it's more of a personal post this time, and likely to only be of interest to my fellow schoolmates who were in it.

For grins, I scanned the programme and the photo. Some of the names, I'm sorry to say, are now unfamiliar to me, but I can certainly name the people in the photo. Seated at the table are Janet Teague and Paul Wain. The rest from left to right are, Judith Fearn, yours truly staring fiercely (and I want all my teenage girl readers to stop cooing right now), Karen Smith, Helen Roe, Robert Stearn, David Bramley, Jane Stanley, and Keith Gregory.

Cast of The Diary of Anne Frank
Cast of The Diary of Anne Frank

The set looks to me to be unfinished in the photo. There were several levels to represent different rooms, such as bedrooms, and the main acting area, the living room, was downstage front. I just love the picture of Winston Churchill as set dressing, and, even better, the grossly fake moustaches Robert and I had to wear, and the fact that we guys all seemed to have not bothered changing our long 70s hairstyles. I'm surprised none of the costumes had bell-bottoms.

Essentially the cast were on stage the whole time, in the attic above this warehouse, so when we weren't in the main action we'd be in our bedrooms, pretending to sew or read or some other acting thing. In the night scenes, we'd be in bed. Judith and I, playing man and wife, had our own bedroom, and I well remember her telling me during one of the performances as we lay in bed "asleep" that her boyfriend of the time didn't take kindly to me being in bed with her. Didn't bother me, Judith had a grown-up allure I found attractive and I was fine lying there with her. I do remember the backstage crew making apple-pie beds for the last performance, the bastards <g>.

Although the programme has a specific date on it, they must have printed a set of programmes per day (I think the programmes were also the tickets - the B14 on the front page is the seat number) since we did at least three performances, the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I'm guessing Mum and Dad came opening night.

First page of the programme
Second page of the programme
Third page of the programme
Last page of the programme

On the back page of the programme, the teachers were formally named (Mr. This, Miss That, and so on) whereas the pupils had their full names printed. I'm very sorry to say that the only teacher's name I can recall is Mr. Gregson's since he was my Physics teacher (how apt that he was doing lighting!). Mr. Curry rings a bell, but I can't for the life of me remember his subject.

It also makes me smile that there was a prompter, in fact two of them. Although the plays I acted in in England had prompters, there hasn't been one in all the shows I've done for the entire time I've been here in the States. Anyway, I do seem to remember that I had a crush on both Jessica Towndrow and Susan Knowles at the time (but didn't do anything about it, the shy, awkward, scaredy cat that I was), so perhaps I pretended to forget a line so that I could hear their voices. Ah, life as a teenager in the 70s.

The only other name I recognize is Stephen Hetherington, since he was one of my schoolfriends. He was always a good laugh, very intelligent, and played the piano like you wouldn't believe.

I no longer have the review of the show (or at least it wasn't with the programme) that appeared in the local paper, the Matlock Mercury. I remember being mentioned as "the boorish Mr. Van Damm". Their online archives only go back to 1997, so I'll have to see if I can't go there this September when we're in England for a visit and browse through their fiches to get a copy.

I must admit I enjoyed this first experience as an actor, very much. I have only good memories of it, although I can't recall many details. I do remember us moving in to the Town Hall and the building of the set and, vaguely, the performances. I even remember the changing room where we also got made up: it was stage right at the back. It must have been good fun, since I did it again the next year (Playboy of the Western World this time; to be honest, a pretty bad production, and I never saved any programmes for it).

If you were part of this production, or even at Ernest Bailey when I was, do email me. Maybe you remember things about this production that I don't. I'd love to chat over old times, and I can certainly send you high-resolution scans of the program and photo.