Austell Players in the Sixties
A personal reminiscence by Ray Lincoln
joined St. Austell Players 1958 when the company was still performing at Roche
Victory Hall. The play was Agatha Christie's Spider's Web, in which Freddie
Rowe was the murderer and I was the victim!
I am proud to have taken a leading part (Monsieur Orgon) in the very first play to be performed in the present Arts Theatre, Molière's Tartuffe in October, 1961. During the years which followed the opening of the theatre I was involved in many of the wide variety of plays performed there, particularly memorable being The Taming of the Shrew, The Diary of Anne Frank, J.B. Priestley's When We Are Married, and the Players' first version of Hedda Gabler.
Memorable for a different reason was The Rape of the Belt, for which (I forget why) the set was still being built during dress rehearsal, which consequently dragged on into the small hours! Other incidents, fun to look back on though nail-biting at the time, include a thriller in which the corpse, murdered just before the Act I curtain, had to be discovered lying behind the sofa by the actors who began Act II and hidden by them behind a secret panel, to fall out later to great dramatic effect. Unfortunately, on the second night the then stage manager took the curtain up before the corpse was in position. The real horror of the actors who found no corpse was much more convincing than their feigned horror on the nights when he was there!
Then there was The Importance of Being Earnest, when on the final night the set threatened to collapse, and the stage manager and each actor waiting to go on or coming off spent the last act holding the flats in position. Incidentally, that production contained a wonderful lesson in how to steal a scene without uttering a word by Ron Betts and Freddy Farnham-Flower as butler and footman in the tea-party scene.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to direct three plays in the new theatre: the company's second version of Twelfth Night, in which Freddie Rowe repeated his splendidly funny Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, and what was, as far as I know, the first performance in Cornwall of any Alan Ayckbourn comedy - Relatively Speaking.
In 1968 the St. Austell Society of Arts, of which the Players were a constituent, celebrated its Silver Jubilee, and as the Players' contribution to the special events they performed an entirely new and original translation of Beaumarchais' comedy The Barber of Seville, on which Rossini's opera is based. I was doubly involved in this, as I made the translation and also played the evil and lecherous Dr. Bartholo.
Looking through the old programmes one is reminded of so many of the old stalwarts of the Players who are sadly no longer with us, or have moved up-country or abroad. In no particular order one could mention Grace and Leslie Lang, Gwilym Humphreys, Dorothy and Doc Watkins, Margaret Barron, Kay Kerswell, Liz Vivyan, Ann Barker, Win Morris, Mary Bowey, the three Brians: Brian Lean, Brian Riddle and Brian Clayton, Arthur Kendall, and of course Geoff Davis and Laurence Strike and Laurence's brother Ted, and so many more who will be remembered with affection by those members no longer young who are happily still taking part, or if not still performing, yet support the Players as loyal members of the audience. I thank them all, no less than the current members, for so many happy memories and for their never-failing friendship.