KES ARCHIVE
The Boarding School
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1914-1945

 

Douglas Price recalls drama at KES in the 1930s

'A Comedy of Errors' performed in Big School, 1933 The cast of 'A Comedy of Errors', 1933

During the early 'thirties annual productions were staged in Big School; in 1931 the scenes from "As You Like It"; in 1932 the "clown" scenes from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and in 1933, more ambitiously, the full play of "A Comedy of Errors". After appearing as a humble forester in the first of these productions, I played Starveling in the "Dream" scenes, and Dromio of Ephesus (with R A Warburton as my twin Dromio of Syracuse) in "A Comedy of Errors".

Accounts and cast lists of these productions were given in The Stratfordian [the school magazine] at the time. I see from these that the writer of the "Dream" review commented on the realism of my portrayal of senility as Starveling: alas that, sixty years later, no one now comments on my appearance of youthfulness!

The "Comedy of Errors" production was memorable as being the first occasion on which mains electricity was available for stage lighting in Big School. Previously the stage had been lit by three gas jets along the beam above it, supplemented, if I remember rightly, by some battery-run car headlights ingeniously adapted by Mr Dyson.

In 1932-33 a group from KES, including myself, also used regularly to participate as "supers" in the Festival Seasons at the then new memorial theatre. I believe that the then Director, W Bridges-Adams, asked Cecil Knight, the headmaster, if the school could supply some supplementary fairies for his 1932 production of "The Dream"; but Knight misunderstood, and sent along a bevy of sixth-formers. Not unnaturally these were not deemed to be adequately fairy-like; but Bridges-Adams was a kindly man, and, rather than disappoint them, he offered to take them on as supers (paying them three shillings and sixpence a performance!) in "King Henry IV Part I" and "Julius Caesar".

This was an exciting experience for us teenagers, and I recall it as marvellously enjoyable. A particular thrill was in appearing in "Henry IV" on the evening of the day on which the new theatre opened, on Shakespeare's Birthday. In the varied roles of soldier, patron of Mistress Quickly's tavern, citizen of London, etc. I remember that one seemed to be on stage throughout the performance. The wonders of the new theatre stage machinery with its rolling and rising (and sometimes rocking!) stages, which Bridges-Adams exploited to the full, added to the thrill. But the most educational part of the experience came from watching at close quarters through the season the acting techniques of the star performers like Randle Ayrton, Wilfred Walter, Gyles Isham, George Hayes and Roy Byford (surely one of the best Falstaffs ever).

In 1933 we returned to the theatre to appear on Tyrone Guthrie's production of "Richard II'. In this I for a while had the honour to beat a drum before the deceased king's corpse - but sadly I was demoted from this distinctive role (on the ground that my sense of rhythm was defective!) into the meaner one of helping to carry the bier. A bitter blow to my teenage self-esteem!

Whether a KES contingent continued to act as supers in subsequent years I do not know. After the 1933 season I left Stratford for Oxford.

I look back to these activities with some affectionate nostalgia, for they served to instil into me a degree of self-confidence in which until then I think I had been sadly lacking. Like most young men who have ever been on a stage (and especially Stratfordians) I began to develop dreams of a brilliant acting career: but instead I became the next best thing, a lecturer, for which a little dramatic experience, however humble, has often provided useful!

 

Douglas Price, pupil during the 1930s,
writing in 1992

 

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