House Entertainments 1944
It was a Harrow County tradition, for many years, for the four school Houses to put on a show before Christmas. Here is the report, from The Gaytonian, of the House Entertainments for 1944.
A summary of what goes on in the school "during the hours of daylight" - that was Northwick's intention, and one carried out very well.
Two Old Boys (K. Groves and J. Arthur) returned to the School to see how it compared with the school of their days. They saw the usual characters found in the school, who never change much, Staff or boys. Standing in the entrance hall these Old Boys saw a continual stream of people pass before them, and were introduced to each in turn. Perhaps this may make some hastily revise their technique in greeting Old Boys!
That excellent body of people, the prefects (I speak entirely without prejudice, of course!) naturally did not escape Northwick's notice. Wearing outsize ties and frowns, they inspired terror into the poor, sweet, innocents of the Lower School, who seemed to have suggestions as to how the prefects time was spent!
One character must be congratulated. The caretaker (H. Metcalfe) and his "hottest radiator in the school" became a symbol of the whole show. Other characters cannot all be praised individually, but it was evident that they had studied their counterparts in real life very closely.
An aspect of stage technique studied by Northwick is worthy of note. They were the only House to dispense with curtain "breaks"; instead we "listened in" to the class-rooms. The old trick of confused conversations from different sources was well done, and a novelty introduced in the singing lesson, during which "Silent Night" was ably rendered by the juniors of the House, with Kendell at the piano.
In general, what made the entertainment a success was the vein of truth, asmittedly burlesqued, admittedly exaggerated, but nevertheless there, that ran throughout the show.
Criticisms? Well, I think we'll leave them alone. we get enough in an ordinary "day in the life of the school." Let us take Northwick's as it stands.
W. T. H. S.
Pip-pip-pip-pip-pip-pip, and up goes the curtain on Alva Lidell reading the news. Ha! ha! Ha! Jolly original idea! Jolly funny! Up goes the curtain again on two men playing darts in a shelter. One of them misses the board. Ha! ha! ha! Enter a fire-watcher to sign his name in the book. Ha! ha! ha! Very topical.
But something is wrong! Oh, I see, Kenton is doing something serious. Back to tradition, eh? We had better not laugh, then, but try to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.
And serious it is. German bombers are overhead and in a shelter seven men from various walks of life take cover. An article on unemployment in the paper gives cause for an argument, in the course of which three of them support the Socialist viewpoint, while three of the rest show themselves staunch supporters of the Conservative Party. Look at them going at each other hammer and tongs! In this way affairs have reached a climax, when the elderly gentleman (a famous scientist), who has up till now been silent, pours oil on the troubled waters and shows the two sides, in a masterly summing-up of their arguments, how they can work together instead of quarrelling. The Colonel, however (who is one of the Conservatives) refuses to be calmed and stalks indignantly out of the shelter. A minute later a bomb falls and all in the shelter are killed.
Kenton's show, with its political moral, appeals mostly to the intellectual élite. The others, like me, who do not like their entertainment to be so intellectual, have to tolerate the discussion as best they can and look for the enjoyment in the acting (which was really very good). The still less mature derive their pleasure from the effects, from the pips at the beginning to the bomb at the end.
"Who murdered Sir Cedric Hardwicke?" That was the question repeatedly asked by the narrator of the concert, the Man in Black (played by Tony Rees). The show was a farce based on the Radio series, "Appointment with Fear." Sir Cedric, a high Government official, was murdered (knifed) by the bewhiskered villain, admirably played by Harold Orchard. Then entered the dashing young Lord Marmaduke (Edwards), complete with monocle, who, with the aid of the First Butler (Tony Rees), phoned for Sexton Holmes, who arrived immediately after the receiver was put down!
In several farcical scenes, the murderer, who was the Second Butler, was tracked down and finally captured after a realistic fight between him and Holmes. Two more characters deserve honourable mention. First, the lovable old aunt (Jackson), worrting more about "her best carpet" than about the murder; second, especially in a remarkable love scene which was the funniest in the whole show, Lord Marmaduke's cousin, wife or fiancée - (I couldn't discover which). She was well played by "Miss Pockett," who held the audience in raptures until "she" spoke, when a lovely bass voice broke the illusion!
The dead man (Hornby) kept remarkably still throughout the show until the fine ending, when the fight "woke" the dead man. During the play the inevitable reporter came on the scene and looked as if he had stepped out of a local newspaper office. Most of the show was good, well acted and produced, although in some parts the dialogue dragged a little.
Do you like to see a good variety show; do you pay fabulous sums to see a top-notch pantomime; or book tickets weeks in advance to see Shakespeare? If you are one of these people, why bother to visit the Metropolis? See Preston's House Concert and see variety, pantomime and Shakespeare for the price of one - one shilling. But alas! Preston's House Concert is over! What a mistake! Why didn't we see it twice? All good things must come to an end sometime, only to be seen again in one bright corner of someone's memory.
Well done, Preston - a truly magnificent effort! Perhaps liberties were taken with Shakespeare, but who cares? I'm sure he doesn't.
Let us then look back, not 2,000 years, but a mere 40 days, and visit the streets of Rome as portrayed by Preston. In a market place in Rome (the scenery of which proves Rome wasn't built in a day) Romans are bartering their stamps and cigarette cards, when who should appear but the town crier: an opportune moment indeed to see the local Council at work. But, hark! important news. Rome has won a great victory, a victory by three goals to two against Pompeii - fat cheers, and what can they do but burst forth into song?
The scene changes: all is not good in Rome - a conspiracy is planned: a plot to kill Caesar. Oh! dastardly act. Why, wasn't he a Prefect?
Back to Caesar's Court again: we see Caesar in one of his more intimate moments, counting his wives as a miser counts his gold. His Court is entertained by ballet such as no King could hope to see, and by opera as good as any recording of Rigoletto. What perfect voices the Sixth Form must have, and all for the price of 9s. 7½d. The Court dances - a flirtation waltz is called for - te lights dim and in the darkness Caesar is murdered. Oh, foul deed! Why, wasn't he a schoolmaster?
To hell with these villains, where we see Crepitus and the Devil sitting in judgement. A fitting end to Caesar, you say. Yes, and also to Preston's House Concert.
The opera was perhaps the high-light of the performance, and would be hard to beat. Donaldson and Rees must be congratulated on a really-first class production, and also on their handling of the cast of more than 50.
Source: Gaytonian, February 1945