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School Musicals

School Musicals
School Musicals

Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls has a strong tradition of both music and drama productions.  A school production of “The Firstborn” by Christopher Fry is reported in the 1957 school magazine.  There were three performances to audiences of parents, staff and members of the school.  Whilst a Literary Society had been formed in the spring term of 1904, whose meetings often included play readings, this report is the first of a formal performance.

The first musical production reported in the school magazine is “Asses’ Ears” by Hugo Cole in July 1961 by the Junior School with help from Year 7.  At the time, the author’s daughters were both pupils at the school and his wife, Gwyneth, was a former pupil.  He attended both performances.

Ten years later a second production of “Asses’ Ears” performed by Years 5 and 6 took place.  By now the Great Hall at Acton had been transformed with a new stage at the eastern end with curtains, wings and lighting bars that replaced the open platform which had graced the western end of the hall since the opening of the school building in 1901.  Indeed, this production in the spring of 1971 was most probably the first one to take full advantage of this new facility.

One of the last productions to grace this stage at Acton in the spring of 1973 was again a musical.  This time “Noye’s Fludde” by Benjamin Britten in which Eric Garrett and his wife sang the parts of Noye and Mrs Noye.  Jean Garrett was a professional soprano and member of the school’s Music Department on and off from the 1950’s.  A second production of “Noye’s Fludde” took place at Elstree in March 1995 which was the first farewell to Mrs Ruth Winter, Head of Junior School Music for 17 years until the summer of 1995.

Another musical production of note was “Guys and Dolls” in December 1990 as part of the Tercentenary Celebrations.  It was the first genuinely joint production of a musical by the two Elstree schools and ran for five nights to packed and enthusiastic houses in the Boys’ School Hall.

In November 2012 the Senior School production was “Little Shop of Horrors.”  There were 4 performances including one on Tuesday morning which was attended by local primary school children as part of the school’s outreach programme.  The show was double cast as it uses a small number of actors and the performances are vocally demanding.  This was a good plan in theory but unfortunately one of the (human) Audrey’s was struck down by glandular fever during the rehearsal run and so Mei Bignall had to play all performances.

Except for the flats which were repurposed from a previous Middle School production of ‘Momo’ earlier in the year, the set was hired as a kit from the Really Useful Theatre Company complete with several small dental instruments and 4 versions of Audrey II representing each stage of her growth.

As the plant grows a puppeteer is needed.  For version 2 the puppeteer is positioned under the shop counter and this role was undertaken by Maddie Higson.

However, versions 3 and 4 require the puppeteer to be inside the plant and this is how Mr Simon Turner became a carnivorous plant!  Unfortunately, Audrey II version 3 proved to be a very tight fit for someone as tall as Simon.  It also needed some intricate choreography at the interval where several members of the stage crew were needed to extract him from the plant out of sight of the audience who were just a few feet away exiting the Prevett Hall for refreshments in the dining room.

A lot was required of the stage crew during the interval including the setting up of multiple telephones needed for the first number of Act 2 “Call back in the morning” which were all connected to a switchboard just off stage and had to be rung in order so that the actors could pick up the right phone at the right time.  The phones were not sound effects offstage but each one actually rang.

The interval was also the time when the 4th and final version of Audrey II was deployed complete with two independently operated tentacles.  Those familiar with “Little Shop of Horrors” will recall that Act 2 is when Audrey II’s blood lust takes hold meaning that several members of the cast had to be “eaten” by the puppet requiring further careful choreography to enable Mr Turner to get out of the way as the cast member entered the jaws and exited the rear of the puppet.

It was also challenging as Audrey II was voiced by someone off stage meaning that Mr Turner had to synchronise his movements of the jaw to the words being spoken and sung by someone he could not see.

We can't wait until we are all able to gather together and enjoy the next magical performance by our students and the Drama department!

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