Father joined as a young man
I believe my father joined the Gilbert & Sullivan section, after serving in the Boys Brigade at Lewes Road, as a young man in the mid 30s and my mother came on board a few years later when they met, perhaps in the early 40s.
My adventures at the Lewes Road G&S Society began when I was 3 years old in 1949. We moved from Shaftesbury Road in the town centre, to the new estate called Hollingbury in 1949. To save finding a baby sitter every week, I was taken out in the dark of night to watch the rehearsals taking shape. I got involved in watching everything from learning the songs and scripts, to adding actions, and later the measuring up ready for ordering the hiring of costumes and wigs from London.
Mum was highly trained
Mum was a hairdresser by trade, so was able to assist with the tidying of wigs and hairdos in general. She was also trained as a make-up artis,t and was therefore a great help when it came to adding a youthful glow to a maiden’s face, or ageing line features to faces and hands. My memory of most of the regular people is clear as a bell. Being so young it was polite in those days to give a title to grown-ups but because we all knew each other well they all became auntie and uncle rather than Mr and Mrs.
Never an empty seat
As you can see in the background of these photos, there was a great amount of work that went into the scenery, especially when there were scene changes needed. It was only a small church hall but in the intervals tea was served and plates of ice creams were offered around the seated audience. There was never an empty seat in my memory. The show was popular with family, friends and all interested parties in Gilbert and Sullivan including other G & S societies locally.
The working week
The First Saturday would be dress rehearsal, Sunday free, then, Monday was the start of the show week. Monday usually went on with a few tiny mishaps but as the week got into its swing it became a magic all of its own. It ended on the Saturday and at the end of the show all the ‘Thank you’ gifts were presented on stage, producer, prompt, canteen staff, (of which I was one in my teen years together with Sybil Black and her mother known warmly to us all as Mum Constable).
Exchanging end of show presents
Costumes will have been packed away again and ready to be sent back up to London to the hire company. Then there were the private gifts. Most times the lead players would gift their partners with something appropriate to the show such as a small ornament representing something from the particular show. We had such ornaments on our mantle-piece for years. I still remember all the smells and the sounds of the theatre as though it were yesterday.
Work between shows
The show ran for a whole week somewhere in July. That was the end of the year so everyone could go and enjoy holiday breaks. Rehearsals would resume again in September starting with deciding which show to present, voting in and applying for the lead roles, and so on. I remember how the deciding went between shows known to be the most popular and whether to try out lesser known ones as The Sorcerer.
Fully trained soprano
My father was a chorus man but my mother was a fully trained soprano and took many lead roles over the years. Later as younger people joined, and her voice deepened more, mum then took on some of the contralto lead parts. Like Ruth in Pirates of Penzance, Katisha from the Mikado and Buttercup from HMS Pinafore.
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