Keele drama: dramatic decades

keele-chapel-8 "Lovely to be back on campus for a few days at the Sing for Pleasure summer school. What a delight to sing the Mozart Requiem in the Chapel where I directed Murder in the Cathedral and Macbeth in the early 1970s. In true Keele fashion, the sun shone brightly on a couple of days but it was also the wettest place in the entire country on another."

Nick Baggott (1974)

keele-chapel-9 "Murder in the Cathedral was performed in the Chapel to mark its opening in December 1965. George Duncan was Becket. I think The Maids (around 1963) was directed by Ian Barr. There was a production of Twelfth Night at about that time."

Phil Gay

"I am not sure of the year - possibly 1974 - when Steve Tingle (1976) got stabbed in the leg in a mishap during the performance of either the Scottish play or Murder in the Cathedral. I didn't really know Steve very well but his name has stayed firmly in my mind for the last 40 years!"

Moira Houghton (1976)

"Ah, sacrifice for art!"

Nick Baggott (1974)

Photos above: Rehearsal for Murder in the Cathedral

"I remember the 1971 Production in the Chapel. I was the first tempter and had to hide in the pulpit before the audience began to arrive, and then rise menacingly to speak my first lines."

Ian McDonald (1972)

baggott-drama-review "I produced both Murder in the Cathedral (1971) and Macbeth (1973) in the Chapel. The former was very appropriately situated, you might think; the latter was not but the pulpit made a superb witches' cauldron with the witches lit from below. I have vivid memories of the huge screen rising just prior to the murder The most vivid memories of Macbeth are of the final performance when Steve Tingle, playing the first murderer, managed to get his knife stuck in his cloak and then into his leg while trying to murder Banquo. He finished the scene and came off the stage to be met by the stage manager offering stage blood ready for his "there's blood upon thy face" scene with Macbeth. It's ok, said Steve, I've got some of my own and transferred the blood from his thigh to his face! After that he had to go off to hospital for treatment and it was left to me as the director to rush off to the drama hut to cobble together a costume and get back to play a lowly messenger. The entire cast gathered in great eagerness to watch me being enthusiastically kicked down the stairs by Macbeth. I met up with Roland Goodbody a couple of months ago when he was over from the States and he told me how terrified he had been to step up onto the balcony parapet in the Chapel in the scene where the eight future kings appear. Being back in the Chapel brought it home to me just how high that parapet is and what an unreasonable demand I'd put on the cast. Wouldn't dream of doing it now."

Nick Baggott (1974)

"I still remember the sixth-form girls getting excited at the Macbeth production."

David Frost (1974)

"I don't remember the sixth form girls at all. Probably had my attention elsewhere!"

Nick Baggott (1974)

"Don't remember sixth form boys there either! Didn't we have an American witch?"

Sue Harding Smith (1975)

"The American witch was Connie Moffatt (1974), all the way from Meadville, Pennsylvania. She also directed a production of Anouilh's Antigone in the Student Union; bringing to bear some of the improv work they did at Swarthmore, where she was an undergraduate. By the way, I'm still terrified of heights, perhaps even more so now. Then there was the similar nightly terror of Chris Bates (1975) possibly stabbing me in the stomach with a knife when I'd fallen in the swordfight as Young Siward. No fake weapons back then."

Roland Goodbody (1975)

"I produced Murder in the Cathedral in the Chapel as part of the inauguration celebrations. It was intended to use the Chapel's three hydraulic screens during the production (to 'show them off') but during the day prior to the first performance, the large main screen failed and came down unexpectedly - crushing a large oil drum which happened to be beneath it at one side (and this lessened the damage to the screen). It was then deemed far too risky to incorporate them in the performance!"

Ray Johnson (1968)

"I hope that in the archives you have photos of the production of Murder in the Cathedral, performed during my first term at Keele in 1965 as part of the inauguration of the brand new Chapel. Somewhere I have one photo. It was directed by Ray Johnson (1968) who went on to do more directing. I was lucky enough to have a part as one of the women in the chorus, it was a fantastic introduction to student life at Keele when the drama society was renowned. I remember the under-floor heating as we did it in bare feet!"

Andy Edgecombe (1969)

"I was stage manager for many productiions from 1979 to 1983 and also Society Stage Manager and Secretary. 1979 saw Brian Rawlins set up a reformed Drama Society and he went on to directing and producing for many years after."

Steve Barks (1983)

Brian Rawlins received the Lifetime Contribution Award from Keele Drama Society in 2017. He almost single-handedly rescued Drama at Keele from passivity in 1979 when he reformed the Keele University Drama Society (KUDS) and led it until about 2002.

Due to its radical and innovative approaches to education, Keele was known for a while as the Kremlin on the Hill - and it was no stranger to international scandal.

"In 1959 or 1960 two women from the USSR came to Keele for a brief visit of a few days or a week. One was called Nina and I had my photo taken with her by a tree near Fresher's Gate. I do remember an evening of tense but relatively animated discussion with a group of students and both of them in a room in Sneyd House. Do the Keele annuls have any records of who they were and why they came? I think they must have been educators but have forgotten the details."

Jenny Waterman (1963)

"I remember the visit of the two Russian students. I invited them to coffee in my room at Sneyd House and for some reason showed them my collection of (art) postcards and gave them some. I did write a postcard to one of them afterwards but never got a reply. I naively referred to some Russian event in the news."

Roberta Buchanan (1960)

"I remember a visit by a group of Soviet students either in late 1959 or early 1960. They were there when hops still happened in the old Union building. On the Saturday evening there was a very lively hop with the rugger club well to the fore A certain degree of over-exuberance led the Soviet group's leader to describe what he was seeing as 'bourgeois entertainment' and saying he was leaving with all his people. There is then alleged to have been an "incident" when it is suggested a rugger lad taking a peaceful nap on the floor woke up, saw a ladies' ankle close at hand and, it is said, bit it. Outrage etc. Gossip rife, rumours of official protests. Oh, my goodness and shock horror! In 1960 the graduating class, as tradition demanded, had to present a Final Fling. The show had a variety of turns for the first half but in the second half we presented an operetta. It was a joint effort but the major talents involved were music by George Hurley, lyrics by Fred Vale (1960) and others, starring Tub Read as Eisenhower, Fred Vale as Macmillan, someone tall as de Gaulle and someone suited to be Khrushchev (sorry, memory leaks away), Jim Maxwell, Tulla Tallianos (1960), Maeve Richardson, the great Ticker Hayhurst (1960) and others were deeply involved. I was Sound and Effects man (in a pre-computer world!) The plot was simple: following the 'incident' at the hop, the Soviet government became very agitated and demanded the 'villain' be handed over for punishment. Full and frank discussions ensued and eventually, a Summit was arranged.

Sample songs include:

"Macmillan" (an urbane Fred Vale in very smart dress) sang to a pastiche skipping dance tune:

My name is Macmillan, some say I'm a villain,
But I'm misunderstood,
Just watch as I slum it,
Way up at the summit,
I've never had it so good.
Solo first, then chorus.

"De Gaulle", sung to a march tune with echoes of the Marseillaise:

My name is General de Gaulle,
I'm terribly, terribly tall;
As the man of the hour, I have risen to power,
I'm the greatest dictator of all.

"Khrushchev" had a vaguely Russian folk song feel to it and included:

My name is Nikita, I couldn't be sweeter
I smile at my friend and my foe,
I'm a hell of a chap at the back-slapping stab,
And I'm boss of the Politburo.

The great Tub Read (whom I backed on double bass around the Five towns for Rag fundraising (must have been mad - all that on and off buses with a double-bass) played "Eisenhower" and naturally had a rock/skiffley number that I think went:

My friends call me Ike, there's none I dislike...

He went on to explain that he was interested only in his golf handicap.

The plot thickens, relations become more and more strained and eventually war arrives and an appalling explosion, flashing lights and darkness in the Walter Moberly Hall. Then a small light and Fred takes over as narrator while up in the control box I'm struggling to get the sound back from a stunned sound system and bring the lights back without blowing the fuses (which had happened in rehearsal). The explosion was created from several sources and laid down on standard tape on a Grundig recorder the size of a small suitcase. I still have the tape and some of my cue notes. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely; the audiences liked the show, which ran for two showings, enough for full houses and most of the Keele population. The one thing we didn't do was to record the show. Nor have I any photos. If anyone has a recording or photos or an original script, a poster, a cast list-anything-it would be wonderful to have a copy."

Brian 'Ned' Lusher (1960)

"Ned Lusher’s recollection of the visit by Russian students in 1959-60 and the incident with the rugby club led by John Arrowsmith (1960) – the biter on the floor - at the Students Union Hop is absolutely correct. His memory of the 1960 Finalists Review based on the incident is also pretty good – but there are one or two corrections viz – Hugh Oliver (1960) (famed for his Swiftian satire Hoblyn’s Tour of Leek in Cygnet) contributed both to the idea and the lyrics, and I was too busy being the Narrator to play any other role. For those with an antiquarian bent the cast was as follows:

Narrator – Fred Vale; David Lloyd – himself; Malcolm Muggeridge - Fred Elson; General de Gaulle – Martyn Brookes; Eisenhower - Tub Reed; Macmillan – Peter Smith; Khrushchev- Mike Smith; Army Chief - Frank Aldred; 1st Sea Lord – Ted Lambton; Air Marshal – George Hurdley
Chorus (men): Russians – Mike Smith; Fred Elson; Malcolm Kier; Martyn Brookes; Peter Smith; Welsh – Jim Maxton; John Arrowsmith; Frank Aldred; English – Ken Plampin; Cliff Blakemore; Tub Reed; David Lloyd; Ted Lambton
Chorus (women): Jocelyn Tully; Pauline Taylor; Joyce Parks; Tulla Tallianos; Janet Armstrong; Margaret Brown; Elaine Stacey

The world’s last surviving copy of the script (with hand written stage notes by me) is in my possession. It is typed on old very long MS paper (not A4)."

Brian (Fred) Vale (1960)

"Oh, Ned - what a wonderful remembering: I love those ditties! I can't say I myself recall this particular moment in the old Nissen hut Union, though I do remember that old Union and the bar there. According to the records in the Keele Library Special Collections, the Russian visitors are mentioned in the UCNS Principal's Report for 1959-1960. It mentions two groups of Soviet visitors that academic year. Your lively telling must relate to the group of 13 from Sverdlovsk in March; I met the two women who came in May."

Jenny Waterman (1963)

"This must have been end of 1959 or beginning 1960. I definitely would have remembered it as we know all the names. Would have loved to have been present. Fantastic!"

Dot Bell (Pitman) (1959)

"Congratulations to Ned on his powers of recall and to Fred for preserving material not to mention being able to find it. One further ramification not yet mentioned was a testy Union meeting where efforts were made to ban the Rugby Club's post-match celebrations from Union premises so future guests would not be insulted!"

Tony Powell (1959)

"Since Jenny's memory is from 1959/1960, it's not the visit of Russian guests that I remember from 1952/1953. I think they were students? They answered questions in the Students' Union, one of which were what they thought might happen after Stalin's death. As I remember, they weren't able to countenance such an eventuality. Does anyone else remember this? And how was it that they were able to come?"

Anna Swiatecka (1954)

"I remember a Soviet visit during our time at Keele and I also recall that the issue of Stalin's death was front and central. As Stalin died on 5 May 1953 maybe the visit was either at or close to that time."

David Jeakins (1954)

And again, in 1956:

"It would be the summer of 1956 when I returned to Keele before term began for an amorous assignation with a Keele employee in the Geology Department. I spent an evening with an exuberant and voluble student from Kiev who had the most over the top Oxford accent. We played what looking back was a boisterous game of snooker fuelled no doubt by alcohol. I have no idea why he was at Keele at the height of the Cold War."

Derek Evans (1957)

"I remember making a costume in 1960 which Susan Fairchild wore in The Country Wife. Rollo Wicksteed was in it too, I remember."

Lorrie Fletcher (lane) (1961)

"The Country Wife was directed by Susan Pearson (Locke) in 1960, Joan Squire (Bright) was the costume designer for Much Ado about Nothing in 1969."

Joan Squire (1962)

"I recall being very heavily involved in reworking mounds and mounds of redundant orange, green and brown ex-Horwood and Lindsay curtains into costumes for the play The Caucasian Chalk Circle! So much so that I blame all this extra-curricular seamstress activity in my final year with my less than glorious grades! Perhaps, I ought to have graduated in Adaptive Textile Design, recalling some of the momentous fancy dresses we dreamt up and produced in the four years we were at Keele - bespoke yet complimentary togas, jungle creatures, Robin Hood…"

Fiona Whitelaw (1985)

"Tony Field (1958) was the highly talented student who was musical director of HMS Pinafore (1955) and The Pirates of Penzance (1956) with Bernie Gibbons."

Brian Vale (1960)

"I conducted HMS Pinafore in 1955-56, both at Keele and in Newcastle Town Hall. John Periton (1958) was the Producer and he also played Sir Joseph Porter KCB in the Newcastle production, following Keith Clement (1956) who played that part at Keele. Bernard Lloyd (Gibbons) (1958) played Captain Corcoran in both productions. In the previous year, I conducted Trial by Jury which was the first G & S production at Keele. The Pirates of Penzance was conducted by Tony Field in 1957, I believe with Bernard Lloyd again in the lead, presumably as the Pirate King."

John Groom (1956)

Trial by Jury was the first G&S we performed. It was ‘staged’ in the then refectory. Peter Young and I built the set with the fronts of the jury benches and the public benches constructed using heavy paper stretched over wooden frames. All went well until an excited juryman put his foot through this fragile construction."

John Smith (1957).