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Martins Bank Society of the Arts – Drama Section in: Her Shop by Aimee and Philip Stewart

Staged: 28 to 30 November 1949 at the David Lewis Theatre Liverpool

“All are to be congratulated upon a most creditable production.” – Goodness, the critic writing in Martins Bank Magazine offers his or her general approval to “Her Shop”, which is chosen by Martins Bank Society of the Arts Drama Section as their winter production before a paying audience at Liverpool’s David Lewis Theatre. There is praise for the wardrobe, acting, set dressing, and a rebuke to the staff of the bank for the rather disappointing numbers who turned out to see the play. Evidently it was very much their loss – Martins Bank Magazine is always on the side of the various acting and singing groups in the Bank, and if it feels that one group has been let down by poor support, it is not afraid to have a really good go at those who stayed at home.

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By the 1960s, stage productions, amateur ones in particular are really struggling for audiences which now have to be shared with the “kitchen sink dramas” being put out on television most nights of the week. In 1949 however, TV has not yet widened its appeal enough to be to blame. Howell Jones is named once again for his acting, and also on this occasion his production of the play. He certainly seems to be one to watch. The play is light and funny, and it is interesting that the plot of the film “Carry on Cabby”, made in 1963 is quite similar in that a woman competes with her husband over who can run a successful business.

On the nights of November 28th, 29th and 30th, the Drama Section of Martins Bank Society of the Arts presented at the David Lewis Theatre in Liverpool “ Her Shop," by Aimee and Philip Stewart. It was light, witty, well-acted and superbly dressed. It was disappointing to the Section and disheartening to the players that the show was so poorly supported by the Staff. The play concerns the adventures of one Lady Mary Torrent who, having quarrelled with her husband Henry about her extravagance, buys a dress shop (with Henry's money) and enters into a bet with him that in six months she can earn more money than he. Lady Mary, blonde, flippant and engagingly inconsequent, was played by Barbara Griffith, (Liverpool Foreign).

 

William Brookes Leslie Howell Jones N Hubbard Nora Owen Hilary Parr Barbara Griffith

Yvonne Simmons Miss A J Smith Maureen Dempster B Isaacson and Kathleen Horsburgh

Henry was played by Howell Jones (Liverpool City Office) who was also co-producer of the show. Henry and Mary were an endearing pair, and always held the sympathy of their audience. As usual, Barbara Griffith's very presence on the stage inspired others with confidence. Her excellent memory for even the longest parts, such as this, never fails, and her co-actors can always rely on her. Howell Jones was certainly the most outstanding male on the stage, and he thoroughly enjoyed playing Henry. From his first entrance, a monocled vision in pearl-grey, the play really began to live, and each of his subsequent appearances caused a stir of appreciation in the audience. Not the least of Lady Mary's trials were the shady confederates from whom she bought the shop.

They were Mr. Jacob (long, dour and rather shatteringly Scots) and Mr. McDonald (short, voluble and incongruously Jewish), played by Brian Isaacson (H.O.Trustee Department) and William Brookes (Church Street). Mr. Isaacson is a promising newcomer to the Society and his make-up, which took J. K. Cornall (H.O. Branch Department) an hour to apply each night, was really masterly. Many of us had no idea of his real identity. One of the best characterisations was the pathetic Miss Mutchison, played with great skill and delicacy by Miss A. J. Smith (H.O. Registrar's Department).

Her transition from a shabby and crushed nonentity at the beginning of the play, to a tastefully dressed and helpful secretary at the end, was a quite excellent piece of acting. The two mannequins in the shop, Barbara, played by Yvonne Simmons (Branch Department) and Babette, played by Hilary Parr (H.O. Relief Staff), were both good. Hilary Parr, who is another newcomer to the Society, gave a delightful performance; she was so young and ingenuous and full of joie-de-vivre. Nora Owen (Staff Department) took the part of the designing but very lovely Jane Arbuthnot, and her entrance on the stage evoked a murmur of envy from the feminine portion of the audience, so beautifully was she dressed. In sharp contrast was the too-dutiful Gertrude Cunningham, portrayed by Kathleen Horsburgh (Staff Department). Poor Gertrude was an ideal wife and perfect mother, but didn't care how she dressed. It was no wonder that the soignee Jane Arbuthnot stole her husband.

Maureen Dempster Howell Jones A J Smith and Barbara Griffith

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Gertrude's dowdincss was so well presented on the stage that those who know her original were rather horrified at her first entrance. However, Lady Mary takes Gertrude in hand, and in Act 3 she blossoms into a chic which ousts her rival and, incidentally, wins her husband back. The scene between these two was excellently handled, feline but restrained. The remaining female part, played by Maureen Dempster (Heywoods) defies description. Her characterisation of Lottie Gordon, a “ pick-up " of Henry's, shook the audience to its core as, brazen and strident, she took the stage. Everything paled beside her. It was a small part, but compelling portrayed, and it was impossible to look at anyone else while Lottie held the stage. Norman Hubbard, (Victoria Street) played Gilbert, the dress designer. He had only rehearsed the part for a week before the production, but his acting was imaginative and convincing. He achieved the impression of artistic eccentricity without the aid of such clumsy additions as beards or long hair. The play was jointly produced by E. G. Shaw (Smithdown) and Howell Jones. Teddy Shaw was laid low by illness early in the rehearsals and only returned the week before the production. Howell Jones took over and made an excellent job of the production during his absence. The Stage Managers were Trevor Owens (H.O. Relief Staff) and Thea Bower (Staff Department). The Wardrobe Mistress was Ann Smellie (H.O. Income Tax Department), and the beautiful dressing of the play deserves very special mention. All are to be congratulated upon a most creditable production.

 

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