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Martins Bank Society of the Arts (Music Section) in Merrie England by Edward German

Staged: 7th to 11th February 1950 at the Crane Theatre Liverpool

A previous trip to “Merrie England” is made in 1946, when, keen to put the inconvenience of War behind them, and not have the expense or additional work of providing sets and costumes, the Society of the Arts opts to stage the concert version. The Bank of Liverpool and Martins Operatic Society has also performed “Merrie England” (in 1921), so it is clearly a hit with performers and audiences alike.  By 1950, the Bank’s players are seasoned and ready for anything, and a full-on production of this opera favourite is put on at Liverpool’s Crane theatre. Once again, we are indebted to the late Beryl Creer (who as Beryl Evans took part in some of the early productions of the Society) for a number of images from her own personal Archive.  As usual, Martins Bank Magazine is on hand to cover the proceedings, as once again The Society of the Arts brightens up five more of February’s darkest nights, with some sparkle, glamour, and plenty of song. On this occasion the production is enhanced by the artistic talents of Bill Brookes, who is an amazing all-rounder whose talented artwork is often features in the pages of Martins Bank Magazine.  Here, he produces a beautifully drawn cartoon strip to be included in the official programme, offering a handy synopsis of the story of “Merrie England”…

“Merrie England” as interpreted by William (Bill) Brookes 1950

Image © Martins Bank Archive Collections – Beryl Creer

1946 02.jpgIF Mr. Churchill's famous phrase “blood, sweat, toil and tears” is a fair summing up of what preceded the Music Section's production of “Merrie England” at the Crane Theatre for five nights, February 7th to 11th, at any rate they had their reward in a very creditable pro­duction played to full houses. The show had a good press from the critics and everyone felt that the effort needed to stage this show had an ample reward of public appreciation and in know­ledge of a job well done. The palm for the acting on the male side goes to Basil Williams for his presentation of Walter Wilkins. He has the pro­fessional touch and there is more than a suggestion of the famous Sessional masters in his handling of parts such as this. The palm for the acting on the female side goes to Betty Spencer Hayes for her portrayal of “Jill-All-Alone”. From the moment of her first appearance the opera really came to life and she acted supremely well. Her voice, too, showed a great improvement since her last appearance in “The Gondoliers”.

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Joyce Cornes L C Jones Eugenie Koop and Jeanne Harlow

1950 Merrie england (2) - MBMSp50P41.jpg

W Brookes Margaret Groome and Brian Jones

Eugenie Koop as Queen Eliza­beth was truly regal and her singing of “O Peaceful England” was a triumph. No one else in the Society could have done this part as well as she did it. Mary Nelson's voice, too, has greatly improved in clarity and strength and her diction made listening effortless. She portrayed the May Queen. But the palm for the female singing must go to Margaret Groome, whom we were delighted to have back with us this year. As Bessie Throckmorton she won all hearts by her beautiful render­ing of her various numbers, while her attractive personality enabled her to deal adequately with the story too. The palm for the male singing equally indisputably goes to Evan Jones. The producer set his face against permitting encores but each night he risked the audience's displeasure by refusing to allow an encore for “The English Rose”. Evan really sang it beautifully and, we feel, should have been allowed this concession.

1950 Merrie England (7)Chorus and Salute - Beryl Creer MBA.jpg

The whole company on stage

Image © Martins Bank Archive Collections – Beryl Creer

It was the time factor which ruled out encores. Bill Brookes as the Queen’s Fool scored a hit with the most difficult part he has ever tackled, delighting us all with this fresh sample of his versatility. The Four Men of Windsor were well portrayed by Frank Green, Peter Swinton, G. A. Morley and John S. Barlow. Frank Green was the best actor and John Barlow the best singer of the four. R. C. Webster and E. W. Gittins as the Royal Foresters were quite impressive but not very distinct. Jas. Robertshaw as Silas Simkins gave a good inter­pretation of his part. L. C. Jones brought dignity and royalty of bearing to the part of the Earl of Essex and his make-up was masterly. In fact, the make-up this year showed a general all-round improvement.

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Peter Swinton G A Morley Mary Nelson Frank Green and John Barlow

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R C Webster E W Gittins and Betty Spencer Hayes

A special word of praise must be said for the two royal pages, Joyce Cornes and Jeanne Harlow. They looked most attractive in their costumes and their deport­ment won the admiration of all. The dancing of Beryl Evans was competent and she and her fellow dancers rendered their parts with pleasing effect. H. Spencer Hayes was Hon. Musical Director and H. F. Boothman acted as Hon. Accompanist. The Ballet Mistress was Hylda Delamere Wright, m.r.a.d. (adv.)., i.s.t.d. (op.br.) and the opera was produced by Edward J. Jones. It is of interest to note that R. C. Eastwood was the only member of the company to appear in the Bank's production of “Merrie England” nearly thirty years ago.

 

1950 Merrie England (6) Beryl Evans and two others - Beryl Creer MBA.jpg

Beryl Creer (Left)

Image © Martins Bank Archive Collections – Beryl Creer

1950 Merrie England (5) - MBMSp50P41.jpg

Basil A Williams

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Beryl Creer (Right)

Image © Martins Bank Archive Collections – Beryl Creer

In the News!

For performers, being on the receiving end of a good critique can be a real boost and an encouragment to aim higher. On 7 February 1950, the Liverpool Daily Post Critic A K Holland reviews “Merrie England”, and the name of the Society of the Arts is given the oxygen of good publicity!

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Martins Bank Society of the Arts put up a very competent performance of “Merrie England” at Crane Theatre, last evening. This opera, which wears its age well, chiefly on the strength of Edward German’s tunes, which are almost too English to have been written bv anyone but a Welshman, is still worth presenting, because in the happiest wav it gives opportunities to the chorus to sing, to the principals to act and sing, and to the stage designer to set the picture. This last factor was the weakest aspect of the work, but the dressing was on the whole good. Miss Eugenie Koop swept through the piece with superb dignity as Queen Elizabeth, and was an example to all for the clarity of her diction. The company was also very well served in the other female parts: Miss Margaret Groome’s charming “Bessie” (and vocally attractive apart from the looks) and Miss Betty Spencer Hayes in the “Jill-all-alone” part, well cast in character but inexperienced at present—the voice has quality if it can be released from its rather veiled production. Of the men, Mr. Basil Williams, as the Player, gave us much the best impersonation. As a general criticism, this performance suffered from amateur self-consciousness. The movement was stiff but there was one dancer at least who. knew how to move, and the band, under Mr. H. Spencer Hayes, was quite adequate for the purpose.         

Newspaper Extract © Liverpool Daily Post 07/02/1950 – Martins Bank Archive Collections

 

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