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Martins Bank Society of the Arts (Music Section) in The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay

Staged: 12th to 16th February 1952 at the Crane Theatre Liverpool

February 1952 sees the death of His Majesty King George VI, a massive blow to a country still appreciative of the role he and Queen Elizabeth played in the Second World War, and of his sense of duty in becoming King upon the abdication of his brother Edward VIII.  Life must go on however, and the following week Martins Bank Society of the Arts Stages “The Beggar’s Opera” at the Crane Theatre in Liverpool.  No-one would or could expect these two events to be associated with each other, but this is clearly in the mind of Martins Bank Magazine as it attempts rather tenuously to defend the Production from some adverse criticism in the local press.

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Their article continues by giving any number of reasons why perhaps this Opera should NOT have been staged, ranging from “bawdiness” to “a lack of popular tunes” and “a score that can only be satisfied by near-professionals”. At the same time, a number of individuals are praised for their excellence, so this has to be one of the most unusual and inconsistent reviews of a performance, by the Magazine. We have searched the local newpapers from February 1952 to see if we can find what exactly is being said. However, only one article has so far come to light, from the Runcorn Weekly News (you can read it further down this page), and there is no hint of any adverse criticism for “The Beggar’s Opera”…

1947 02.jpgThose who have read the press criticisms of the Music Section's production of “The Beggar's Opera” at Crane Theatre for five nights, February 12th to 16th, may have received the impression that our show was somewhat roughly handled.  It was, of course, unfortunate that the week of production was that following the death of our beloved King: neither the players nor their audiences were in the right mood to get the best out of this opera. The performances improved each night, however, and by the last night the standard was well up to amateur standard. Our own criticism is mainly of the choice of this somewhat bawdy opera, well-known though it is.  It is a difficult opera for amateurs, as the first act lacks opportunity for chorus work and makes demands of the actors and the solo voices which can only be satisfied by near-professionals.

Macheath (E W Gittins) with the ladies of the town

Macheath (E W Gittins) with the beggars of the town

It does not contain many pop­ular tunes and the sordid setting and dialogue stray rather far from the realm of light enter­tainment, which is all our audiences ask. J. Balfour Thompson, who also produced, made a very good job of the Fagin-like character of Peachum and was very well matched by Eugenie Koop as Mrs. Peachum. The part of Polly Peachum was played by Brenda Stephens, whose voice has developed and improved very pleasingly and whose act­ing of the part was charming. Betty Spencer Hayes as Lucy Lockit put over a performance of hate and vindictiveness which was quite startling to those who know her off stage and her singing was equal to the demands of the part. Brenda and Betty were very well paired in this opera. E. W. Gittins as the profligate and villainous Macheath sang, in our opinion, better than he has sung in any opera since the Society was formed, and his characterisation was quite convincing.

Jean Hayes J Balfour Thompson Colin d’Arcy Skelton Bill Brookes

Jas Robertshaw Sandra Jones Kathleen M Tiplady and Betty Parker

Image © Martins Bank Archive Collections – Colin d’Arcy Skelton

Betty Spencer-Hayes E W Gittins and Brenda Stephens

Sheila Mealey was the discovery of the production and though the part of Jenny Diver was not a large one she was outstanding: we shall hear more of her in the future. We cannot help but agree with all sections of the press in their praise of Bill Brookes for his portrayal of the beggar. It was a little gem, both of make-up and acting. Colin Skelton's performance as the Player was also extremely creditable. As for the members of Macheath's gang, as a crowd or as individuals they were quite excellent and what a relief it was when we reached this stage of the performance to hear some really good chorus work as a change from all the solo numbers.  Other principals who made a valuable contribution to the per­formance were Jas. Robertshaw as Lockit, Albert Jones as Filch, George Oxton as Mat of the Mint, Anne M. Proven as Diana Trapes, P. L. Tiplady as the Drawer and C. E. Bresnan as the Turnkey. The members of Macheath's gang were R. Bretherton, F. W. Cowan, R. G. Dakin, R. Fairclough, F. A. Goodman, S. A. Greenhalgh and A. P. Swinton. The women of the town were por­trayed by Barbara O. Butler, Ursula M. Clarke, JoyceV. Comes, Jean Hayes, Audrey Jennings, Eve­lyn Jones, Muriel Jones, Sandra Jones, Betty Parker, Lillian M. Stubbs, Kathleen M. Tiplady and Mildred M. Williams. H. Spencer Hayes was the Hon. Musical Director and Harold F. Boothman the Hon. Accompanist.

“At Liverpool, in Opera”…

Miss Betty Spencer Hayes of Runcorn further established her reputation as a singer and actress when, on the closing four nights of last week, she filled the role of Lucy Lockit in “The Beggar’s Opera”. The performance presented by the Martins Bank society of The Arts, was held at Crane theatre, Liverpool.

Miss Hayes won the approbation of the Press critics who congratulated her upon “taking this ‘waspish’ character extremely well and with great spirit” and “upon attacking the music of Lucy with most refreshing vigour”.

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Her father, Mr H Spencer Hayes, the musical director and conductor,had the assistance of a well-balanced orchestra as, with discretion, he handled the lovely airs.

From Runcorn Weekly News, 22 February 1952

Image and Text © Reach PLC and Find my Past created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Image and Text reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive