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Martins Bank Society of the Arts (Music Section) in The Geisha by Owen Hall

Staged: 17th to 21st February 1953 at the Crane Theatre Liverpool

The Music Section of Martins Bank Society of the Arts mounts one of its most ambitious productions in February 1953.  In what is referred to by Martins Bank Magazine as “the well known and well tried ‘the Geisha’” there are some outstanding performances – not for the first time does the talent of West Kirby Branch’s Eric Wylie shine through.  Martins Bank Magazine is a little scathing, declaring that the performances of the Bank’s Societies should be as good as other amateurs on Merseyside, but at the same time the writer admits to really enjoying the performance!  When the Music Section become the Operatic Society, the idea of being as good as the other societies on Merseyside steps up a level, as the Bank begins to realise that the “shine” from good publicity is bound to rub off and enhance the Bank’s reputation. Gold is struck in the early 1960s, when the Operatic Society wins one of the top awards for amateur operatic groups four years in a row.  Martins Bank Magazine’s review notes, that a winning show is not just what is een on the stage. It is all the other work that goes on behind the scenes, from directors and producers down to those who make tea for the performers in the interval.   The cost of putting on a show in a large theatre has to be recouped through the selling of tickets and programmes, and at the start of 1953, when “The Geisha” is staged, Britons are still subject to rationing – food, clothes and some services have to be purchased with coupons. The complexities involved in bringing live performance to an audience, even at amateur level, are vast…


1949 01.jpgIn the ordinary way a critic takes a production as he sees it and makes his comments accor­dingly. He does not take into account any of the things which have gone on behind the scenes but is only concerned with the finished product, and when the show is almost flawless, he has an easy task. In making fair comment upon the annual show of the Music Section of Martins Bank Society of the Arts, which this year took the form of a .production, from February 17th to 21st at the Crane Theatre, of the well-known and well-tried favourite “The Geisha”, we feel that fairness can only be achieved by considering the produc­tion as well as the performance.

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Left to Right: Joan Webster, Joy Middleton, Sheila Mayers and Pauline Smith

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Left to Right: Evan Jones, Heather Bartlee, Frank Green, Jean Boothman,

W D Milne, Mildred Ferrier, E W Gittins and Dawn Rimmer

These shows are very costly to stage, so costly that it is necessary to sell nearly every seat for the whole five nights if the show is to run without a loss, and to guard against a repetition of last year's loss a special effort was made to fill the house. It ought to be recorded, in fairness to the producer and to those who worked so hard to stage this show, that this sense of special effort was not matched by the majority of the company, for the producer did not have more than a 50 per cent attendance at his rehearsals until shortly before the final week. The result was apparent in the chorus work which lacked that precision, animation and timing which are so vital in a musical show. Worse still, some members of the chorus did not know their lines until well on in the week of production, and from a musical point of view volume was sadly lacking. These remarks are strong, and, we feel, rightly so, for when the name of the Bank is used in a public entertainment the value we give ought to be as good as the day-to-day services we perform, and our shows ought to be as good as those of other amateurs on Merseyside. They cannot be unless enthusiasm is combined with team work. Having said this we must admit that the show was enjoyable and the company got away with it; thanks to the colour of the dresses, the loveliness of the music, and to the performances of half a dozen people.

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Joan Hall and Eric Wylie

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B A Williams and Sheila Mealey

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Bernadette Roche

Head and shoulders above everybody in acting ability was Eric Wylie as the Chief of the Japanese Police: he did the job superbly. He was matched by Joan Hall, (Mrs. Matthews in private life, and not to be confused with Joan Hall of Premises De­partment, H.O.). The moment she came on the stage the whole production brightened up and her smiling personality, combined with the zest and stage experience she brought to the part of the English girl who im­personates a Geisha girl, carried the show with a swing.  Sheila Mealey, as the French Geisha girl, also scored a triumph. She gave an excellent French impersonation and her performance was one of the highlights of the show. Basil Williams as the proprietor of the Chinese Tea House, gave a very good impersonation of this wily old character and the singing of Bernadette Roche as the Chief Geisha was another of the highlights of the show. Jean Boothman, who portrayed the English lady travelling round the world in her yacht, was quite outstanding, and her companions, Heather Bartlett, Mildred Ferrier and Dawn Rimmer, made as pretty a picture as one could wish to see. The four naval Lieutenants, portrayed by Evan Jones, E. W. Gittins, Frank Green, and W. D. Milne, were the outstanding male singers and Evan Jones's song was especially pleasing. Joyce Cornes played the part of the Midshipman most charmingly. The part of the lackey to the Chief of Police, was taken by E. W. Robertshaw. One of the most difficult parts of the show is the scene in which the Geisha girls are auctioned.

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Evan Jones, Frank Green, Joyce Cornes, W D Milne and E W Gittins

It is difficult because of the impossibility of scripting the back-chat which must go on at an auction if the scene is to be realistic. Neither the producer nor the company appeared to have realised this and the literal following of the script resulted in this excellent scene being lifeless. At the same time, it must be said that E. W. Robertshaw's look of blissful anticipation as he held up his face to be stroked by the English Geisha girl was quite one of the best things in the performance.

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Peter Swinton took the part of the Japanese officer, in love with the Chief Geisha. This is a part for a young gallant, and it is, perhaps, unfair to accuse him of being lacking in ardour, but, after all, Bernadette Roche should have been sufficient inspiration. We attended the performances on the first and last nights and, apparently, missed the best per­formance, which was on the Friday night.

On the Wednesday, Sheila Mealey, who did so well in the show, was a very naughty girl by being in her dressing-room when she should have been on the stage, to the great em­barrassment of Basil Williams, but these are the incidents which contribute so much to the fun of amateur entertainments.

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