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Martins Bank Society of the Arts (Music Section) in The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan

Staged: 22nd to 26th February 1955 at the David Lewis Theatre Liverpool

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This is not the first production of “The Gondoliers” to be staged by Martins Bank’s Society of the Arts.  This operetta was previously given an outing in 1948.  Its popularity at this time, as a firm favourite with fans of Gilbert and Sullivan, means that the D’Oyly Carte Family are regularly granting permission to amateur groups across the Land to stage “The Gondoliers”. This is further illustrated in 1964, when the renamed Martins Bank Operatic Society perform it for a THIRD time. As you will see from our montage above, the Society of the arts also perform “Merrie England” twice, again knowing an appreciating the tastes of operetta-going audiences of the 1940s and 50s. The Crane theatre in Liverpool is once again the chosen venue, as it provides both a certain intimacy AND the scope to create a big sound for an appreciative audience.  The production runs for five nights in February 1955 and inevitable comparisons between the current and previous productions of this opera are made by Martins Bank Magazine, whose staff are as usual on hand to comment upon every aspect of the staging, acting, singing, and – apparently - smiling…

1947 02.jpgThe Music Section of the Society of the Arts first pro­duced “The Gondoliers” in 1948 at the David Lewis Theatre. The second production, at the Crane Theatre this time, from February 22nd to 26th inclusive, gave rise to some interesting com­parisons. To deal with these first, we thought that Frank Green, again playing the Grand Inquisitor, had improved on his first performance quite remarkably and made a very good job of it indeed, both vocally and orally. Mary Nelson, playing Gianetta this time, delighted us both with the sweetness of her singing, which has considerably developed in strength, and has improved since last we heard her, and with the liveliness of her acting.  The chorus was good in 1948 but in subsequent productions the standard fell off. This time it was up to its old standard.  The girls sang sweetly and some of them remembered to smile as they sang. Actions could have done with more rehearsal and there was some timing trouble here and there, but it was good on the whole and one or two members, Brenda Aked and Valerie Barrett, for example, were especially so. The male chorus produced a very satisfactory volume of sound. Now let us mention two new stars of the show.

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William Morris Joan Hall Mary Nelson and Evan Jones

We first saw Joan Hall (Mrs. Matthews) in “The Geisha” and marked her down as a winner in 1953. In this show she was superb. Her diction was perfect, her voice as clear as a bell, and she puts all the tricks of a delightful personality into the part of Tessa, the result being an outstanding performance. Valerie Parish, who played Casilda, was the new discovery of the show, and a most valuable acquisi­tion. She has a lovely voice, an excellent stage presence, and his­trionic ability as well. The parts of Marco and Guiseppe were played by Evan Jones and William Morris. Evan's tenor voice is still a delight to listen to and William Morris's deep bass makes him quite outstanding among the male singers. The part of the Duke of Plaza-Toro was played by Albert Jones, Evan Jones's son.  

Evan Jones Frank Green and William Morris

William Morris Valerie Parish Albert Jones Phyllis Ritchie and Evan Jones

An abscess in the mouth and a cold handicapped him and it was very plucky of him to carry on under such difficulties during the early part of the week. Nevertheless, the portrayal needed much more sparkle to carry suc­cessfully the somewhat faded dialogue. Phyllis Ritchie played the part of the Duchess, and portrayed it very well. Her voice carried well and her acting was quite equal to the demands of the part. L. C. Jones as Luiz seemed to find the part made too great de­mands on his voice, which was not always true and was often indis­tinct, but his acting was quite adequate. A little gem of portrayal was the King's foster mother, played by Eugenie Koop. After almost a lifetime of participation in amateur opera, taking the principal roles for many years, it was indeed pleasant to see her, in one of the minor parts this time, but portrayed with dis­tinction nevertheless. Eric Francis, C. E. Bresnan, R. E. Costain and Peter Swinton were the remaining gondoliers, and Sheila Mealey, Joan M. Webster and Joan M. Venn the other contadine. Anne Robertshaw made a sweet little drummer boy.

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Robina Smith L C Jones Valerie Parish and Valerie Barrett

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Sheila Mealey and Joan Webster were especially good and obviously capable of much more important parts next time. The opera was produced by J. Balfour Thompson and the chorus and orchestra were conducted by Basil A. Williams. The Ballet Mistress was Hylda Delamere Wright. A special word of appreciation about Basil Williams. Both as Chairman of the Music Section of the Society and as Musical Director he bore the principal burden of this production.From inside knowledge we know how seriously he took his responsi­bilities and how anxious he was that the show should be a success. The revival of the Section after the lapse of a year was in part due to his enthusiasm and its continued survival may well be due to his efforts. In recording appreciation of the services of the producer we do feel that the difficulty of his task is not always appreciated. Attendances at rehearsals are often poor, and, in fact, not until the dress rehearsal did our producer actually see the entire company all together.

Many of those little faults of timing, lack of cohesion and movement which, in a competition, would militate against a production being styled first class, could have been eliminated if attendance had been better. Another point that struck us was that whereas every member except two of the female chorus is in the Bank, of the male chorus of ten men it was possible to find only two from our staff, the rest being " borrowed " from other societies. This has happened before but the position is worse this time; we are told that it happens in all societies. We record our grateful thanks to all these “outside” friends. To sum up, we think that the second act was just about the best thing the Society has ever done and the production as a whole went a long way towards establishing the name of the Society in Liverpool amateur operatic circles. One of the professional critics said: “You have the makings of a very nice little Society now, if you can only keep them together”. We must keep them together.


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