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Martins Bank Society of the Arts – Drama Section in: Housemaster by Ian Hay

Staged: 23 and 24 January 1948 at the YMCA Theatre Birkenhead

When Martins Bank Society of the Arts is established in February 1945, it is divided into three sections – Music, Drama and Art.  Over the years, the Art section stages a number of arts and craft events, including an annual show at Head Office where staff can display their talents in, amongst other things, painting, sculpture and modelling. The Music Section stages operas and concerts annually, and in 1957 the musical productions come under the umbrella title of “Martins Bank Operatic Society”, which survives until 1980.  That leaves the Drama Section, which stages plays under that name until 1952, when Liverpool and London divide productions between the Argosy Players in the North, and the Cicala Players in the South. The North Eastern District of the Bank has had its own drama group Martins Bank Players (North-Eastern) since 1936, and two much smaller groups also operate in the North West – the ArgoFor Players who represent the staff of Liverpool Overseas Branch, and the Manchester Players. Both smaller group stage productions and other entertainments that are played in front of colleagues at Head Office. In 1948, comedy is the theme for the Society of the Arts Drama Section’s latest production  -  a three-act play “Housemaster”, written by Ian Hay. This is the first time the Drama Section has put on a THREE-Act play for the public.  Thanks to the outstanding talent of Sydney Rimmer (Manager, Birkenhead Charing Cross Branch) as both producer and actor, “Housemaster” is a resounding success for the society, and is a near sell out for its two-night run in January 1948.  The following article in Martins Bank Magazine, tells the full story…


1948 01 MBM.jpgFor its first performance of a three-act play the choice of the Drama Section fell on Ian Hay's excellent comedy " Housemaster."  In making the choice some risks had to be run. So many people have seen the play produced either in the professional theatre or by amateurs that even if the production was adequately supported there was the inevitable danger of comparisons. There was also the acute difficulty of properly casting a play with so many male characters. The work for the back-room boys (and girls also.) was of an unusually exacting nature. One factor alone outweighed all the others - the Section had Sydney Rimmer as producer and also as actor in the name part.  His considerable experience in both roles brought about the biggest triumph which the Section has registered to date.

W Brookes, J K Cornall, S N Rimmer and Alec R Ellis

The theatre was practically sold out for both nights, January 23rd and 24th, in spite of bad weather and the difficulty of access to it for many of our supporters. The Y.M.C.A. Theatre, Birkenhead, is a nice little theatre, but a bit remote for people up " the line." It is not usual to commence the review of a performance by praising those " back stage " but on this occasion so much of the success was due to their efforts that we must mention Betty Jackson, Sheila Boote, Rex Pollock and E, G. Shaw, who worked so cheerfully and tirelessly on every job from the erection of scenery, and the making-up of a large cast, to the management of complicated sound effects. In this connection mention should be made of J. K. Cornall, who did his whack behind the scenes for days beforehand and took one of the principal parts as well. Sydney Rimmer gave a performance as the old housemaster which is summed up by the word “majestic”. He knew when to make his audience laugh and when to make their eyes moist and his portrayal of the old man giving advice to the young girl was most moving.

The whole play depended upon his performance and his reputation was well maintained. Leslie Jones as the shy music master treated the audience to a study in sincerity which was as near perfect as any small piece of amateur acting will ever be. Auriel Balshaw, who falls in love with the music master, was wholly appealing in her characterisation. Her charm of manner, her girlish simplicity, and her clever use of facial ex­pression won all hearts. In some ways John Pugh's portrayal of " Old Crump " was the audience's (and the cast's) favourite bit of acting.  It was so good that some of us had to enquire discreetly in Foreign branch as to whether he was really as dumb as he appeared. He had only to show himself to raise a gale of laughter.  Of the other housemasters. J. K. Cornall as Frank Hastings earned high praise, not least for his extremely clever use of make-up. K. C. Batten rendered the part of Victor Beamish with just the right amount of bounce and noise.  Audrey Wall Jones certainly has a beautiful diction and a magnificent stage presence and the part of Barbara Fane, the aunt of the three girls, was most convincingly presented.  Bimbo and his sister Button, played by Colin Skelton and Barbara Phillips, could have been brother and sister in real life, so genuine did the brotherly attitude of Bimbo appear to be. Barbara does these pert parts supremely well and is always assured of a responsive audience.

Thea Bower, Leslie Jones, Barbara Griffith

and Auriel Balshaw

S N Rimmer, Barbara Phillips, Colin Skelton, Auriel Balshaw,

John Eastwood, W Pearson and Barbara Griffith

The remaining sister, Chris, was played by Barbara Griffith. Her scene with Flossie Nightingale, played by John V. Eastwood, was her special contribution to the success of the pro­duction. John V. Eastwood's diction was outstandingly good and his rendering of the part pleasing without being overdone. The parts of the Headmaster and the Chairman of the Board of Governors were played by Alec R. Ellis and Bill Brookes. The portliness of the former helped, with the assistance of cap and gown, to overcome the disability of a voice not naturally arrogant and the impression of pomposity was satisfactorily conveyed.   Bill Brookes used one of his versatile selection of " character " voices to portray the wire-pulling politician. His "impres­sions " always delight the audience. H. Tonks took the part of the head boy, and W. Pearson that of " Pop." The Matron was played by Thea Bower and the maid by Joan Thomas. It was very encoura­ging to have so many members of the General Management present at the performance on the Saturday evening.