Plumtree School - Drama and Plays

A brief history of drama at Plumtree School -
written by J.B. Clarke as
a foreword to the programme of My Fair Lady  :

1972 is Plumtree School's seventieth birthday and, according to our records, this production will be the fifty-first musical to be put on by the school. At the turn of the century poor communications and the small European population dictated that much of the school's recreation should be self-generated. Details of the first five years are sketchy, but by 1907 it had become the practice to combine speech day with a concert put on by the pupils and staff. In that year one of the items was Three Little Maids from School, sung by D. Macrae, D. Illman and A. Hazelhurst.

This item marked the start of a long and happy association with Gilbert and Sullivan. Other Gilbert and Sullivan extracts followed at subsequent concerts, and in 1912 the school staged its first full musical, The Mikado. The year 1913 marked the last time that girls played the female roles, as at the end of that year Plumtree ceased to be co-educational. Thereafter generations of small boys have been bundled into dresses and laboriously coached to walk demurely, curtsey and blow kisses !

In the 1920s the musicals became part of the annual sports week-end, a practice which has extended with few exceptions until the present day. Gilbert and Sullivan held sway until 1969, when the school broke away from this tradition with its production of Oklahoma. It is not our intention to abandon Gilbert and Sullivan entirely; we will continue to put them on, interspersed among more modern musicals.

Perhaps one could add a little to the history of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera at the school by saying that the first to be performed on the Beit Hall stage was in May 1930, and was the favourite, Pirates of Penzance. They had obviously been rehearsing elsewhere and waiting for the hall to be finished, and eventually had to do the play in the second term ! Judging by the photographs in 1926 The Gondoliers was an outdoor production, but mostly the plays before the building of the Beit Hall were produced on trestles in the dining hall. In 1933 the musical was written by an O.P., H. F. Crowther. It was called One Crowded Hour and was very successful, played with the one-acter, The Dear Departed, as a curtain-raiser. I wonder if anyone knows where one can obtain a copy of One Crowded Hour? Perhaps it should be done here again. St. Joan has been the only straight play done at sports since 1934. It is interesting to note that never has an adult taken part in one of the school plays since the 1900s. All our gorgeous females are really grubby schoolboys !

Musicals are all we are at present left with. They are not, on the whole, a good proving ground for actors, and the actors who are unable to sing are given no chance to practise, let alone to shine.

But Plumtree has a great tradition of "straight" drama, starting in the very early days with excerpts from The Merchant of Venice and Cranford. In 1928 The Admirable Crichton was produced, and in 1933 Form IV gave The Rivals in the third term. In 1934 Mrs. Turner (Margaret) arrived on the Plumtree scene and she, with her husband (Tumpty) to do lights and scenery, produced plays more or less continuously from 1938. There were two plays a year from then onwards until 1971, and from 1938-55 the straight plays were all seen in Bulawayo as well, with the exception of 1950. Mrs. Suttle took A Man for All Seasons to Bulawayo in 1969 too.  

The third-term concert has a long history, and present boys may be surprised to learn that it is only very recently that it has been predominantly a barely rehearsed "boys for boys only" sort of concert. Staff organised and took part in concerts even as late as the 1950s, and the standard, particularly of musical items, used to be extraordinarily high. The staff frequently did plays in the old days, and gradually the village joined with them in these productions until the advent of the "town and gown" Plumtree Players in 1958.

Mr. Turner did 61 sets of scenery from 1938 to 1955, and then took over lighting. The new lighting board was bought from the takings of the mid-year plays. All the takings of these during the war years went to war funds.

Mr. Brown did scenery from 1955 until Mr. Baker took over in the second term of 1959. He did all the sets brilliantly and uncomplainingly and FAST - until he left in 1968. Since then we have not had one person doing the sets for any length of time- Mr. Renny, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Nel have each done some.

Mrs. Turner did the libretto and chorus movements and dancing for 20 Gilbert and Sullivan productions. The end-of-year concert was run by her and Mrs. Pattison for many years with some very fine solos and part singing, and quite brilliant sketches.

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