Plumtree School - Drama and Plays

My Fair Lady Tour 1972
reproduced from The Prunitian 

"The idea deserved some award for audacity." This comment by Charles Stoneman in The Rhodesia Herald was far kinder than the reaction of many of the staff when the tour was first broached. The old timers especially were openly sceptical; this had never been done before and was doomed to failure. Fortunately a small band of enthusiasts refused to heed these pessimistic prophets and went ahead, some even taking bets from the more vociferous of the opposition, and press ganging the others into helping with the project. The main object of the tour was to renew links with Old Prunitians, old parents and other friends of the school who, because of geographical location or other circumstances, had lost touch with Plumtree musical productions. Once the proposed tour was made public, we received many requests to play at centres all over the country. Unfortunately we were unable to accept all the invitations and the final plan encompassed shows in Bulawayo, Triangle, Fort Victoria, Umtali and Salisbury. 

Once the venues were finalised, we sought help from people in the various centres. This was enthusiastically given, with the exception of Umtali, where we were almost talked out of taking the show there at all. However, the Umtali Players and the service organisations eventually came to our rescue and did all the initial spadework.

While the paper battle shuttled back and forth, the more practical aspects of the tour were tackled at the school. Mr. Gray and Mr. Mudge designed and, with the help of a first-class stage crew, constructed a set which could easily be transported and erected. Basically the set consisted of picture frames with interchangeable flats. Mr. Nel and his band of artists painted the set, while Mrs. Clarke and her helpers designed and made over 74 costumes and begged, borrowed or hired another 36-odd. Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Westwood, Mrs. Todd and the cast spent many weary hours at rehearsals.

Almost at the last minute it seemed that the tour would founder over transport for the set. We had imagined, somewhat naively, possibly, that it would be relatively inexpensive to hire a pantechnicon for this purpose. We were soon disillusioned, the cost being in the neighbourhood of four figures ! Fortunately one of the parents, Mr. R. G. Fisher, heard of our plight and very generously offered us the loan of a seven-ton lorry. When this arrived at Plumtree the stage crew added false sides and roofing strips which, together with large tarpaulins, gave sufficient cover for the set, the wardrobes of costumes, the numerous props and the boys' suitcases. Initially it took the stage crew six hours to pack the lorry at Plumtree, but as the tour progressed this time was drastically slashed, the record time of one hour twenty minutes being achieved at Umtali.

At the end of term the show went on the road, and quite a cavalcade it was! In addition to the seven-tonner there was the big school bus, two school mini-buses and seven staff cars. In all there were 69 Plumtree boys, 14 adults and five staff children.

The tour pattern was standardised. On arrival at a venue the stage crew put up the set and everyone went to their hosts or to a school hostel. The next morning there would be a rehearsal, then the rest of the day was free until the evening performance. After this the stage crew broke set and packed the truck ready for an early start the next morning.

A brief diary of the tour is:

Thursday, 20th
April - The first performance was in the Milton School Hall and, despite difficulty in adapting to their lighting system, it was a satisfactory start. The stage crew broke set and had the truck packed by 1 a.m.

21st  - All assembled at Milton and by 8.30 a.m. were on the road to Gwelo, where there was a break for tea. A picnic lunch outside Umvuma, a tea break at Fort Victoria, and, after a long and tiring trip, all arrived safely at Triangle. Here Mr. Briault had everything well planned and everyone went off with their hosts.

Saturday, 22nd - We all took the opportunity of seeing the various developments at Triangle, most of the boys going over the sugar mill and cotton gin. The evening performance in the Triangle School Hall was enlivened by one of the large flats falling out of its frame just as the curtain was closing at the end of a scene. It came down with a resounding crash but fortunately did no damage.

Sunday, 23rd
  - After a late start we headed for Zimbabwe, where Mr. Newmarch had arranged for lunch at the Zimbabwe Ruins Hotel. After touring the Ruins the party crossed Lake Kyle to the Game Reserve, by ferry or launch. After game viewing and taking tea at Mr. and Mrs. Newmarch's home, we travelled to Fort Victoria. Here most of the party was accommodated in one of the high school hostels.

Monday, 24th -
Most of us managed further trips to Zimbabwe or Kyle. The show went off without a hitch and the wardrobe mistress and her helpers were very impressed with the space afforded by the gymnasium, which was made available as a dressing room.

Tuesday, 25th - En route to
Umtali we stopped at Birchenough Bridge Hotel for morning tea, and then at Hot Springs for lunch. Here the proprietor kindly let us have free use of the camping facilities and the Hot Springs pool. From here we went direct to the Umtali Boys' High School, where the stage crew were billeted and where members of Rotary, Lions and Round Table very kindly collected those who needed accommodation. The stage crew got to work at the Courtauld Theatre and that evening several of the staff went "over the border" to sample Portuguese cuisine.

Wednesday, 26th -
Some were able to visit the Vumba and other scenic attractions in the neighbourhood of Umtali. The performance that evening gave the cast their first taste of "real" theatre. Everyone was impressed by the facilities at the Courtauld, but alas, our set, designed for school stages, was dwarfed by their spacious stage. However, a very responsive audience gave every indication of thoroughly enjoying the show.

Thursday, 27th -
On the way to Salisbury we stopped for morning tea at Rusape and a picnic lunch near Marandellas. In Salisbury the stage crew stayed at one of Churchill School's hostels and the rest of the party went to friends or relatives.

28th and Saturday, 29th - The two Salisbury performances were put on in the Blakiston School Hall, and we are grateful to their Headmaster for allowing us the use of the hall and other school facilities. Both performances were well received by packed audiences, and we gather from the firm that handled the booking that we could have played to at least another two houses. It was gratifying to meet so many people who had not seen a Plumtree musical for years, and to hear of their of the performance.

Sunday, 30th -
Only a handful of boys and staff set off on long haul back to Plumtree. Most of the team had gone off to their homes after the last performance the previous evening. The light buses and cars made good time and all were back in Plumtree by 4 p.m.

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