May’s Circle reading was ‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse. ‘Billy Liar’ is a 1959 novel by Keith Waterhouse, which was later adapted into a play, a film, a musical and a TV series. The semi-comical story is about William Fisher, a working-class 19-year-old living with his parents in the fictional town of Stradhoughton in Yorkshire. Bored by his job as a lowly clerk for an undertaker, Billy spends his time indulging in fantasies and dreams of life in the big city as a comedy writer. In 1960, the novel’s author, Keith Waterhouse, co-wrote a three-act stage version with Willis Hall. The action took place on a single set combining the living room, hallway and porch of the Fisher household. The first production opened in the West End of London with Albert Finney in the title role. It has since been produced all over the world, and has become a favourite with amateur groups.
It was led by Gareth Pilkington, who said ‘The Billy Liar reading was fun. With a total of eight readers it could have been read one to a part but the parts were so unequal that I changed them around every four or five pages. I believe everyone got a fair crack of the whip (so to speak). The reactions to the piece were mixed. Although everyone thought the characters were very entertaining some thought it dated, others felt the resolution was unsatisfactory, but accepted much more could be done in a properly directed and staged performance. The purpose of readings is of course mainly to help people with their sight-reading skills in plays of all periods. It is also designed to expand awareness so that if going for auditions one is able to speak of different pieces and make comparisons without making a fool of oneself. It served these purposes very well.’
May’s performance was of ‘The New Woman’ by Sydney Grundy on Wednesday 29th May. Sydney Grundy (23 March 1848 – 4 July 1914) was an English dramatist. Most of his works were adaptations of European plays, and many became successful enough to tour throughout the English-speaking world. He is, however, perhaps best remembered today as the librettist of several comic operas, notably Haddon Hall.
The New Woman (1894) is a largely forgotten so-called ’emancipated woman’ play. There was a trend towards the end of the 19th century for this subject to be the plot driver of many a piece, many of which were written by women. Of the ones we’ve been able to get hold of, this one is probably the most entertaining, whilst avoiding the usual pitfalls of becoming too much like a diatribe or serving only as a vehicle for the ‘message’. At the time, women were still regarded as home-keepers. They were ‘unfeminine’ if they tried to step out of this role and were regularly satirised. A couple of lines from one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas sums up the male view: “A woman’s college? Maddest folly going. What can girls learn within those walls worth knowing?/I’ll lay a crown, the Princess shall decide it, I’ll teach them twice as much in half an hour outside it.” The position has changed somewhat here but there are other countries and creeds that still hold these the same beliefs, even in western society.
The performance was directed by Kenn Michaels. Regular acting member Edmund Dehn (http://www.edmunddehn.com) had this to say “This month’s staged reading was “The New Woman” by Sydney Grundy – a late nineteenth century play about Suffragettes written by a man: I can hear the snorts from here! To an extent they’d be justified: all of these ladies are portrayed as ‘secretly needing a man’ and there is an element of caricature. But there is also an attempt to understand the Suffragette case and a valuable insight into the turmoil of the time and the sense of dislocation felt by conservatives (of both genders) confronted by this campaign. Some reactions reminded me a little of myself as a young man trying to work out how to react to Women’s Lib in the ‘70s!
Sydney Grundy is a name I’d never heard of. But in his day, “no West End season was complete without one of his plays”, according to director Kenn Michaels. This was a well-made play with well drawn characters. The plot held it’s audience’s attention and the comedy still worked – not bad after more than a century! We were also treated to a tour-de-force by Dorothea Philips as Lady Wargrave, or Lady Bracknell redivivus! Indeed, this play was first staged the year before “The Importance of Being Earnest” and the rumour is that Oscar Wilde drew inspiration for Lady Bracknell from this character.
The house wasn’t full, which is a shame because both play & author were well worth another look. This is the sort of thing NLA was formed to do, this and to give young actors a chance to learn on the job, which they did, very ably, and I think I can say that the audience enjoyed their evening.
In closing, I have to mention that one actor was late for curtain-up. If it weren’t for the fact that he was playing the Butler, I wouldn’t dream of referring to it. This actor was detained, through no fault of his own, due to being “kettled” by the police at Wembley tube station, having got caught up in the friendly International between England & Ireland that evening. A Victorian Butler “kettled” at Wembley? You couldn’t make it up!”
The best way to see what we do is come along to one of our events. June’s events are: a Circle Reading of ‘Juno and the Paycock’ by Sean O’Casey on Monday 10th June at 7.30pm and a performance of ‘The Bear in the Forest’ by Monty Holender on Wednesday 26th June at 7.30pm. All events are held at The Oak and Pastor, 86 Junction Road, N19 5QZ (Nearest tube Archway. 10 minutes from Upper Holloway Overground. Bus 134 or 390, Pemberton Gardens bus stop. Parking in the area free after 6.30 pm.)