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David Hight discusses his production for East Lane Theatre Group.

The East Lane Theatre Club was originally founded in 1936 as the Eas t Lane Dr,lmatic Society by ex ­ pupils of East Lane School, vVembley. The Club, now based a t the Vale Farm Sports Cround, hilS its own theatre which ",'a s

conv4:::' rtl'd

fro m


workshop thilt th.E' memb ers built tlw mse lves. The theatre opened in ctoberl990 with a prod uctio n of Alan I\ yckbourn's Abs('I1 1 Fri.' lTd" a nd th t' Club va ried presents programme of fo ur productions a year, usually for seven performances sp rea d over (I hvo-\v ee k period. The th ea tre 5 a t<; 75, and has a stylish cn.te/ bar Mea, which \vas "I 0 built by its ml'mbers, and \vas large ly fund ed b y a generous gra.nt from the Fo undat ion for Sport and th Arb.

SIal/Icy was firs t presented the Cottles loe in auditorium at the a tional Thea tre in 1996, with Antony Sher in the title' role. Th pl ay was staged with th audience on three s id es, the fou rth bein g ta ken up by a mura l one of re prese n ti ng Spence r's works in progress. The ori gina l cast consisted of four males, s ix females and t"vo boys wi th som e doubling, of whid1 l11. o re a non, but, particula rly in th e fi n a l scene, it would be quite possibl e to use additional actors and actr scs. PCln1 lem s has \vritten J painfully truthful re­ crea ti o n of the li fe an d loves of the British painter, Statuey Spencer. It spans the ye ars betwee n the 1920s and tl" la te 19505, highlighting Stanley's love Jnd courbhip of his two wives, He was sociable, cheerful, courteo us and ci1(\[ming, but like so


many geniuses " . evangelical zea l mad c hi­ to tally self-abso rbf" trampling up on th o.> around him . His wor was very much insp ire>. by the vilktge of CooklUlll" where he lived 11105t of h • life, and he used I · women, friend s and 10 ­ people to populate h'· canvases. Towa rds the end of th play Hilda Ca rline, h ­ first devoted wife, wh had experienced a nerv(}u­ breakdown du e tCl Stanley'S ca 1I0usness in h unrequited love fo Patricia Preece, d ie5 Pcltricia, who became hi, seco nd w ife, and who b living throughout with her lesbian love r, Doro th) H ' pworth, h av ing taken Stanley for 5h can, practically disown­ him. In the closing seen having been knight d f(l hi s se rv ices to art, Sta n le ~ in an eloquent an d toud1ing so llloquy tells at his joy of creation with tIl!' ins piration of Cod and the hel p and ins piration of hi, beloved Hilda.

ne of the problems of cas ting is th a t the pia\' d evelops over 30 year5 during the two acts, and th e ch ard cte rs a~ accordingly. The fo ur principd ls are of a s imi lar Clge gro up and, beca use of the com parative m,lturi t) of the members, 1 d ec ided to ca st the leads In I'he old er range. We eled'd m e- rely 1'0 hin t at rejuvena tion or age in g, and 1 beli eve th a t th is prov ed mo re r~ ali s tic and e ffectiv e th Jl1 yo un ger actors "grey ing up". The four leads w e re consequen l'ly v 1') ex perie nced and talented actors, which added mu ch to the crea ti ve process during reh earsa ls. Tn addition the play t" populated by 20 other parts, including Stanley's agent Dudley Too th,


fellow arti s ts Augustus John, Henry Lamb, Gwen Ravera(. Elsie Munday his maid, Hilda's mother, and several walk on parts, which meant that we were able to do some doubling up, thus making it more interes ting for those with smaller parts, Ivls Gems wrote into the final scene charming parts for two small boys which rE'grettably we could not cast, so they were (ut, How ve r, we did manage to in veigle Frl'ddie, a pe kine e, to "ppea r in th e lilst scene, ilnd prilcticall y steal it!

l'robilbly the g rE'at('st luxury for East Lane membe rs is the ab ility to r('hearse o n the actuill s ta ge throughout, as th e set bui Id s up aroun d them d uring const ruc tion, Th is g ives the ,,,-tors it greilter sellse oi 'belong ing within' rather than 'vi sit ing'



We reh ..used twin; a wee k for n iIll' weeks, The play is se t in two act ­ and 23 'cenes, ~o me of wh ich ant aga in bro ke.n d(lw n by loca le ;md lor time, so the smalle r part ­ were on ly needed once a eek for most of the rehearsal period , As you can im df:,ri ne, it yvas d ompli cated piece to reheurse, w ith completE' Changes of mood ca lIed for every few pages, a nd blocking wa s d elayed w hen one o f the Icd(b dropped alit in th e first week of rehec rsals.

Fo rtunat ely,


,"ven. '

able to discover a n excellent actress from outside Ollr rank s who successfull y took ove r the bitchy (but "scratch he.r eyes out" for the

part!) P,1tricia, In the week before the production, domestic problems forc ed another change of cast and one of our own actresses gallantly took over the part of the maid Elsie at the dress rehearsal, and made it work' The script, uS published by Nick Hern, altho ugh containing the author's descriptive notes, is not an acting editi on, offering the director an open book - adding another vvork load, I p e rsonally welcom e the freedom of being res pons ible for crea ting mo ves, lay o ut a nd d 'ud ing upon ettings and furniture etc., without the possibility of being prejudiced by a pre vious d irecto r's work, but allow yourse.lf tw ice the lIs ual amOlLnt of pn'pdration wo rk. l, ,1Ild most of th e cast, found a visit to the Stanley Sp ence r Gall ery in Cookh<lm a great he lp in catchin g the ,ltrnospher' of th ' play.

seEN R I d ec id ed to leave the tage as c\e<1[ as p S5ible in orde r to easE' til<' flow betw e n th e many sc nes for fu rn itu re ilnd props, Therefore I des igned a second proscen ium ,1 h containing re presentations of fi s m s taken o ut of Sta nl ey's p itinti ngs, wi th IMg arched pictu re tra mes bac ks tage co ntainin g lifl' si ze im"ges rom Stanley's paintings of Iliida and I'illr iciil , T hese were p,l inted on 1'> ' U7e, so tbat at selected s tages they could be li t fro m beh ind to dramatically reveal. the stJ ge wive s - PJtricia

str ipping to en tice Stanley, a nd H ilda during Stanley'S closing peech re vea ling his lov e follo wi ng he r death . 111e res t o f the backd rop and win gs were covered in b lack felt and lhe sta ge fl oor a pai nted black,

Th re is iln Mgument for us ing mi nim al or no furnitu re or props, whi ch wou ld certa inly have speed ed up the breaks between scenes, bu t the script r , lIs for full asels d is p la yi ng la r e si ze paintings, Mi m in th ese ritical p rops wou ld have robbed the play of real ity, so I wen t the w hole hog with (urnishing , nd props for E'<Jch scene , This mild e enorm ous d'o>nlil nci s on our backstage' rew, who had to hum p e verythin g, indudi ng a 3' wiele metal b d , on and off st'a ge as ra pid I)' as pos sib le, he theatre has a s mall apron ~ ta ge projecting into the iludito rium, und we used th i. to mOllnt one of Stilnley's pa intings in progres', which th e actor plilying Spencer ,1( tually worked on prior to curt,lin


lip during the ru n .

e h ired from the marv ellous a liona l 'rheat re's os tum e and Fu rnitur<o' Hire De partment a p riod 19205 whee lch air, the metal bed stea d and a magnificent paint table used l!1 th ei r originul product ion, w hi ch added authenticity to the period feel. The cast w efe very creativ e in utili sing s uitable cloth e!> either from oLir ow n cos tume d cp artm ' nt, or sc rounging from eLsewhere , to fu rthe r crca te the per iod of the 20s - 50s, TIll'y had to beco me, d ep t at ve ry qu ick chilnges , se veral on stag(' or behind the s 'enes, wh ich he lped tn indi cate the tim e cha

To highligh t and hopefull y hold the mood At the nel of tiC n g , as we ll as cu rtain-ups lind d owns , I elec ted e motive Eng lish musi( of the period, wi th themes fo r Patricia - fra , llle nts from Elgar's 3 rd Sym p hon y and Tilt> La r k scend ing by Vaughan W illiams for Hild a, with th e sild wis tful th me floating lip to the h eavens effectively on her death, with othe r selections from Vaugru1l1 Willia ms and Delius, The scenes were pla yed in d combination of five different areas of the stage, so the lighting pla yed


a critical role in setting the iltmosphere, loca le and time of day, neccssi ta tin g over tlO li ghting cues ,

We were proud to present the amateur premi ere of Stanley, Pam Gems fully understood the co mpl ex ities, idiosy ncras ies an d attitudes of Stanley Spencer, and hilS created a rounde d s ta ge chJrilcter rev ealing t hi ~ controver ial p ers onality, warts and all, int g rated in to the world in which he lived , with w<HIllth and humour. H er fi ctiunal recrea tion of his life is as near the actual truth ,15 we dfe likely to see, and milkes for g ripping thea tre,






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Stanley - October 1999  

David Hight discusses his production of Stanley by Pam Gems for East Lane Theatre Group

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