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STANLEY by Pam Gems

David Hight discusses his production for East Lane Theatre Group. many geniuses evangelica l zea l made 1­ to tally self-absorbc. tra mpling upon til ­ around him . His \ \ was very much in~plP by the "illag of Cook har­ where he lived mos t of I­ life, and he us d women, friends and 10.. people to populat t' I, · canvases.

The East L1ne Theatre Club was orig'inally founded in 1936 as the East Lane Dramatic Society by ex­ pupils of East Lane School, Wembley. The -' ub, now baser! at the Vale Far m Sports Ground, has its own th ea tre which \vo s con ver tcd troIn i.1 work ' hop that the ml'mbt' rs built them scelves. The theatre op ened in Octobe r llJ 90 with ,1 production of Alan Ayckboun1's Absellt Friellds , and th e Ilib p rese nts vaned progr,lInrnf2 of four productions a year, usually for


Towa rds the nd 0 tr pl a y Hilda a rl ine, I . first devoted wife, wI'> had experienced a ner\'o ' breakd own due t Stanley's callousness in h ­ unreq u ited love f Pat ricia P reece, di · Patricia, who became hi, econd wife, and who ,­ liv ing ughout with he lesbian lover, Doro th Hepworth, having takel1 Stanley for everythi ng I can, practically d isow n him. In the closing scent' h av ing been knighted f ­ hi serv ices to a rt, Stanl \ in a n eloquent , n touch in)'; so liloquy tell s a his joy of creation with tl insp iration of God and th, help and inspiration of Ill! beloved Hilda.


sprea d over a t\,vo-\vee k pe riod . Tlw tiwiltre seats 75, ,1nd has a stylish Glf~ /b (H i'lre(l,

\,\ 'hich

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a lso built by its m embers, and was l arg~'ly funded by a gen erous grant from th Oi! F 11ll1da tio n ipr Sport and the Ar ts.

Slnl1/l'Y was first prf2s ented in th e Cottlesloe auditorium at till' N a tional Th eatre in ] 996, with Antony Sher in th e title role. The p lil was s taged with the audi ence on three s ides, th e fourth b e in g taken up by a mu ral represen ting on e of works in Spencer's pl'Pgrcss. Tlw orig in'll cast consisted of fou r ma les, 'ix fema l a nd two boys with so me doubling, of w hich melre anon, but, particularl y in the final scene, it would be quite poss ible to us ' additional actors and actress s.

One of th e prob le ms ('. casting is that the pi a," d eve lo ps over 30 ye ar~ during the two acts, and the characters age acco rding ly. The four princi pa ls are of a sim ila r age g roup and, bec a L~~e ,)' the comparative maturi t of th e membe rs, 1 d ecid ed to cast the leads in the older range. We t'lected m e rely to hint at re juvenation or age ing and I belie ve tha t thiS proved more realistic and effect iv e thiln you nger actors "greyin g LIp" .

Pam Gems has written a painfully truthful re­ cre tion of the lif0 d nd loves of the British pilin ter, Stanley Spencer. It sp,ms the yean; bet ween th e 1920s and the late 19505, hig hlighting Stanley's 10\" and courtship of his two wives. H e wa s sociable, cheerful, co urt('o u s and charming, but like so


The four leads w er co nseque ntly v!~r. expe rienced and ta lented actors, w hich added m ud to the crea ti ve proces,.. during re hears <lls. II" addition the play LS populated by 20 o ther parts, including Stanl e~: age nt Dudley Toot h






fe llow artists Augustu s John, Henry Lamb, Gwen Raverat, Elsie Munday hi s maid, Hild a 's m o the r, ,1nd severa l walk on parts, which meant that we were able to do some d o ubling up, thus making it more interes ting for those with smaller parts. Ms G e ms wrote into the final scene charming parts for two small boys which reg ret tab ly we could not cast, so they w e re eu t. Hmv"ver, we did manage to inveig le Fredd ie, a pekinese, to ilppear in the last sc~ne, and p nK tica ll y s teal it!

Probab ly the grea test lu x ury for Eas t Lam.' m e lllb e r~ is the abil ity to reh ea rse


th e

actua l


thJ"Ou g hout, as the se t bu ilds up around the m during construction. I"h is give~ the ac tur ~


gn.:'ater ~eJ15('

of 'b long in g w ith in ' rather th a n 'vis iting' a set.

We re heM ~wic ... , week fo r nine weeks. 111e play is set in two acts a nd 2:1 s(ene~, so m e of w hi ch a re agai n broke n dow n b y 10('(l le a nd/o r time, so the sma ll r parts were o nly needed once a ~ eek for m os t of the rehearsa l perio d. As yo u ca n im ag in e, it was a com pl icil t1o d pi ece 10 rehea rse, w ith co m plet ' Cha nges o f mood (",ll1 <O'(j for very few pilgeS, an d blockin g w as del ay ~d w he n OIl(' of th e le"ds d r op ped out in the fir st week of rehea rsa b. Fo rt llna te l y~ \ve \vere ab le to discove r iln excellent ac tn'ss from outs id e our rank s w ho s llccess full y ton pve r lhe bird1Y (bu t "scra tc h h r eye; o u t" for the

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partl) Patricia. In the week before the production, domestic problems forced another ch<lnge of cast ilnd o ne of our own actresses gallantly took over the part of the maid Elsie at the dress re hearsa l, and m,lde it work l The script, as published b y N ick He rn, although containing the author's descriptive no tes, is not a n acti ng edition , offering thl' director an ope n book - adding a no ther wo rk load . I pe rso nall ' w e lcom ~ th e freedom of being re pons ible for creatin g mov es, la yout and d ec idin g upon settings and forniture e tc., with o ut th e poss ibility of bein g prejudiced by a previous direc to r's work, but allow yourse lf twice th e llsunl a m oun t of prepara ti on wo rk. T, il nd most o f the ,,; t, fo und ,1 vi sit to th e Stail le y Sp ' n (" r G allery ill Cookham a great he lp ill ca tching tl1(' il tlllos ph Ne of the play.

seEN I d ec id ~ d to I<'ave the s til ~e as clea r

as po -sible in ord e r to cas th e flow be twee n th e m a n y scenes for fu rni tu re and prop!>. TI,er 'fure I d es ign ed a seco nd prose n.iu m iHch co ntain ing representa tio ns of fig ur s t;Jkc n o ut o f Sta n le y 's pa intings, with large arched pictu re frumes backs ta ge contuinin g lifes ize inl{) ges fro 111 Stdnl ey's p'linti ngs o f HiLda il nd Pa tri ci:l. These WE're pa inted o n gil Llze, so thu t a t selected stages tlwy cou Id be lit fl"() Jl1 be bind to dramati ca lly re vea l the s ta ge vv ives - Pa trici d

s trippin g to e nti ce St,ml e y, a nd II ilda durin g Stanley's clos in g s peech revea ling hi s love following he r d ea th. The r st of the bil kdrop a nd wings w erE' covered in b lack (elt, nd th e stag floo r was pil inted blilck.

["he re is a n orgu ment for us ing minimal or no furn iture or p rops, wbi ,h would cer t,1i nly h a ve s peed ed u p the brea ks betw en Te rces, b ut the scrip t ca lls fo r fu ll s ize ase b d is p la yi n large pain tings. Mi m ing these ritica l p rops w(.luld hav e n bbed the p lay of rea li ty, so T wcnt the whole hog w ith furni shi ng a nd props for each ~ cene . This m a d~ e no rm ou d emands on ou e b ackstage r w, who had to hu m p e \'er th ing, including a 3' w id e m etal bed, , 111 and off stage as ra pidly as possible. The thea tre has a ,ma li a pron s tage projE.'C ting into the Huditoriut1l, and w e used th is to mOLlnt o ne of Sta nley' s paintings in progress, w hi ch the ac tor p la ying Spence r actuall y worked on prior to curtain



up during the run . We hi red frulll the mar vellou s a tio na l Thea tre' s CostUIllC 21l1d Fu rnit u re H ire De pa rtm en t a p ri od 1920, w heelchair, the mda l bed stead and ,1 m agn ificen t p aint ta ble U ' d in the ir ori g inLi I production , wh ic h added a uth en ticity to tilE' pe riod f pc I. Th e C<l s t w e re very crea tiv e in utilis in g sui table cl o thes <'ither from o ur o wn cos tum e d e pa rtm en t, or scro u ng ing fro m elsewhe re, to fu rthe r erca te the period of the 20s - 50s. l hey had to become adl'p t a t vcr y qui ck chan g es, severa l on stage or behind the scenes, wh ich llE' lp",d to inciie"t€' th e time

o hig hlight . nd hopeiu lly h o ld the mood al the e nd of ce ncti, as w'll as cu r ta in-up a lld clown s, [ clcl'led mo tive Eng lis h m usic of tbe pe riod, w ith the mes for Pa tricia - fragmen ts fro m Elgar's 3r Sy m p ho ny ,md The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Wi lli dms fo r H ilda, with the sa d wi stfu l the me floa ting u p to the h eavens effE'c tively o n her d eath, wit h other selections from Va ug ha n Willi a ms a nd Deli us .

a criti cal rol e in setting th e atmos p he re, locale ,1I1d tim e of day, nee ~sitatin g ove r 80 lig hting c ues.

We were proud to pI' se nt th e a m ateur prt' m iere of Stal/ley. Pam Gem s full y unders tood the co mplexities , id io syncras ies an d a tti tud '5 of ta n lcy Spe ncer, a nd hilS n ea ted a rou nded s tage ch ar,l("ter revea li ng this conrI ov C' rs ial perso na lity, warts and a ll, integrated into the world in w hich he lived , with wMm th a nd humo ur. H er fi ctio na l recr'a tioll of his life is as near the actu a l truth as we. are likely to see, and ma kes for grip pin g thea tre.






rh e scenes w e re played in a combin a tion of fiv e diffe re nt areas o f the stage, so the li ghting played



Stanley - October 1999  
Stanley - October 1999  

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