SINCE its first public performance of H.M.S. Pinafore in 1922 the Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society has had many successes and very few failures. And the whole of the time until last year Mrs. Charles Richards was the enthusiastic secretary, guiding the fortunes of the Society.
When she made way for the younger generation it was thought that this change would bring a fresh injection of young people and fresh ideas to the Society. So far however, there has been little if any evidence that this is the case.
Under Mrs. Richards leadership the Society had a reputation of being willing to try their hand at many new works, but the new regime has apparently dropped this policy and so on Monday evening we went along to the Public Hall to see the first night of "The Maid of the Mountains," first produced by the Society in 1937. The lovely melodies still appeal forcefully, so it is important that any production should be blessed with fine singers and in this respect Witham is certainly well off.
Teresa was played by Pauline Hanford, who made such a success on her first appearance last year in "The New Moon." Making his first appearance in Witham was Ralph Hepworth as Beppo, one of the brigands, and he showed that he possesses a fine baritone voice - his duet with Teresa. "Paradise for Two'" scored a resounding hit and on Monday's first night they stopped the show for a completely unrehearsed "encore."
Roland Darvell, another newcomer to Witham cast as Baldasarre, the brigand chief, was splendidly cast, his manly appearance and resonant voice being particularly well suited to the part.
Humour was in the capable hands of Bryan Etheridge and Pat Vojak, who worked very hard to repeat their success of 12 months ago, even though the dialogue was at times "corny." Judy Ryder as Angela nearly succeeded in winning Baldasarre from Teresa but not quite, brigands apparently even in far oft days still seemed to prefer blonds. Tim Sheppard, who has taken over the rather onerous duties of secretary from Mrs. Richards, took the part of General Malona, the Governor of Santo, and did splendidly, proving that he at least is a vastly improved performer.
Others in the cast who, played their parts well in a colourful and lively show were Peter Groom, Tom McQuiston, Geoffrey Moore, Barney Ryder, Michael Murton, Ken Richards and Emily Sparks.
Credit is due to producer David Walker for keeping the action moving briskly and to chorus master Jack Wilsher. Witham has always been noted for its chorus work and this show is no exception. Credit should also go to the musical director, Cecil Barker, under whose direction the orchestra performed very well, dresses were superbly colourful and the stage lighting and effects to be commended.
All in all it was as good a first night as Witham has seen for many years.
IN writing about Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society I think I may emulate the parrot in the story and say, "I know summat abaht thee," for I have followed the fortunes of this lively Organisation for a very long time. Under the leadership of Mrs. C. E. Richards, the society has thrived and prospered over the years and now, with the passage of time, the initiative has passed to another generation who have enlisted the enthusiastic co-operation of their contemporaries. Curiously enough, the old regime seemed to be much more enterprising and adventurous than its successors and many "first time in the district" successes were registered.
But the younger people are finding new beauties in old shows and "The Maid of The Mountains" presented this week at the Public Hall was previously performed by the society in 1937. Perhaps they are right, for the duet, "Paradise for Two," sung by Pauline Hanford and Ralph Hepworth, stopped the show on the first night and an unrehearsed encore was insisted upon by a delighted audience.
Pauline Hanford sang and acted superbly as Teresa, the maid of the mountains and, vocally, she was joined by newcomer Ralph Hepworth as Beppo. When his stage technique matches his magnificently controlled singing voice he will be the envy of'all the local operatic societies. Roland Darvell's dark good looks and flexible voice served him well as Baldasarre, the hero, and Judy Ryder, as the girl who so nearly captured his heart, acted with grace and poise. That comedy duo of last year, Pat Vojak and Bryan Etheridge, scored once again and the performance of Tim Sheppard, as General Malone, ensured that he climbed several more places towards the top of the local pops.
Peter Groom's resonant tones were heard to advantage, and Michael Murton, Tom McQuiston, Ken Richards, Emily Sparks and Barney Ryder scintillated in smaller parts. The dedicated and painstaking work of Jack Wilsher as chorus-master, was evident in the concerted numbers and, on Monday night, Cecil Barker's professional skill was already urging the singers on to the cracking pace they will achieve later in the week. The dances arranged by Iris Muirhead were all too short, and the production, by David Walker, was taut and efficient at every point.
The show was lavishly dressed in an extraordinary mixture of period quite pleasing to the eye but the slender booklet, price one shilling, which contained minimal information, was not so much a programme as a piece of mild extortion.
WITHAM MUSICAL SOCIETY
I SUPPOSE I must have a very literal mind, but I do like to know where I am in the theatre and in what century! Of course, last, Wednesday night I knew that I was in Witham watching" The Maid of the Mountains." But what mountains were they? Clearly they were infested with brigands, all of whose names were Italian. Yet the local currency was in francs, and the brigands finished up on Devil's Island. I reckoned that I must be in Corsica. But why some of the gentlemen wore the costume of the 1840's when the Governor's daughter and her friend were strictly 1965, I never made out. Never mind, it was a musical play that David Walker had produced, and the general effect was agreeable.
The old, old tunes still worked. Pauline Hanford sang hers with great accomplishment as the traditional fair, pretty English, heroine songs. Ralph Hepworth was in fine voice as Beppo, particularly in “Paradise For Two.” Patricia Vojak showed great skill in comedy numbers such as "Husbands and Wives," and Bryan Etheridge as the "funny man" Tonio, made up by an endearing personality for what he lacked in voice.
I don’t suppose that Tim Sheppard would claim to be a singer, but he was excellent as the decrepit Governor, General Malona. His diction was first class and he managed very well by talking his songs. Roland Darvell, as the brigand chief, was hardly required to sing at all – rather unusual for the hero of a musical play. He had a commanding stage presence, and handled the dialogue well. So did Judy Ryder, as the Governor's proud daughter. Her lines were on the verge of absurdity, but she carried them off with poise. The same could be said of Lieutenant Rugini, her disappointed lover (Ken Richards).
Altogether there was plenty of talent in evidence. Simple but effective dances had been arranged by Iris Muirhead. The orchestra was under Cecil Barker, and the curious rhymed dialogue spoken to music was well managed.
“Maid of the, Mountains” is a period piece. But I found it refreshing. It must have been due to the mountain air!