EAST LANE THEATRE CLUB
Part 2: Growing Up (1950-1970)
Over the next twenty years, the East Lane Dramatic Society presented a wide range of plays, together with original revues and pantomimes. Among the many active young members in the 1950s and '60s, were Barry Serjent and John Prance, who, either separately or in collaboration, wrote ten shows for the Society, starting with Barry's revue HERE TODAY (1954), directed by Joan Chapman.
The variety of plays also widened; John Hobbs directed Jean Anouilh's RING ROUND THE MOON (1954) and Vanbrugh's Restoration comedy THE RELAPSE (1956) while David Hight directed extracts from Samuel Becket's WAITING FOR GODOT, which took first prize at both Wembley and Willesden festivals in 1958. One-act play festivals were a regular feature in the Society's calendar for many years. The Wembley Borough Festival, sponsored by the Council, was a competitive one, and East Lane carried off the Alfred Denville Cup in 1952 with extracts from Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN, directed by Frank Armstrong. This was presented in full at Preston Manor School later that year.
In the early post war years Preston Manor was one of the Society's regular venues, but unfortunately it was only available on Saturdays as the stage was used as a classroom during the week. A production therefore necessitated a strict routine. On Friday night the crew and cast cleared the stage of some twenty or so desks and started building the set. This, in theory, had to be finished on Saturday morning, so that the dress rehearsal could take place after lunch in time for the one performance in the evening. Then the whole procedure had to be reversed on Sunday morning!
It was hardly surprising that it was decided to make increasing use of the old St John’s Church Hall in Crawford Avenue when available, where productions could be given for two or even three performances - a great luxury. It is interesting to note that, during the 1950s, the average audience for a single performance at Preston Manor numbered 218, while at St John’s three performances of LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (1955) drew a record total of 513. During the mid-50s Wembley Council had plans to convert the old Victorian mansion in Barham Park into a Civic Centre. The original scheme for the ballroom included a small moveable stage with a depth of 6 feet and no access for scenery! The Wembley Drama Guild, with John Hobbs as Vice-Chairman well to the fore, did battle to get a better deal for all the local groups, but it was in vain. In the end nothing at all was done and, allegedly, the mansion was eventually demolished at a greater cost than it would have taken to convert it.
Apart from the recurring problem of availability of venues, and with the Society’s Building Fund now at £81.5s.5d, there was the question of where to store the increasing amount of scenery and equipment. By then the Society had acquired a lot of both, and kind friends on the Sudbury Court Estate were starting to ask if they could have their garages back. Help was at hand however, and in 1957 a downstairs room at the old Vale Farm House was rented from the Council at £20 per annum. In addition a trailer was purchased to transfer everything to and from the various venues, although it often had to be pulled manually when a car with a tow bar wasn’t available, or, as happened on at least one occasion in the smog-ridden 1950s, it was impossible to drive. 1957 also saw the Society’s 21st Birthday, which was celebrated in fine style with an exhibition in the main hall of Preston Manor School, devised by Donald Smith and designed by David Hight. Over 700 people attended throughout the day, to visit the café and various stalls displaying costumes, offering make-up demonstrations, and many other attractions. One stall even gave visitors the opportunity to record their voice on the latest novelty, a tape recorder.
In 1960 the Society again triumphed in the Wembley Borough Festival with MORNING FACE an original one-act play written and directed by Joyce Myers, and in November that year David Hight’s very successful production of John Osborn’s LOOK BACK IN ANGER broke new ground for East Lane, as it had done for the Royal Court four years previously.
The following year saw a major change in the Society’s life, when the newly built Elms Hall in Sudbury became available, and from YOU NEVER CAN TELL until 1989 virtually all productions were staged there. It was about this time that we were able to supplement the, by now very full room at Vale Farm House, with storage and working space in an old 1930s tennis pavilion only a few hundred yards away, a building which was to play an important part nearly thirty years later.
The 1960s continued with an eclectic mix of popular, unusual and original productions, which included John Mortimer’s first full length play THE WRONG SIDE OF THE PARK (1962), and CHIN CHIN (1963) by Francois Billetdoux, both directed by David Hight. John Prance contributed an Eastern Fantasy, THE ICE PRINCESS (1965), and THE COURT JESTER (1967), while Barry Serjent wrote an Edwardian musical POSTMAN’S KNOCK (1966), SCROOGE (1968) and another revue, FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS (1969) directed by Joan Hall (née Chapman – one of East Lane’s marriages.)
THIS IS WEMBLEY (1964) was a farewell tribute to the old borough before it became Brent. An evening of three Bernard Shaw one-act plays was presented by local groups in the Town Hall; John Hobbs directed THE DARK LADY OF THE SONNETS, while Alan Partridge took on PASSION, POISON AND PETRIFACTION.
The Society scored another festival success in 1968, when Bill Byerley’s production of THE LIFE OF HERCULES by Thomas Cruden, won the Brent Trophy and several other awards at the Borough Festival in Willesden.
During the final year of this instalment of our history, the number of productions was increased to four, and 1970 ended with three very successful performances of L. Du Garde Peach’s comedy THE WHITE SHEEP OF THE FAMILY, directed by Alan Partridge. Some 500 tickets were sold and treasurer John Hobbs reported an excellent profit of £41.14s.10d.