An appeal had been launched in Little Tew for money to support the Bell Fund and the general Church Fund and, as the village now had its own theatre it was felt we should help out by putting on a suitable performance. Val settled on John Barton’s complilation of “Entertainments by and about the Kings and Queens of England”.
That the theatre was helping the appeal was particularly germane given that St John the Evangelist’s first vicar was none other than the Revd Charles Garratt who lived at the Grange for around fifty years and had become a major part of village life.
The task presented several problems, not the least being that the church’s wiring wasn’t really meant to carry stage lighting loads and the architecture itself didn’t easily lend itself to supplying suitable perches for the lights themselves. Two long scaffolding poles were lashed into the roof and the lights’ cabling tucked as much as possible out of sight.
The music was to be supplied by Maureen Lake with her harpsichord (an original one) which during the rehearsal kept going out of tune in the damp atmosphere of the church. In despair she brought her electric organ capable of producing sounds ranging from a ‘honky-tonk pianner’ through to the Royal Albert Hall’s vast organ, and a whole range of instruments in between.
The evening was a great success but the threatened rain set in just as the show was ending. The audience departed, the ten members of cast plus Val and Fred retreated to the Grange and left the three techies the happy task of de-rigging the church on their own. Although it always takes less time to take out rather than to ‘get in’, it was about an hour later when all the equipment had been loaded into our cars ready to transport it back up the road to the Grange.
A quick check found that a dimmer rack was missing. The night was dark and wet; we searched the building, the close environs, everywhere – but the rack had disappeared. Opposite the church was the village telephone box. One of us rang Little Tew 225. There was a long delay before we heard Fred answer.
Feeling a little abashed we admitted to having temporarily ‘lost’ a dimmer rack. On the line we could hear sounds of music and merriment. Fred couldn’t hear us very well. Standing around the ‘phone box, shivering, cold, wet and tired we heard Fred’s dulcet tones float from the receiver; “You’ll have to speak up, old boy. We’re having a bit of a party here.”
To add insult to injury, Fred then cheerfully admitted to not having told us that during the get-out he’d taken the rack in his car in case it might have been forgotten. Murder was considered . . .
Of this first production of the Hollow Crown (we did it four years later, in the comfort of the theatre itself) nothing remains. The programme was a simple, typed sheet distributed along the pews for members of the audience to pick up.
While the interior of the church was transformed by the lighting, the east window came in for particular attention. To bridge that unavoidable gap at the beginning of any show, when houselights must give way to the stage lights, I positioned our biggest flood lamp outside so that it would throw its light directly up and onto the stained glass window.
At the beginning of the show, on that dark, wet October evening, the church’s pendant lights were extinguished one by one to leave the audience in gloom. Then, to their astonishment and delight, the beautiful glowing colours of the east window gradually built in intensity until the chancel was bathed in myriad hues which completely transformed the area.
The specific stage spots then gently added to the picture, the narrator received his prompt, and we eased gently into the show.