Treading the boards.

Welcome Forums Memories and Discussions Treading the boards.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Author
  • #173
    Neil Canning

    I appeared in various plays at The Grange, comedy being my true forte although I enjoyed character parts too. I shared some great moments on stage with very talented actors. For a while I lived at the top of the house. Occasionally I helped out with sets. For one particular play Fred invented a snow machine, not exactly high tech – it comprised of a cardboard box, a motor and loads of polystyrene. Val wanted the snow to fall at a particular rate (not easy), it took hours to get it right. As far as Fred and Val were concerned everything had to be done to the highest possible standards. It was quite an inspiration how they managed to bring such talent together in a small country village.


    Hi Neil! Thanks for finding the time to visit us and share memories. I remember you well, not only for your superb acting (send money soon!) but for your height on-stage relative to others in the cast.

    You and a few more tall actors used to give me headaches on lighting as I had to continually fade down & up any lights beneath which you passed to avoid your noble bonce seemingly flashing on and off like a belisha beacon.

    That, in turn, would cause problems with unwanted shadows falling onto backcloths, especially those painted to depict country views. If there’s one thing guaranteed to ruin an effect, it’s a distracting shadow on seemingly distant scenes.

    I didn’t always just sit idle in the control room guzzling Guinness, you know!

    Jackie Finlay

    For 25 years I was fortunate enough to be part of the enchanting Grange Theatre family. Looking back through all the programmes, I can’t believe that I appeared in 35 plays!! Fred with his inimitable charm, had ‘chatted me up’ in the bar when I had been to see a production in 1981 and asked me if I would be their “Miss Jean Brodie”……. the beginning of one of the happiest periods of my life. Fred and Val created such a magical world, and we who knew and loved them were privileged to have been part of the unique realm that was the Grange Theatre. I know I am not alone in finding the other world by entering the portals of the Grange – Lewis Carroll’s Alice isn’t the only one to have found that magic door! Oh the memories!! The delight when Fred would phone to announce the read through of the next play….. the assembled cast sitting around the dining room table with our mandatory sherry, scrutinising our new scripts, the joyous expectation of the next 3 months of rehearsals and finally the two weeks’ of the show. And what a show it always was!! Fantastic backstage boys – lighting and sound of the highest order….. The constant amazement at Fred’s excellent and imaginative sets taking shape, Val’s perfect choice of music and effects, and the finest collection of ‘amateur’ actors one could imagine. Professionalism was not only striven for, but achieved.

    What camaraderie there was – the splendid actors I was fortunate to play alongside; the fun of over the years being cast variously as their wife/mistress/mother/daughter. So many names, and so many memories. The brilliant Neil Canning – he of the perfect comedy timing – Lindsey, Martin and Sandra Jacques, Peters Buckman and Burley, Jim Harper, Denise Glazer, Elaine Donnellan, Bruce Cunningham, Brian Clarkin, Rob Gorton, Catherine Glynn, Adam Hurst, Mark Brown, Liam Sebag-Montefiore, Carol and Vic Ince……oh the list is endless. My late daughter, Helen, appeared with both me and my husband Bruce in Chekhov’s “Wild Honey” and my daughter Caroline played beside me as my stage daughter Sorrel in Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever,” and so our little Finlay family group always felt very much a part of the larger Grange Theatre family.

    But all good things have to come to an end…..I took part in the very last production at the Grange Theatre, Val’s adaptation of “The Shell Seekers”. In all the parts I have played over so many years, I had never before had a role which required me to actually die on stage. But the very last thing I ever did on that beloved stage was to breathe my last as Penelope Keeling. Little did I know what a prophetic moment it actually was and that I would never again tread those boards.

    What joy and precious memories Val and Fred and the Grange Theatre have left behind. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


    One emotion shared by all the cast on the shows down the years was mild panic at being so very close to the front row of the audience; if standing downstage at the apron the poor saps were less than six feet from the patrons occupying Row A. The very close proximity meant there was nowhere to hide if lines were forgotten, and the costumes and set also had to be produced to a very high quality.
    We had problems, too, if a following scene was being set behind the midcloth while the current one was running. The stage shared with the auditorium a very sharp and clear accoustic – good for actors’ voice projection but worrying for any (sometimes) leaden-footed stage crew pussyfooting their way across a dimly-lit upstage area especially if heavy furniture had to be shifted on or off. Not only would it be rather embarrassing for the audience to have heard anguished whispers emenating from seemingly nowhere, but of course such “noises off” could be so distracting for the actors downstage.
    (These grandiloquent stage terms make the theatre sound much larger than it in fact was: there will soon be a separate section in this website detailing the, er, bijou area within which such memorable magic as Jackie refers to above was created. As they say, “you really had to be there…”)

    Bushy Fade

    What Ho old boy!

    Why I’m posting on this thread I have no idea, the closet I got to the ‘boards’ was putting nails or screws in them!

    So I think my contribution to this thread should be short — and in my truest of traditions end with a……………


    Bushy Fade you see 😉 (maybe you had to be ‘in the box’ to understand that)


    Aha! another memory, this time from techie Ian Bushrod. I’ll expand on his valuable contribution to the theatre a little later but I must explain his “Bushy fade” comment.

    At the close of every performance, the houselights came on so the audience could see to leave, and some walk-out music would be quietly played and the front-of-house lights left on dim just to dress the main curtains.

    Sometimes a few folk would remain seated (to discuss the show and often to avoid the initial crush in the bar and the slow-moving cars leaving the drive).

    Once the techies had pretty much put the control room to bed we’d gently fade the sound and lights out in what we hoped was a suitably professional manner. But not if Ian was on the controls they weren’t!

    The (in)famous Bushy Fade consisted of simply cutting power to sound and lights, leaving just the auditorium lights up! Subtle, not!


    Following on from the Bushy Fade, I’ve remembered an old theatre joke that describe’s Ian’s habit perfectly.

    A famous singer agreed to appear at an evening gala concert held in her local village hall in aid of the church fund. She called in during the afternoon and found the caretaker.

    “Now,” she said to him, “when I come on-stage I want the lights to dim leaving just one spot tight on my face. As I begin my first number, build the lights to full with mainly straw- and gold-coloured filters predominating.

    “At the end of that number, fade to blackout, pause two seconds and then build to full again, this time in cool blue for my sad song. No blackout at end, just a cross-fade into deep golds for my final number.

    “Slowly tighen down to that one spot during the song so that within ten bars of the end the stage is entirely dark apart from my face. At the close, go to blackout and immediately up into full light for my bows.”

    And the world-weary caretaker replied, “Does that mean you want the light switch up or down?”

    He could well have been related to Ian !

    Adam Hurst

    My first play at the Grange was playing Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream. My last play was as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights in 2004. In those intervening 15 years I appeared in a total of 21 productions, and wore many more wigs than I would care to admit to in public. I made many friends, some of whom I am lucky enough to still be able to spend time with today. I played baddies (Romeo and Juliet, and The Gingerbread Lady), romantic leads (Butterflies Are Free, Wuthering Heights), spoilt brats (Hay Fever – twice) but mostly bemused blokes who just happened to be in the wrong place, at the right time (See How They Run, Barefoot In the Park, The Darling Buds of May, The Barretts of Wimpole Street). I truly loved the Grange, and had the most wonderful time there. Life moves on, and things change, but those memories are as vivid today as they ever were. Now then, talking of wigs…

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.