Monday, September 26, 2011

They Didn't Stoop, They Conquered..."

This classroom....smelling of beeswax polish and new leather shoes and freshly washed hair, of Quink ink and of secretly sucked fruitgums .....HERE was the place I wanted to be.
September sunshine fiddled through leaded light windows. Books lined shelves: history, science, bibles, hymn books stacked into towers....Ancient and Modern....The Approach To Latin ( later I altered mine to " The Approach To Eating".....just a few strokes of m'pen) .......Pens and pencils stood prim in jars, freshly sharpened crayons and chalks the colour of sherbert glittered in tiny earthenware pots. And desk lids creaked as we opened them to retrieve our shiny bulging new pencil cases ( rubbers, sharpeners, protractor, compass) and girls whispered across narrow aisles....Rosemary and Linda and Gwyneth, Elizabeth, Heather, Janet and Marigold..and new friends ( some became lifelong) were made in the blink of an eye, in the glimpse of a smile.......And the afternoon was golden and I wanted to hold it in my hands for ever.
Somewhere along a corridor girls trilled descants. I didn't know then that they were called descants, but oh yes, they were. Someone laughed in the courtyard below our window....a laugh that shimmered... and then that someone's heels clicked away, busy and elegant.....impressively important.
THIS was all marvellous. I was 11 and two days into " senior school". BUT this was my very first English lesson EVER.... and the classroom quietened... as thirty girls in brand new uniforms sat at thirty desks, watchful and waiting.

Our tweed-clad English teacher sat erect in her chair, with her glasses....( "loignettes" said a clever girl called Muriel) .....perched on the tip of her well bred nose. And for one scary minute, we thought Miss had lost The Power Of Speech.
THEN Miss X breathed my mother when she brought in the coal. Miss stared at an angry Queen of Hearts as we sat at our desks in our spotless blazers , well polished shoes, our hair combed and brushed into plaits and bunches and immaculate fringes...
THEN Miss X spoke. She held up a book for all to see: " Our first assignment: Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops To Conquer. You will remember reading this here... and now.. for the rest of your lives." She paused, gauging reactions. Then she stared straight at me: " Now WHO will be Mr Tony Lumpkin?"
SO I was Tony Lumpkin. And Miss X was quite right. I never DID forget it....!

Last week, Chester Theatre Club produced "She Stoops To Conquer" under Jane Barth's astute direction, which brought out many Goldsmith delights. The play was first performed in 1773, but it brims with timeless situations, emotions and humour. There's secret romance, mistaken identity, practical jokes, PLUS witty but thoughtful dialogue, as relevant today as it was centuries ago....OR indeed decades ago....
The cast included newcomers and also actors who have long trod Little Theatre boards.
Tony Kemp ( glorioudsly bewigged) played country squire Hardcastle to the hilt with Mary Premble a fine foil as his snobbish greedy spouse. Zoe Lambrakis was stunning as Kate Hardcastle, bringing both beauty AND exquisitely timed comedy.....delivered in her wonderful tones......and also in perfect Yorkshire accent. Owen Monie ( Tony Lumpkin!) romped througfh the play, causing havoc and boozing with colourful locals: Peter Speirs, Richard McCrossan. Tony O'Byrne and Kat Holmes. AND Josie Herd was a scheming heiress, mischievous and beguiling in equal measure with Eloit Stead as Marlow ( playing both a confident rogue AND a tonguetied admirer) ......while Tim Maragon ( Hastings) plotted and pontificated to amuse us all...
THIS WAS a talented cast giving a most entertaining evening....and bringing back memories of longago classrooms....I suspect for quite a few people...


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