Distinctive amateur drama
in Northampton since 1932

Registered Charity No. 294848


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The Coarse Acting Show
by Michael Green

Newspaper cutting about Masque's 50th anniversary production
Cutting from the Northampton Post marking Masque Theatre's 50th anniversary production


Wed 12 - Sat 15 January 1983
Studio Theatre, Northampton College, Booth Lane, Northampton

More images from The Coarse Acting Show


Miss Cartwright
Rosemary Orton
Conductor Roe Childs
The Countess Formaggio Pamela Stenson
Ann-Elizabeth West
Owen Warr
The Count Formaggio John Hendy
Les Carrick, Rob Childs, Brian Harrap, Diana Hill, Pauline Sawford, Andrew Stenson

The Inspector
Les Necus
Oliver D'Arcy
Rob Childs
Mrs D'Arcy
Pauline Sawford
Hubert D'Arcy Andy Garner
The Major
Owen Warr
The Vicar John Hendy
James Les Carrick
Cook Diana Hill
Sergeant Walter Plinge

Ida Hepplethwaite
Ann-Elizabeth West
Daniel Odadiah Hepplethwaite Les Carrick
Victoria Hepplethwaite Diana Hill
Albert Hepplethwaite Rob Childs
Joe Clegghorn John Hendy
Margery Hackforth Pauline Sawford
Lionel Headbracket Brian Harrap
PC Clement Boothroyd Owen Warr
Jed Throttle Andy Garner

Les Carrick
Rob Childs
Les Necus
John Hendy
Friar Crucible
Andy Garner
Diana Hill
Pamela Stenson
Pauline Sawford
Coarse Actor
Owen Warr
Rosemary Orton, Andrew Stenson
Trees Joan Butlin, Ann-Elizabeth West, Joanne Toone

Director Jean McNamara
Stage Manager
Denise Swann
Assistant Stage Manager
Geoff West
Eleanor Butterworth, Grace Ciappara
Prompts Joan Butlin, Greta Hendy
John Davies
Robin Corbett, Chris Powell
Jane Roebuck
Poster Design
Di Campbell
Publicity Les Carrick
Box Office George Warr

Dave Hickey, The Post, 6 January 1983

To be or not to be a member of the Masque Theatre is the question that crosses the mind of anyone in Northampton who fancies treading the boards.

Mrs Worthington may have been told not to put her daughter on the stage. But many a Northampton Mrs Worthington has had to reach for the smelling salts over the past 50 years as countless daughters and sons have been lured by the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.

The Masque has been in the spotlight since October 26, 1931 when the curtain went up at St Michael’s Hall on their first production - “Street Scene" by American Elmer Rice.

Set in a New York tenement and considered “avantgarde“ by the Conservative with a very large “C” l930s audiences, it established the Masque’s continuing reputation as a theatre that was prepared to take risks.

In those days, the Masque was still known as the Northampton Town and County Drama League - a collection of some eight or nine acting groups from all over Northants who got together to offer something different.

“We wanted to produce things that you couldn‘t see at the Repertory Theatre,” explained one of the original founders Horace Smith, now a sprightly 82 year old.


With no TV and both films and radio in their infancy, groups like the NTCDL could attract large audiences without resorting to repetitive variety and music hall acts or stock farce and Sheridan.

Hardy trouper Mr Smith, who only hung up his acting tights and wooden spear two years ago, recalls how in 1935 they became the first amateur group in the country to stage an oriental play written by a Chinese playwright, "Lady Precious Stream“.

Another first came in I934 when the NTCDL swapped the spotlight for the sunlight and put on their first outdoors performance “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the grounds of Manfield Hospital.

The NTCDL may have changed names as many times as its members have costumes over the years it became the Masque in 1951 - but those outdoor productions remain the high spot of its year.

Come sunshine, snow or rain. the cast can be found every summer in the courtyard at Abington Park rattling off “Friends.

Romans and Countrymen lend me your umbrellas" or “ls that the Abington pub l sew before me".

In fact it‘s not rheumatism or cardboard shields wilting in the rain that‘s dogged the indefatigable thespians’ 22 productions in the park since I946, it‘s the screeching of the peacocks!

“Whenever you screamed on stage the peacocks would scream too." sighed Alison Dunmore. whose connections with the Masque stretch back over 25 years.


“It was so bad one night that one of the actors threatened to strangle them." remembered Mr Smith. “The following day a peacock was found dead although he swore he never did it.”

Peacocks are one thing but any outdoor play is at the mercy of just about everything - not least the vagaries of the so-called British summer.

"l remember we did “Tempest" and l played Miranda in a flimsy gown,” said Mrs Dunmore. “It poured down and l got soaked. It really was a tempest!”

It was during "A Midsummer Night‘s Dream" at the park in I980 that even the redoubtable Mr Smith decided it was time to take his final bow.

“They had a chair on stage especially for me and when l came off there were two or three people waiting to help me down the steps," said Mr Smith. “I realised then it was time to go.”

Past stars at the Masque include newsreader Richard Baker. who played Sebastian in "Twelfth Night" while he was in the area as a war time evacuee. Barbara Mitchell. who starred in several top TV shows before dying tragically young was also a Masque member as was Sybil Williams who went on to marry the man who made Henry Vlll look shy in the marriage game, Richard Burton.

Perhaps their most famous old boy is the man who'll be helping to celebrate their 50th birthday in style later this month, the writer behind the best selling “Coarse" books series, Michael Green.


Michael joined the Masque while working on a local newspaper and one of his works. “The Art of Coarse Acting“. was partly dedicated to his former colleagues.

Michael has built his reputation on being incompetent at everything - he defined a coarse actor as someone who remembers his lines but not the order in which they come - but Horace Smith isn't so sure.

“He was quite useful,“ reckons Horace.

The Masque’s 50th birthday treat at Northampton‘s College of Further Education from January 12-15 will be a series of four plays specially written for coarse actors by Michael Green.

Mike is expected to be there to see such milestones in the history of English literature as “Il Fornicazione”, a grim tale of operatic adultery, poison and mayhem and ‘All’s Well That Ends As You Like It”, a Shakespeare adaptation that‘ll have the bard turning in his grave.

The Masque’s publicity officer Les Carrick is hoping many other former members will attend a celebratory meal on the last night.

As a former coarse rugby player who"s known the misery of struggling to find a permanent pitch and clubhouse, Mike Green will sympathise with the Masque’s current plight trying to find a regularvenue.

“We’re homeless at the moment.“ said Mr Carrick.


L. W. Dickens, Northampton Chronicle & Echo, January 1993

There have been times when the fortunes, hopes and aspirations of Northampton Drama Club have depended on a hand-truck, borrowed at that.

A hand-truck carried all the scenery and “props” from the old Blue Coat School in Bridge Street, one of the club’s shorter-lived headquarters, to the Repertory Theatre for a single afternoon’s presentation of “Jonah and the Whale.”

When the club moved to a new HQ above Marks in The Drapery all the club's possessions were pushed up Bridge Street a truck-load at a time.

In the club’s years of struggle “props” could be hard to come by, but then such stalwarts as Mr. Horace H. Smith, one-time chairman and still an active member, would come to the rescue. If, for example, drapes were needed, down would come curtains at the Smith home - on loan.


Northampton Drama Club grew out of the Northampton Town and County Drama League, which was formed in 1932 following meetings in a founder-members front room. The League was formed to further the interests of drama, to co-ordinate the activities of the drama. clubs already in existence and to produce plays.

Clubs interested in those early days included St. Michaels, Unitarians, YMCA, Catholic, Manfield's, Cooperative, Watford Players, and others. Members prominent in the early days included Mr. Saul Doffman, Mr. Eric Slinn, Mrs. Vida Slinn, Mr. L. G. Hasdell, Mrs. Charlesworth, Lady Henley and Mr. Eric Ball.

The League started ambtiously enough because their first presentation in October, 1932, was Elmer Rice's “Street Scene," produced by the late Mr. Eric Slinn. Incidentally, the passers-by were mainly members of the Junior Imperial League (‘The Imps‘).

At the ‘Rep’

At his home at 42, The Crescent. Northampton, Mr. Smith has 3 pile of programmes, photographs, and cuttings recalling the 36 years of the League and the Drama Club. For him they have been years packed with activity, as officer of the club, as player, as helper off stage and, in earlier years, one of the pushers of that history making truck.

It was he who stage-managed the “one matinee only” presentation of James Bridles "Jonah" at the “Rep.” in 1936. The Repertory Company was then putting on twice-nightly shows and it was not until they had finished their second performance at 11 p.m. on the Friday night that the amateurs could take over and begin staggering up Guildhall Road with truck- loads of scenery and “props.” But they got it all there in a matter of midnight hours complete with the city of Nineveh in the background.

Hurricane lamps

Prior to the move to the Blue Coat School, rehearsals were held in the Racecourse Pavilion by the light of hurricane lamps. Renovations of the pavilion lay in the future and the rats frequently “looked in" on the players. Another place for rehearsals was a contractors yard in Thrift Street with car headlights for illumination.

For a couple of years the headquarters had been over Hardwicks, the signwriter at the top of the Emporium Arcade, when in 1947 the Drama Club took over the lease of 24. Thenford Street, and during the summer members carted away carboys, turned out the pigeons, and converted an old factory into a theatre.

Four years later the first private Little Theatre in the East Midlands was opened, with a seating‘ capacity of under 70. The Masque Theatre’s first presentation was “A Woman of No Importance" in October, 1951, with a cast of 15 and four set changes.

Open-air shows

Since then the Masque Theatre, the centre of constant improvement, has put on an average of four plays each year, many much more ambitious than the Oscar Wilde production which was regarded as so outstanding an achievement in 1951.

Always essentially a club, the Masque has seen many and varied activities over the years, including one-act plays, play-readings, lessons in mime and make-up and costume, voice and movement classes. The Masque has an extensive wardrobe and operates a costume hiring service over a wide area.

Each summer since 1942 the club has given a holiday open-air presentation in Abington Park, mainly Shakespeare.

In 1932, the League ran the first drama festival in Northampton under the auspices of the British Drama League and another “milestone” was the Drama Club's outstanding success with Oscar Wilde's “A Florentine Tragedy ” at the Coventry festival of one- act plays in 1947. The Drama Club takes pride in the fact that two men, who gave it outstanding service, Mr. A. Dyas Perkins and Mr. John Bennett, are respectively chairman and vice chairman of Northampton Repertory Players.

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