Masque Theatre History
We all know the Sixties were swinging. This was the decade of The Beatles, mini-skirts and pirate radio. Northampton didn’t escape the fun. In 1963 The Beatles twice played the ABC Cinema (now the Jesus Army Centre). The Northampton Drama Club tried to keep up with the modern world through its choice of plays.
In 1960, The Entertainer, by that ‘angry young man’ John Osborne, was performed just three years after its London premier. N.F. Simpson’s One Way Pendulum was shown just two years after its first outing. The group was also a relatively early adopter of works by Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Joe Orton.
The Sixties also saw a name-change for the Northampton Drama Club. In 1964, after 27 years, the Club was renamed Masque Theatre. It was felt that there was some confusion between the names of the Club and the Masque Theatre on Thenford Street where the Club performed.
A year earlier, the group had become a member of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain and was host to the Guild for its production of Dandy Dick by Pinero.
The group was becoming well established on Thenford Street. Most productions were performed there and, according to the accounts, audiences ranged from 60% to 97% capacity.
The open-air summer shows used the courtyard of Abington Park Museum. A Chronicle & Echo review of the 1960 Summer show pointed out that: “Romeo and Juliet's tender exchanges may be punctuated by the raucous cries of peacocks”.
Writing in 2000, Greta and John Hendy recalled an incident during the 1968 production of The Winter’s Tale in the courtyard: “One of the courtiers, carrying off the body of Hermoine, went through the stage (mostly made out of beer crates) up to his thigh, sustaining nasty grazes and almost tipping the ‘body’ out of her chair.”
Most of the open-air shows were popular Shakespeare plays but, as in previous decades, Masque would occasionally try something a little different. In 1962, the choice of Summer show was The Hypocrite by Isaac Bickerstaffe and in 1965, it was George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer.
The decisions were not always popular. A review of The Hypocrite in the Chronicle & Echo praises the production but adds: “While “The Hypocrite” - with its stylised dialogue, elegant costumes and almost Moliere-like predictability of plot is a good choice for an outdoor production, it seems unlikely that it will prove such an attraction to the Northampton public as a Shakespearean production - their usual choice - might have done.”
This was a time when London fashion was wowing the Western World. Mary Quant designed the frocks and Jean Shrimpton became the first supermodel. Twiggy was the face of 1966. Youth culture boomed in Carnaby Street and King’s Road, Chelsea.
Alison Dunmore, who looked after Masque’s costumes, realised there was a problem: “By 1960, the felt costumes [used for Summer shows since the war] were getting very shabby. There were plenty of alternative fabrics available and rationing had long since ended, it was therefore decided that the Club should take a fresh look at the costume situation.”
Masque Theatre’s present-day patron, Lesley Joseph, made her first appearance with Masque in 1964, appearing in The Firstborn by Christopher Fry. She went on to play Hermia in Masque’s open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the courtyard (pictured above).
94 1960 Summertime by Ugo Betti
95 1960 The Buskers by Kenneth Jupp
96 1960 Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
97 1960 Step in the Hollow by Donald McDonough
98 1960 Time and the Conways by J.B. Priestley
99 1961 The Entertainer by John Osborne
100 1961 The Infernal Machine by Jean Cocteau
101 1961 Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
102 1961 One Way Pendulum by N.F. Simpson
103 1961 The Man with a Load of Mischief by Ashley Dukes
104 1962 The Mulberry Bush by Angus Wilson
105 1962 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
106 1962 The Hypocrite by Isaac Bickerstaffe
107 1962 The Wrong Side of the Park by John Mortimer
108 1962 The Chinese Bungalow by Matheson Lang
109 1963 The Room by Harold Pinter
110 1963 A Slight Ache by Harold Pinter
111 1963 Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw
112 1963 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
113 1963 Dandy Dick by Arthur Wing Pinero
114 1963 The Queen and the Rebels by Ugo Betti
115 1964 Something Unspoken by Tennessee Williams
116 1964 Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams
117 1964 The Firstborn by Christopher Fry
118 1964 A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
119 1964 Everything in the Garden by Giles Cooper
120 1964 Period of Adjustment by Tennessee Williams
121 1965 The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by William Inge
122 1965 The Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge
123 1965 The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar
124 1965 The Crucible by Arthur Miller
125 1965 Dracula by Bram Stoker, dramatised by H. Dean and H.L. Balderston
126 1966 Next Time I’ll Sing to You by James Saunders
127 1966 The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
128 1966 The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
129 1966 The Innocents by Henry James
130 1966 Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey
131 1967 Duel of Angels by Jean Giraudoux
132 1967 Doctors of Philosophy by Muriel Spark
133 1967 Loves Labours Lost by William Shakespeare
134 1967 How’s the World Treating You? by Roger Milner
135 1967 Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen
136 1968 Visit to a Small Planet by Gore Vidal
137 1968 The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter
138 1968 The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare
139 1968 Loot by Joe Orton
140 1968 The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams
141 1969 The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt
142 1969 The Daughter-in-Law by D.H. Lawrence
143 1969 Noah Noah
144 1969 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
145 1969 A Scent of Flowers by James Saunders
146 1969 Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Distinctive amateur drama
in Northampton since 1932
Registered Charity No. 294848
This information is adapted from the history researched and written by John and Greta Hendy with Alison Dunmore; edited and conceived by Rob Kendall and published in 2000. New material has been compiled and written by Martin Borley-Cox.
Page last updated: 01/03/2012 Masque Theatre © 2012
Romeo and Juliet (1960)
The Seagull (1966)
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