Masque Theatre History
This is the decade in which the internet and mobile phones took off. The National Lottery was launched and shops opened on a Sunday - and even all night long.
It was also the decade of the Yugoslav and Kosovo wars resulting in ethnic cleansing and genocide at the heart of Europe.
The Soviet Union broke up, Germany reunited and the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Northern Ireland.
Britpop claimed world dominance with bands like Oasis, Blur and the Spice Girls.
And at Easter, 1998, Northampton had the worst flooding for 50 years. More than 2,000 properties were affected, mainly in the St James and Far Cotton areas of town. Two people died.
The start of the decade saw a change to one of Masque Theatre’s annual events. The open-air summer show, which had been performed every year in the courtyard of Abington Park Museum, was forced to move.
The first open-air production had been in 1934 when the group was known as the Northampton Town and County Drama League. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was staged in the grounds of Manfield Hospital. In the following years, open-air productions took place in various locations: beside the lake in Abington Park, at Delapre Abbey and, in 1946, in the courtyard of Abington Park Museum. The courtyard became the standard venue for the open-air summer shows - until 1990.
The former manor house, which houses the museum, was built at the turn of the 16th Century and the original oak-panelled Great Hall dates from 1500. By 1990, the deteriorating condition of the building meant that essential repairs were required. Masque had to find a new venue for the summer shows.
After one year at the Park Campus of Nene College (now the University of Northampton), Masque was offered the use of the lawns of the School of Occupational Therapy at St Andrew’s Hospital on Billing Road.
The screech of peacocks, which used to punctuate performances at the museum, now gave way to upstaging by rabbits and the grunts of courting hedgehogs.
The move from the museum also saw another change: the end of the official sponsorship of the summer shows by Northampton Borough Council. The Northampton Corporation had first promoted the show in 1942 as part of the Holidays at Home campaign during the Second World War. The 50th anniversary was marked in 1992 with Twelfth Night (pictured above).
The summer shows, which by now were always plays by Shakespeare, would continue to be imaginatively set. 1990‘s As You Like It, directed by John Cartwright, had Rosalind and Celia dressed for skiing during the opening scene. John Lott’s 1992 version of Twelfth Night was set in the 1920s with the twins wearing blazers and straw boaters. And the 1996 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (pictured above) had a Hollywood theme. The director, Barry Hillman, explained in the programme notes: “The fantasy fairy world is now the U.S.A. fantasy of the silver screen - with Norma Desmond its queen: the spiritual emanates from the indigenous Indian native; the rulers are Gone with the Wind landowners and the military; the rustics are hill-billies, and the lovers are ranchers.”
Each season, four indoor productions were staged, nearly all at Northampton College’s studio theatre off Booth Lane.
In 1998, a 22-year-old man took the part of Charles Surface in Sheridan’s The School For Scandal. Alan Carr, of course, went on to become one of the nation’s most popular comedians. (Right: Alan Carr acting with Masque)
The director, Ursula Wright, recalls: “Alan was wonderful to work with. Although not entirely suited to the role, he brought a professional attitude and self-deprecating charm to all rehearsals.” One scene was “performed with the dry wit and accurate timing which characterise his stand-up routines today.” Ursula adds: “He was a talented young actor, somewhat camp in manner.”
Alison Dunmore also has vivid memories of Alan Carr during that production, especially his underpants: "He had see-through, light-fitting britches but the only garments he produced to wear underneath were gory, youthfully exuberant boxer shorts."
When told that he’d need to wear something more suitable and less visible, he professed not to own anything. "His solution was to wear nothing underneath," recalls Alison with a chuckle. "The britches were not firm in texture, leaving little to the imagination, and we had a rather interesting rehearsal!"
A memorable incident during a live performance happened during the run of Our Country’s Good in 1994. The play, by Timberlake Wertenbaker is set in a 1780s Australian penal colony. Greta and John Hendy wrote about it in their history of Masque: “an actor went on with a wire coat-hanger suspended from the pocket of his military frock coat. Everyone else noticed and were corpsing left and right and centre but he remained oblivious.”
Then there was the sound man in the same production who according to the Hendys: “surrounded by miles of loose tape, said triumphantly ‘I’ve found the gunshot’ five minutes after it was needed.”
As the decade drew to a close, Ursula Wright re-established a Masque Youth Theatre. Formed in November 1997, MYT’s first production was Knock, Knock in 1998 (pictured right). The play is set in the distant future in a sealed city of many levels, controlled by a select and privileged few.
The Great Angel Bazaar, about the suffragette movement, followed in 1999. Over the next decade and a half, the Youth Theatre grew into a valuable part of Masque and numbered up to 70 members.
255 1990 The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
256 1990 Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen
257 1990 As You Like It by William Shakespeare
258 1990 Who’s Life is it Anyway?
259 1990 Macbeth by William Shakespeare
260 1991 Private Lives by Noel Coward
261 1991 Female Transport by Steve Gooch
262 1991 The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
263 1991 Happy Families by John Godber
264 1991 The Understanding by Angela Huth
265 1992 The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter
266 1992 The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
267 1992 Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
268 1992 Ring Round The Moon by Jean Anouilh
269 1992 The Secret Rapture by David Hare
270 1993 Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore
271 1993 Women in Mind by Alan Ayckbourn
272 1993 Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling
273 1993 The Tempest by William Shakespeare
274 1993 Crimes of Passion by Joe Orton
275 1993 The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
276 1994 Kennedy’s Children by Robert Patrick
277 1994 Map of the Heart by William Nicholson
278 1994 The Aspern Papers by Michael Redgrave
279 1994 Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
280 1994 Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore
281 1994 Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker
282 1995 The Crucible by Arthur Miller
283 1995 A Family Affair by Alexander Ostrovsky
284 1995 The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
285 1995 The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan
286 1995 Antigone by Jean Anouilh
287 1996 Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
288 1996 Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene
289 1996 A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
290 1996 My Sister in this House by Wendy Kesselman
291 1996 Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
292 1997 All My Sons by Arthur Miller
293 1997 Duet for One by Tom Kempinski
294 1997 Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
295 1997 A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
296 1997 The Shakespeare Revue by Christopher Luscombe and Malcolm McKee
297 1998 Hay Fever by Noel Coward
298 1998 Knock, Knock by Masque Youth Theatre
299 1998 The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
300 1998 Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare
301 1998 The School for Scandal by Richard B Sheridan
302 1998 East by Steven Berkoff
303 1999 A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
304 1999 The Great Angel Bazaar by Masque Youth Theatre
305 1999 Top Girls by Caryl Churchill
306 1999 The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare
307 1999 Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman
308 1999 Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn
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: 04/04/2014 Masque Theatre © 2014
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