Strathmore Theatrical Arts Group turns 60 this year and, to celebrate this milestone, the STAG team are turning back the hands of time to re-visit some of the company's earliest successes.
The first of these celebration plays is Elizabeth Addyman's The Secret Tent originally produced by STAG in 1959 – not long after the formation of the company, in fact.
According to the brief but succinct synopsis by Irma Jackson (original founding member and member of the Committee until she passed away in 2005) STAG began thus:
In 1954, the following random events occurred in Strathmore:
A play reading was held to raise funds for the local Health Centre
A complete stranger appeared on the doorstep
A chance encounter on a bus
A tiny group of young residents who enjoyed theatre discovered others who shared their interest
Is this a scenario for a mystery novel or perhaps a play?
It is how Strathmore Theatrical Arts Group – STAG – began!
Company President, Gail Armstrong stresses that STAG is as resolute today as it was in 1954 about its aim which is to bring together people of similar interests & to provide a true community theatre where members can share their talents & abilities in diverse fields of performance.
The only theatre company in the area, STAG has certainly brought joy to many over it's 60 years. It even boasts about having a few founding members from 1954 still around, as well as one – multi-award winning actor Mary Little – who is still an active member!
Director Robert Harsley has been given the challenge of directing the first 'celebration' play of 2014, The Secret Tent and says about its resurrection "I read several scripts that were suggested for the first production of STAG’s 60 year celebration and this particular piece stood out because the values and the character types are still prevalent in today’s society. The trusting husband, the wife with a past, the mother-in-law, the neighbourhood gossip etc are all part of today. I know many people who fit into those categories one way or another and it is wonderful to see what the actors bring to their version of their persona. And the ending is very emotional."
The play was published in 1955 and written by Elizabeth Addyman who was an English actress and playwright. She was chiefly known for being married to Arthur Brough, famous for playing Mr. Grainger in Are You Being Served? Some may consider this to be a dated piece but Harsley strongly negates that stating that he considers it as relevant today as it was when it was written. "The problems of marriage, in-laws, busy-bodies and the day to day lives of parents and those around them still exist," says Harsley. " It is just the way we look at them that can be considered dated. It is also relevant in the fact that the grandmother of our leading man, Peter Shepherdson, appeared in the original production at STAG in 1959!"
The Secret Tent is described as a tense drama of love, deceit, murder and mystery. The play opens with Ruth and Christopher Martyn getting ready to go out for the evening – he to an old reunion dinner and she to the pictures with a girlfriend. She does not return home and the police eventually come and tell Christopher they have found a murdered girl identified as Ruth. They have investigated her past – about which Christopher was in complete ignorance. Apart from the shattering news of her death, he is very upset at what the police have told him about her. Therefore, when she turns up – unharmed but obviously having gone through a distressing time, she is bewildered by Christopher’s changed attitude towards her. How she eventually explains the reason for her recent disappearance and how she regains Christopher’s love and trust, gives a wonderfully emotional climax to this taut and dramatic play.
It was also a 1956 film starring Donald Gray but nevertheless Harsley is feeling a little nervous about the obligation this first play has towrdas setting the tone for this landmark celebration of STAG's life? "This is a fairly unknown play and it is followed by one of the most well-known plays Barefoot In The Park," admits Harsley. " I think it will give the audience an idea of what productions were like in the 50s as I am trying to maintain the style of what things were like then. This is my 50th year involved in theatre, so I’m not far behind STAG in that respect."
Harsley first joined STAG in November 2011 to play Dr Frank Bryant in Educating Rita. Harsley describes this as a great experience working opposite Jennifer Piper and being directed by Brett Turner. As a director, Harsley made his STAG debut with last season's Laying the Ghost, and has previously directed Guys and Dolls and Half a Sixpence in Canberra as well as Jack the Ripper and The Boyfriend for Williamstown Light Opera.
Harsley has found some challenges in this process and admits that this will be the first time that he has directed a drama. "I usually concentrate on comedy or musicals and I find it a little more difficult to bring out the actor’s emotions," he says. " With comedy, you sometimes have to pull back on the emotion less it get out of hand. But with a drama, having so much emphasis being on the
actor’s skill in portraying the character and the emotion, sometimes you have to dredge that little bit more from them. Just a touch, to give their performance something extra."
Harsley should have no reservation according to Secret Tent actor Leown Tarrant who states: “Bob Harsley is an absolute delight to work with. Well organised, observant, able to draw the best out of his actors, and a terrific person too. I can’t think of anything more that an actor under his direction could ask for. I feel glad and honoured to be an active part of The Secret Tent.”
Harsley and the STAG team invite you to come and enjoy the delights that STAG has to offer. "Help us celebrate our 60th Anniversary year in the best way – being there! You will be moved, enchanted, and inclined to laugh, boo and hiss at some of the characters. But one thing is certain. The warm welcome." The only thing left to do now is go!
27 February to Sunday 9 March @ 2pm