A Letter From The General
Venue : Woodrush High School
Date : December 1967
Genre : Play
Letters from the General a winner all the way
Despite last minute cast upheavals, Wythall Dramatic Society's latest presentation "A letter from the General" was a winner from start to finish.
Playing to only a fair attendance in woodrush County Secondary school's large hall on Friday, the cast all experienced on the Wythall stage, gave a highly polished well regulated performance which earned them three rapturous curtain calls.
This response was no doubt due to the knowledge of this cast upset at the 11th hour, as reported in this newspaper last week.
Producer Stanley Girling, who was playing the part of German priest father Schiller, stepped into the shoes of Captain Lee when Gerry Solomon had to drop out of this leading part for personal reasons. Jack Parramore, a veteran of the group's past performances, took over the priest’s part.
Yet there was no hint that this top-flight cast had been hastily reshuffled as the audience was wound tightly into a modern tale of the happiness and sadness of a small group of people in a mission hut on the outskirts of China.
Stanley Girling took not a little time in weighing up Maurice McLoughlin's play. He trained his cast superbly- and his cast responded with equal vigour as the story of a band of Nuns who harassed by a communist Army searching for an escaped German Priest and brutally massacring all Nuns and priests in it's path, are forced to leave their small mission to seek safety.
All the Nuns flee, except one who was Godmother to the General of the Chinese Army, and who on the pretext that her Godson has offered her- in the "letter" of the Title - a position in a new orphanage he is opening. And as the Nun Sister Magdalene, Brenda Castle evoked from the audience a tremendous feeling of compassion. As she shuffled about the stage, and as her quavering Voice almost whispered across the hall, one could sense she was living the part. It was a magnificent performance.
Strictly speaking, it would be unfair to single out any particular one of the cast, because the standard was so high all round. But I feel this is one case where I can make an exception to the general rule.
As the Reverend Mother, Dorothy Girling exuded just the correct amount of calmness in the face of terror and hatred. She put not a foot wrong as she portrayed a character of intense wisdom, but not above a slight removal from the straight and narrow path in order to gain safety for her Nuns.
Sister Henry (Estelle Shutkever) again proved her worth in the excellent company and Pauline Hollins as Sister Lucy and Jill Cobill as Sister Bridget provided the snatches of humour in praise worthy supporting roles.
As the ruthless Captain Lee officer in the Chinese Army, Stanley Girling gave a gruff, straight-to-the-point characterisation of an embittered Army officer. This was a good performance from the man who took the stage at the last minute.
As Ruth Stilton, wife of the British Consul Arthur Stilton, Valerie Archer presented a vivid picture of a stinging sarcastic and observant woman with a vicious hatred of the Germans who shot her son in the back. Her vocabulary went biting across the stage and yet she showed a marked compassion when refusing to betray Father Schiller-a German-to Captain Lee. A memorable performance.
Husband Arthur, Gerry Smith, started well as an anxious consul a little indifferent to his wife, but then slipped into a run-of-the-mill characterisation, which did not really impress.
As the hunted Father Schiller, Jack Parramore made the most of his small part. Although tortured by the Chinese, he still showed love and understanding in wasting no time in treating Captain Lee for Father Schiller was the only Doctor the mission had.
Just three things which I feel the company could bear in mind.
The Stage at Woodrush is a large one, and a lot can be done with it in the way of properties and setting. But it seemed a little bare last week, and the set could have been more eye catching.
Instead it gave the impression of being inside a cardboard box with no way out. Nevertheless a lot of work had obviously been put into it by members of the company.
The lighting at one side of the stage left a lot to be desired. It was noticeable though, that the characters did not often stray into that area, giving the impression that this was not able to be rectified.
All told "A letter from the general" was a stepping-stone in the company’s repertoire. The general standard augurs well for the future.
S.T., Redditch Advertiser