We had an hilarious time with our November class. The play we read was… wait for it… “The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth”. This is quite a mouthful!
The scene was the dramatic society’s production of Macbeth and all the pitfalls along the way. In reading the play we needed to be aware of when we were playing a member of the society and when that member was playing a character in Macbeth. With the first act the set had been set up in reverse, so the actors were playing with their backs to the audience. And when the actor to play Lady Macbeth got lost on the way to the theatre, the male stage hand (the only male in the cast) was forced into playing the part. Lots of mistake along the way with people forgetting lines, repeating lines, and our mis-reading of some of the lines only added to the hilarity. We all enjoyed a light very funny play to end the year.
Our Christmas breakup is morning tea on 5 December, meeting at the Art Gallery at 10:30.
This month we completed reading “Witness for the Prosecution”. With several people away, it was a small group reading the remainder of the Act 2 and Act 3. Still we managed to cover all the parts, with the major characters allocated between us, and someone always ready to jump in to cover some minor parts.
Everyone found it a fun play, with an interesting twist at the end.
This is both a short story and a play. The story was first given the title ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ in 1933 and then adapted as a play by Agatha Christie in 1953. There has since been one film and many television adaptions (Check Wikipedia for details).
So far the Benalla U3A play readers have read two Acts, the first being set in chambers of the defence counsel and the second in the courtroom.
Leonard Vole has been accused of the murder of Miss French with whom he did conduct a relationship which he claims was platonic.
Mrs Vole is his alibi for the time of the murder. Her answers under interrogation are not really convincing. She seems to be covering for her husband.........
Oh yes! And Miss French (who was rich) has left her entire estate to Leonard Vole.
We will continue reading ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ in the October Play Reading session. Wednesday 3rd October.
John (Jack) and Algernon (Algy) both invent alter egos with the name Earnest.
Gwendolen and Cecily are smitten by Earnest and Earnest who are really Jack and Algy. They both claim the name Earnest to be a prerequisite for betrothal.
Do Jack and Algy change their names?
Do Gwendolen and Cecily end up with Jack and Algy?
The storyline seems to be a mere vehicle for Oscar Wilde to make comment on social behaviours in a most witty and ironic manner.
‘Cecily: Mamma, whose views on education are remarkably strict, has brought me up to be extremely short-sighted. ‘
[And Cecily does wear glasses as she is extremely short-sighted.]
The U3A Benalla play readers read this play in one session and it was very much enjoyed by all.
Today the popularity of the name Earnest (more commonly spelt Ernest) has very much waned since Victorian times. Internet research places it currently at around number 300.
Due to the length of recent plays our group has needed time in the subsequent meeting to finish them. Whilst this can be a little inconvenient our group covers it very well and the climax still brings the wonderful drama or humour or tears that emerges from the plays.
We finished an extremely funny play last session entitled “Breath of Spring” by Peter Coke. The play was West End hit in 1958, portraying Dame Beatrice and her lodgers – a posse of posh but impoverished “paying guests” who hit on a novel way of making money while discovering what jolly good fun it is to be criminals. After finding how easy to snuffle a fur coat or two carelessly left unattended in shops and cafes, they set about their unlikely new career, selling off the stolen goods to donate the proceeds anonymously to assist similarly impoverished friends. In the end, when a policeman turns up to report a fur coat was found in a local cafe all panic breaks out among the house guests. After total confusion, excuses and the police convinced that these people are not the highly organised gang responsible for stealing and selling the fur coats things settle down and house members talked about relaxing holidays overseas. A couple of guests chat about another fund raiser, others gather round. The final line in the play is “Well, my idea is this. We . . . . .” Much laughter all round.
The next play we started was “Inheritance” by Hannie Rayson, written after two of her block buster successes - “Life after George” and “Hotel Sorrento”. “Inheritance” has been described as a powerful new drama where duty contends with freedom, and the differences of race, gender and generation must be reconciled before the claims on “Allandale” and its families may be settled. Some key characters are the Myrtle twins, Dibs Hamilton and Girlie Delaney who are turning 80 in the very near future, all members of both key families are descending upon the family home in the Mallee district of Victoria to see who will be the one to inherit the family property, “Allandale”, when the ageing Farley has gone. Already our group has had some enormous bouts of laughter at the various situations and as the plot thickens. We all are excited about continuing with this script.
The group found the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie a powerful and compelling play, possibly the most engaging we have read to date. Who can forget our own Gwen Barnes as Jean Brodie and her pronunciation of 'creme de la creme'!
The play for May is Breath of Spring, a snap decision based on the recommendation of the volunteer at the Victorian Drama League. Our choice had been 84 Charing Cross Road but as it is being performed in Melbourne shortly all the available scripts are in use.
We've just finished reading 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie', finding it very absorbing and powerful. The Film & Lit crew in the class are thinking of adding it to their list of films and we were all wondering if it's available on You Tube, It is... here goes!
There's also a BBC drama series featuring Geraldine McEwan which looks excellent.
At our March meeting we completed Act 2 of Alive and Kicking. While providing quite a lot of humour, there was a sadness underlying the play relating to ageing. Spirited discussion followed and many agreed the characters in the play had the right approach. Boycott “going into care” and share a house with like minded people! A line which amused many of us “I don’t want to die until I’ve finished up all my bits of wool...”!
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is ‘the story of an eccentric Edinburgh teacher who inspires cult-like reverence in her young female student-followers, referred to as “the crème de la crème.” The Brodie Set is at first dazzled by Miss Brodie’s unconventional ways and her distaste for conventional education. She instills in them her own passion for art, music, men, and all things Italian. However her excessive self-confidence also exposes the girls to a new world of adult games and boundary crossing’.
Miss Brodie's passion for teaching and extraordinary capacity to use the English language is clearly illustrated with the following outburst at the school Principal. “You will not use the excuse of that pathetic, that humorous document to blackmail me! Mr. Lowther, you are a witness to this. Miss Mackay has made totally unsupported accusations against my name and yours. If she has one authentic shred of evidence, just one, let her bring it forth! Otherwise, if one more word of this outrageous calumny reaches my ears, I shall sue! I shall take Miss Mackay to the public courts and I shall sue the trustees of Marcia Blaine, if they support her. I will not stand quietly by and allow myself to be crucified by a woman whose fetid frustration has overcome her judgment! If scandal is to your taste, Miss Mackay, I shall give you a feast!”
The play met with great controversy when first performed in the late 60’s and provides an interesting comparison with the social norms of today.
Jenny McKenna and Keith Rogers
The play we are currently reading 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' was scripted by Jay Presson Allen based on the novel by Muriel Spark. The Victorian Drama League Catalogue writes:
"Jean Brodie, teacher at the Marcia Blaine Academy, incurs the disapproval of her colleagues by her unconventional teaching methods, her favouritism among her pupils, and also by her admiration for Mussolini and Italy. Scandals increase, chiefly involving the art teacher and the music teacher. One member of her group of favourites is killed while running off to fight for Franco. Her chief protegee, Sandy, denounces her as a murderer."
"Dame Muriel Spark (1918-2006) was a Scottish poet, essayist; superb short story writer turned brilliant novelist. During World War II, she worked for the Foreign Office in a secret department that produced black disinformation and propaganda, which she described as "detailed truth with believable lies."
Of partial Jewish descent with a Jewish father and Protestant mother, in 1954, Muriel converted to Roman Catholicism after editing the letters of Cardinal John Henry Newman. She felt that her new faith contributed to her gaining the confidence to become a novelist. She was supported in her decision by Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.
The Times in 2008 counted her as one of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945." She became well known for polished, comic prose with dark tonalities that that touched upon serious subjects and explored human foibles.
Probably the author's best known and sixth novel is The Prime of Miss Jane Brodie (1961). In it, Jane Brodie, an overly enthusiastic spinster teacher, so enthuses over political-and-military commitment that some of her students become involved and die for their beliefs. The teacher Jane Brodie was modeled on Christina Kay, a teacher at Marcia Blaine School, which, in turn, was modeled on Spark's own James Gillespie's High School for Girls. The novel became a hit, long-running Broadway play starring Vanessa Redgrave and the 1969 film for which Maggie Smith won the Oscar for Best Actress.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was nominated as one of Time Magazine's "100 Best English Language Novels From 1923 To 2005." Cyril Connolly 260. The Modern Library's 200 Best Novels in English since 1950.
Muriel Spark's novels The Public Image (1968) and Loitering with Intent (1981) were both short-listed for The Booker Prize. Spark wrote more than 20 novels, several cellections of poetry, criticism, short stories, biographies, and even a few children's books."
The information on Muriel Spark above was sourced from description regarding a copy of 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' "published in Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1962. First American Edition.It was possibly from the dust jacket of the book or introduction.
https://www.biblio.com/the-prime-of-miss-jean-brodie-by-spark-muriel/work/57624 (accessed 21/3/2018)
‘Alive and Kicking’ by Judy Bierwith was the play chosen for our group of play readers in February. Synonymous with the title, the chosen cast took on the character roles enthusiastically. An off-beat comedy, the play revolves around recently widowed Alan, whose daughter decides he is to go into care. Alan refuses and the antics and personalities that become involved reflect the dilemma of ageing and the choices available. We all took note!
We welcomed several new members and always have room for more – no specific talent required!
Next month we will complete ‘Alive and Kicking’, then begin ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, which features an unconventional teacher, political intrigue and scandal. Previous U3A groups who have read it rate it highly. Our first choice, ’84 Charing Cross Road’ was unavailable, but will be obtained at a later date.
Just a reminder that we will be gathering at 9.30 for a 9.45 am start this year as we need to finish promptly at 12 midday.
Keith and Heather have chosen the comedy 'Alive and Kicking', recommended highly by Deniliquin U3A's Play Reading group, as our first play for 2018.
Alive and Kicking - Judy Bierwith
"An off beat comedy which shows that when a widower, a sailor, a spinster and an unwanted grandmother join forces, there is little that can stop them. Alan is eighty. His wife Maisie had just died, but despite his daughter's pleas, he refuses to move out of his house. His lifelong friend Stan arrives to provide moral support. Then Stan introduces a young gardener, who brings along his adopted grandmother, and together they rescue Louise from the hated nursing home."
After completing the reading of 'A Murder Has Been Arranged' at our last meeting for the year in early December, we headed off to 'The Northo' for coffee, cake and conversation. A lovely way to unwind after a busy year and to take a breath before preparing for Christmas activities.
Keith Rogers will continue to be the convenor next year, with help in choosing plays from Heather, and also from our small subcommittee of Jenny Sawyer, Jenny McKenna and Shirley Swallow.
Jenny McKenna has offered to take over the 'admin support role' in 2018 involving liaising with the Victorian Drama League re our chosen plays, ordering and returning plays, and collecting weekly contributions towards costs. Thank you so much Jenny for agreeing to do this!
Jenny Macdonald, Jenny Sawyer and Shirley Swallow’s choice of our current play, ‘A Murder has been arranged’, by Emlyn Williams, is proving most engaging. I think we’d all agree Claire Rudolph deserves an ‘Oscar’ for her award winning performance in the role of Mrs Wragg.
We will be meeting again on Wednesday 6th December at 9:45 am to read the concluding scenes of this ‘murder which has been arranged’. Cast members have been asked to come along with costume and props suited to their role. We then plan to head off to the Northo for an end of year coffee and cake together, with some people perhaps staying on for lunch.
If you are thinking of joining playreading next year, remember, you don’t have to remember lines!
October’s session began with the concluding act of Glen Wilson’s engaging play ‘Dear Venus’. A cross between ‘Dimboola’ meets ‘I Dream of Jeannnie’, ‘Dear Venus’ ended ‘happily ever after’ with Benji heading off to the bedroom with Venus!
The session also included a poetry reading, with each person reading a poem with personal meaning to them. Poetry chosen ranged from classic poems from school days, to a poem about Ned’s less well known sister Margaret Kelly, to Claire’s recital of an intriguing poem from her childhood.
A new subcommittee of Jenny Macdonald, Jenny Sawyer and Shirley Swallow met recently to select our next play – their first choice, ‘A Murder has been arranged’ by Emlyn Williams, followed by ‘84 Charing Cross Road’ by Helen Hanff.
Our creative director, Keith Rogers, has been unwell and wasn’t able to attend in October – we do hope he will be able to join us again next month.
Alan Bates' reading as recommended by Marcus.
‘Dear Venus’, described by Deniliquin’s U3A Play Readers as ‘very funny’, was chosen by Keith and Heather for our September/October play reading. An Australian play written by Glen Wilson, it was first performed at the Clayton Civic Centre in 1983.
Set in the family room/kitchen of Benji Smith’s house on his cut-flower farm at Cranbourne, Victoria, it features Benji along with a space-ship/UFO; Venus or R-U 146, a beautiful space traveller; Mrs Pinacelli (Benji’s Part Time Housekeeper) and her contractor husband Tony, amongst others. It could be described as ‘Dimboola’ meets ‘I Dream of Jeannie’!
We suspended belief as we read that a UFO had been seen near, and had in fact landed, on Benji’s market garden in Cranbourne, containing Venus R-U 146 and her beautiful companion robot Emmy or M-E.
It is proving to be an intriguing play which evokes memories of Victoria in the 70’s – of fear and fascination with UFO’s and robots; of relationships between now well established Italian migrants and their Australian born neighbours and workmates, and more.
Next session we will read the final act. As this is quite short, we agreed that we will add a ‘poetry reading' – each person will bring along and read a poem which has meaning to them to the group.
Bev Lee and Jenny Sawyer
At our last meeting we read the play “The Putting Down of Ned Kelly” by Len Kenna. The first public performance of this play was in Benalla during the Felix Festival in April 1995.
It is the story of part of Ned’s life, his trial and his execution. It is also the story of pure political power and about men who were prepared to go to any lengths to protect their positions and to deflect attention from their own activities. It is also a story about today and tomorrow, for as long as men strive to rule and put their own interests ahead of the community: dishonesty, injustice and exploitation will become the order of the day.
It is also the story of a mother who is serving a three year prison sentence with hard labour in the same prison as her son, Ned, who is awaiting execution. However, she cannot go to him, help him or comfort him in any way.
Members were affected by this presentation of the Ned Kelly story. The harsh treatment of Ned and his lawyers by Redmond Barry; dubious documents submitted as evidence and the like.
A very interesting play indeed.
Our July session was held in the Library as the new meeting room at the Benalla Seniors Community Centre wasn’t available and the group couldn’t wait another month to meet!
The play was the second of Terence Rattigan’s ‘Separate Tables’, ‘Table 7’. ‘Table 7’ explores the complex friendship between two lonely, desperate people– Miss Railton Bell (Shirley Swallow), the repressed unmarried daughter of a dominating mother and Major Pollock (Keith Rogers), apparently an upper-class retired army officer, who is likely to be charged with sexually harassing women at a local cinema. We became quite immersed in reading this absorbing, complex play in the sunny far corner of the library. Jane, a friend of Jenny’s, joined us and took on a part for the day.
Next session will be ‘The Putting Down of Ned Kelly’ by Melbourne playwright Len Kenna. This play premiered at Benalla’s ‘Felix’ festival in 1995. Len Kenna has asked if he can join us to hear our play reading!
Our play for June, Terence Rattigan’s, ‘Table 1, Table by the Window’ from ‘Separate Tables’, took some time to set up physically and for us to gain a workable sense of our roles, however by Scene II we were well under away. We became absorbed in this comedy of manners which cleverly addresses complex interpersonal issues in a powerful and thought-provoking way. Jenny and Pat, who had roles as the waitresses, decided to physically serve our imaginary tables while reading. This wasn’t always smooth sailing as we read the script ‘cold’ without any preparation and find we do need to concentrate. Fortunately, we don’t have to remember lines. Now that would be a huge challenge!
Our play for 5 July will be the second of the ‘Separate Tables’ plays ‘Table Number 7’. There is an interim change of time and venue – 12 to 2 pm at the Library - as the Convenors’ briefing meeting is being held in the new U3A meeting room in Fawkner Drive in the morning.
Coming up in August – ‘The Putting Down of Ned Kelly’, by Len Kenna, a play suggested by Marg Symons and first performed in Benalla in April 1995 as part of the Felix Australia Benalla Easter Arts Festival. Len Kenna has granted us rights to do the play reading on the proviso that he can come to Benalla to hear us in action. Having the writer as an audience will really test us out!
This month we completed the second and final act of Calendar Girls. It was great fun to read. Some of us were lucky enough to obtain tickets for the Wangaratta Players live performance of the play and were able to discuss this in class. The performance was outstanding to the point where an extra performance was scheduled.
Our next play is Table by the Window by English playwright Terrence Rattigan. Educated at Harrow, Terrence Rattigan was knighted in 1971 for services to the theatre. His plays V.I.P's and The Yellow Rolls Royce are among others made into successful films. For a time Rattigan was the highest paid screen writer in the world.
Table 1: Table By The Window, one of two one act plays in the well known production Separate Tables, focuses on the troubled relationship between a disgraced politician now turned to drink and his wife. Both plays are about people who are driven by loneliness into a state of desperation. It appears then to be a real contrast to Calendar girls. We look forward to the challenge and discussion. Why not come and join us?
Our next play, chosen by Keith and Heather Rogers, is Table by the Window – by Terence Rattigan. The typical South Coast Hotel Beauregarde is peopled by the old, the lonely and the indigent. The manageress, Miss Cooper, is unable to remain aloof from their troubles. In 'Table No.1—Table by the Window' she attempts to help John Malcolm and his ex-wife Ann, who have ruined each other, find salvation together.
John Malcolm: rugged, middle-aged.
Stratton: personable - 23.
Lady Matheson: mousy - 56.
Mrs. Railton-Bell: autocratic - 66.
Miss Meacham: eccentric - 65.
Miss Cooper: quiet - 35.
Jean Tanner: pretty - 22.
Ann Shankland: attractive, tense - 40.
Mabel: waitress - middle-aged.
Doreen: waitress - 20.
Synopsis and parts sourced from the Victorian Drama League's Online Catalogue
This fun video segment from the film helped to set the scene for our continuing reading of 'Calendar Girls' in May.
Here's a link to find out more about Tim Firth, writer of both screen play and stage play, and the process he used in writing the film
This month our play is Calendar Girls adapted by Tim Firth.
Annie's husband John, dies of leukaemia. Annie has spent a lot of time at the hospital waiting room sitting on hard seats. Her fellow WI (Equivalent of our CWA) friends decide to raise money for a comfy lounge to replace the current waiting room seating.
The play is based on the true story of eleven Yorkshire Women's Institute members who posed nude for a calendar to raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund. They pose for “tasteful” photos of them strategically covered by plants, watering cans, large sunflowers and such.
None of the ladies have done anything like it before and are somewhat nervous in their posing. Hilarious in places such as Annie posing behind a cake stand of iced buns with a red cherry in the centre and holding one over each breast. The photographer calling “don't move the buns”.
The group got well into the swing of things which much laughter especially when we imagined ourselves in the roles. There is also a lot of camaraderie and friendship among the group and we look forward to getting into the second act at our next meeting.
About the Play Reading group
9.30 for a 9.45 am start to 12 noon
U3A Meeting Room, Fawckner Drive
Convenor/s and Contact Details
5762 6855 and team - Jenny Sawyer and Shirley Swallow; with directorial support from Keith Rogers.
Deniliquin play recommendations by author/
recommendations by date read/