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Drama at Woodbridge School


Drama at Woodbridge School

The Age of Moore and Pluke

Rob Taylor reveals a fantastic memory of the days of ‘Basher’ Lewis and the production of Barbarina

Alistair Westbrook has more Barbarina Memories!

The Seckford Theatre

Old Woodbridgians in Theatre and Television

Jessica Oyelowo on the Front of the Radio Times



You will have to forgive the emphasis given to Drama in the magazines and website leading up to the opening of the Seckford Theatre in the Summer of 2006. The theatre is a magnificent state-of-the-art playhouse, certainly one of the best of its kind in Britain and a magnificent facility for any school to use and to enjoy. In our memories section you will find the experiences of Robin Taylor and the production of Barbarina, under the guidance of ‘Basher’ Lewis. ‘The School Play’ survived until the mid-1970s but times were changing; the school was changing - expanding rapidly and girls taken in. There was a greater emphasis on music and demands by pupils of all ages to show off their acting talents. Thus we entered The Age of Moore and Pluke.


Well, Mrs. Pauline Moore and Mrs. Kay Pluke to be precise.  Mrs. Moore took up the baton after Tim Nightingale moved on and her first production was the mightily praised ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. ‘The Winslow Boy’ followed and ‘Arms and the Man’. The fun of ‘Alice in Pantoland’ involved two-thirds of the school in a great Spring extravaganza. Co-operation with the Music Department saw a very lively ‘Mikado’ on the tiny school stage.

First Year plays were introduced - and they are still going! Also there were LAMDA Certificate classes as a Friday afternoon activity. PMM pays tribute to Vicky Jones and Mel Ringer from the world of Art and Technology for their invaluable contributions ..... and the catering staff from those days.

Asked to name some of the young actors she remembers she reels off a long list, aware that not every great name can been mentioned. Peter Prentice; Guy Campbell; Andrew Clarke; Jennifer Humphreys; Anne Clifford; Jessica Watson; Camilla Rutherford; Alistair Fisher; Louisa Tee; Niazi and Yazan Fetto; Robin Weaver; Amy Dutton; Oliver Bowles; John Edwards. Many of these are now in the professional theatre and others are in linked professions where performing skills play an invaluable part.

Do not forget also the role that PMM played in the first days of The Globe Theatre in London and such was the input of Woodbridge School that we were actually invited to the opening celebrations.

Kay Pluke had worked with PMM during these key years and she assumed responsibility for drama on the latter’s retirement. With the decline of boarding, new difficulties appeared. Day pupils are not quite so readily available for rehearsals, especially on Sundays, when they live in Beccles or Bungay. ‘It’s always easier to pull from a pool of captive children,’ comments Mrs. P.

Together with Mrs. Pat Morgan, Mrs. Pluke further developed work with junior pupils and Year 7 plays were particularly popular, ‘Ernie’s Incredible Illucinations’ saw two successful productions. There were concerts and supper theatres with poetry readings, plays written by junior children, music and dance.

We are reminded of a whole series of excellent productions, including ‘The Doctor and the Devils’, and ‘The Genesis Roadshow.’ ‘Animal Farm’ was a dramatic and zoological triumph and A-Level and GCSE syllabus plays were also produced - ‘Trifles’ by Susan Glasspells, ‘The American Dream’, Edward Albee and Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible.’

Mrs. Pluke took us to Ghent for Drama Festivals and Belgian Schools were welcomed and performed here in Woodbridge too. A School from Zimbabwe also visited.

And then there were major shows at the refurbished ‘Riverside Theatre’. ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Guys and Dolls’ stand out here. ‘Grease’ was another popular and praised extravaganza. A dramatic rendition relating to the Sutton Hoo story - ‘Beowulf’, written by Mark Mitchels with music by John Stafford was the first time the chapel lawn had been used as the venue for an open-air spectacular.

Kay Pluke adds Luke Roberts, Izzy Summers and Sam Hodges to the list of notable names, stressing again that so many talented performers could be individually named.

Do not let us forget the presence of Filomena Cristalino in the latter Pluke days; she gave us physical theatre and we all enjoyed ‘The Rainbow Play’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Demon Headmaster’.

Meanwhile, back in the classroom Mrs. Pluke was a full-time teacher and magician of the LAMDA skills. Pupils of all ages obtained their certificates and qualifications, so valuable for self-confidence but also useful aids in the pursuit of college places and much more.

So, in short, and yes, this is in short - this is still not a definitive history of Woodbridge School drama in its later years - The Mrs Moore and Pluke laid massive foundations of interest and success in drama and if you want absolute proof, we have it. Now a Director of Drama serves on the staff with a growing department and a magnificent new theatre arises which will crown the work of those staff, from Dudley Symon onwards who did so much to foster enthusiasm in this vital art-form.


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Rob Taylor reveals a fantastic memory as he recalls the days of ‘Basher’ Lewis and the production of Barbarina

         Basher on the Sports fields!!

It is difficult to believe that it is this many years since I entered the first form as a wide-eyed, enthusiastic 11-year old. At the time Woodbridge School was for boys only and, coming from a small sheltered C of E primary school where the Head and all the teachers were female, this was to me an austere new world of ‘day-boys,’ ‘boarders’ and masters who wore gowns and sat on a dais at the front of the class; where the virtues of good manners, self-discipline and application to one’s work were quickly learnt, as were the perils of any failure to comply with the minimum implied standards.

I found great pleasure in the weekly music lessons directed by a young, talented and charismatic teacher called Derek Hyde. He would walk among the class as we sang, and invited those of us who weren’t ‘growlers’ to join the school choir. Very soon he singled me out and asked if I would learn the soprano parts for two of the duets that would be in the school play for the Summer of 1959, an operetta entitled ‘Barbarina’ a delightful adaptation in English of Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’.

My classmates were of the ‘bulge’ generation born immediately after the Second World War and to accommodate them Woodbridge School was expanding, with its first two-form entry, imaginatively called 1a and 1b. I was rather pleased to belong to 1b as the French master was the business-like but affable Tony Gooden, who taught with great thoroughness and clarity and gave us a sound foundation in French.

The less-fortunate - to my mind - pupils of 1a had a French teacher whose nickname struck fear into our young hearts - a fear only compounded by the sight of him stalking the corridors and the grounds of the school. Of middle age, his build could actually be described as ‘beefy’. He invariably wore a powder blue double-breasted suit, which only just closed around the middle; the trousers were suspended on inefficient red braces, which allowed the turn-ups to fray under hush-puppied heels. He flourished a sturdy walking stick, which served to embellish his measured gait rather than to assist it since, for such a heavily-framed man he seemed incredibly light on his feet. His strong-featured ruddy face was topped with a mane of silver hair, parted in the middle. Consistently misplacing his horn-rimmed bifocals, his eyes would narrow into a terrifying squint as he attempted to focus on his surroundings. A large bow tie completed the awe-inspiring presence. The name of this teacher was Hugh Lewis and his terrible sobriquet was ‘Basher’. It may be assumed that a great deal of effort was expended by many of the more timid pupils, including myself, in giving ‘Basher’ a wide berth.

One day I was walking along the corridor with my classmates at the end of a lesson, when I felt a sharp prod on the back of my calf. I turned round and, looking up, was transfixed to find Basher’s eyes frowning down at me. ‘Who-who-who are you?’ he boomed, with his characteristic stutter. ‘Taylor R B, sir,’ I replied, helpfully distinguishing myself from another Taylor in my class with the initial ‘I’. ‘Can you act, Tay-Tay-Taylor R B?’ demanded Basher. ‘Yes, sir’ I answered. ‘Good. Come to the school hall after lunch for rehearsals.’

Basher soon unveiled a side of his nature that surely endeared him to all his colleagues and to succeeding generations of pupils he taught; an outrageous sense of humour that permeated his approach to life and to teaching, and which could reduce you to stitches in seconds. His dark eyebrows would rise a little, his eyelids grow rounder to reveal glistening brown eyes and laughter lines; his pugnacious lower lip would soften as it curled upward to reveal symmetrically missing upper molars, somehow emphasising the fun in the observations and witticisms that punctuated his every discourse.

An example was when he turned to the quiet and serious maths teacher, David Hull, who had been sent to ‘mind’ him and keep him calm before a dress rehearsal, dramatically to announce, powder puff in hand. ‘Of course, I shall soon be giving up teaching, you know.’ ‘Really,’ responded the innocent Mr. Hull, ‘What will you do?’ ‘I’m thinking of going into the priesthood.‘ As with any gifted comedian, the surreal and graphic images he created had you eating out of his hand.

As music and drama rehearsals simultaneously progressed, the days of that first year at Woodbridge seemed to gather pace towards the climax of the summer production. Basher’s ebullient approach to the coaching of drama was demonstrated more than once when he would bring an unsatisfactory performance to an abrupt halt by loudly crashing his stick on the seat of a chair. Performances quickly attained the required level.

There being no girls in the school at that time, all the female parts for the operetta were played by first- and second-formers. As ‘Barbarina’ was set in the 18th century, dozens of wigs and crinolines were hired for the occasion, and Basher ensured that, early on in the performance, all the participants circulated the stage so that bemused parents in the audience could admire their new ‘daughters’.

In my role as Susanna, maid to Barbarina the countess, I had the honour of singing the amusing opening duet with my ‘betrothed’, Figaro, played by Peter Fish, tenor, lower sixth. The masterly characterisation has Figaro, anticipating his forthcoming nuptial pleasures, measuring the room for a new bed, while the vain Susanna looks in the mirror, as she adjusts her bonnet, to her mind a more pressing priority.

My most pleasurable and enduring memory, however, is of a more melodic, haunting duet sung later in the play with the countess Barbarina, ably played by Bill Winn, soprano, second form. It begins as Barbarina dictates a letter to her maid Susanna, who repeats each phrase until their two separate voices, fired by the emotions in the letter merge into an exquisitely harmonious finale such as only the genius of Mozart could create. The beautiful duet stunned the hardened prison inmates of the bleak but gripping film, ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ some may remember.

Music of all types has the power to evoke memories good and bad. Whenever I hear this particular duet from ‘the Marriage of Figaro’, my mind travels back through the years and all of the above, and more besides, is vividly re-enacted. Thank you Derek Hyde; thank you, Basher; thank you, Woodbridge School - and thank you Mozart.

Here’s the cast and the page from the Speech Day Programme 1959.

William Winn, John Dunnett, Robin Taylor and Peter Fish took the main roles and the villagers were: Timothy Craven; Anthony Hull; Christopher Miller; Christopher Thompson; Richard Vaughan Griffith; Nicholas Dawnay; Alistair Westbrook; Douglas Balch; Paul Woodcraft; William Bumstead; Michael Beal; James Taylor; Maurice Jones; James Stevens; George Barton; John Savage; Roderick Fell; Trevor Blackman; David Wells; Maurice Casey; Richard Frank; Brian Craig; Peter Letley; Christopher Nelson; Alan Westbury; John Helliwell; Robin Pooley; Alan Dann; Bernard Kendall; Brian Wesby; Paul Letzer; Stuart Morse; John Bridgland; Ian Taylor; Alexander Burgon.

The sets were erected by C.H.Jackman and T.M.Dix and D.W.Miller was on the curtain. Staff involvement backstage included the legendary figures, David Hull, Albert Holmes, E.G.Johnson, D.P-R and of course the aforementioned Derek Hyde and Hugh Lewis.


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Alistair Westbrook has more Barbarina Memories!

Alistair A Westbrook (1956-1963) also has a tale to tell.

I was one of the ‘village girls’ so it would be perhaps appropriate to write from a more downbeat perspective; however, halfway through the production I was recast by ‘Basher’ to become ‘a village boy’, a certain amount of sex reassignment but I feel that it was a good thing as I was about 5ft 10ins tall with size 10 feet!

My enduring memory of the production was the unstinting effort, enthusiasm and pursuit of perfection by everyone involved, from the stagehands, scenery painters, electricians et al, to the chorus and principal players.

There is little I can add to Rob Taylor’s memories. I share his comments concerning Derek Hyde. I was the school choir as well as the chapel choir and thus had many dealings with him. He was a tall, elegant and extremely handsome man with a shock of long dark hair that regularly fell forwards over his face and he would flick his head back or run his fingers through it as he conducted us in choir practices. During my time at the school he married a stunning Tahitian lady, I believe to the envy of many of the boys.

I remember thinking that Rob (Susanna), looked absolutely gorgeous; he had fine planes to his face and suited the transformation perfectly. (Relax Rob; I won’t be contacting you for a date!) I can just see DPR, his head inclined slightly and his brolly waving dangerously about, saying, ‘Oh such a lovely boy.’

Returning to the production; we used Queen’s House as the dressing room; there was no space in the School Hall and we were helped by Mrs. Hull, wife of the housemaster and by a Mrs. Jean Brown. The latter also visited the school to coach the fifth formers in ballroom dancing in preparation for the end of term dance. A sensuous lady usually attired in a silk sheath dress earnestly enjoining us to ‘lead with the hips.’ We had been ordered by ‘Basher’ to acquire various female attire from our parents in preparation for the production. Despite my mother having wishes I was a girl, she was somewhat surprised when I asked to borrow a skirt, bra and various other items of female apparel. Perhaps she thought she had overdone the wishing thing or that the rigours of Public School life had turned my head.

We had to keep our little pile of clothing on the chairs by our beds in the dormitory; I suppose it would have looked strange to have hung them on the hooks in our changing rooms.

For some reason the ladies Hull and Brown had singled me out for some mischief. I was dressed in preparation for a rehearsal when Ms. Brown decided that I required more fullness under my skirt and with no more ado hitched up the skirt and pulled on a slip underneath. Mrs. Hull arrived moments later and muttered something about ‘too much fullness’ and down came the slip again. This went on some ten to twenty times and I was rapidly becoming covered, or perhaps ‘uncovered’ in confusion. Not wishing to be indelicate the expressions concerning scorch-marks and yo-yo come to mind. I am not sure what had occasioned this nefarious activity and that they were none too careful in their handling of me. There was a similar disagreement concerning earrings and these were also clipped on and then removed with great regularity.

Eventually an agreement was reached and I was released from their clutches to proceed across the grass to the School Hall. I was reflecting that the white plimsolls detracted from the total effect when I became the recipient of catcalls and wolf whistles. Realising that this was probably the kind of behaviour that girls had to endure on a regular basis I turned to my admirers and pursed my carmine lips whilst probably adding some rejoinder that ‘they should be so lucky.’

My moment of glory, however was short-lived and I became a ‘boy’ again. Somewhere in my archives, I still have the colour pictures taken of the production. I will go and seek them out .....


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The Seckford Theatre

The Seckford Theatre, pictured above from just down the drive from School House, became operational during 2006 and was officially opened by Robert Hardy CBE on 9 February 2007.  All Old Woodbridgians have given money to this project either individually and/or collectively through the £5,500 donated on your behalf by the OW Committee from reserves.  This is a truly magnificent facility which is not only available to the pupils of today and the future, but is also available to the local community for dramatic and musical productions of every sort.  You must see it if you haven't already!


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Jessica Oyelowo on the Front of the Radio Times


How wonderful to see one of our very own making front page news !!


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