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A thank you to the Drama Department

Thursday, 24 January, 2019 -- joe

In 1975, whilst in the Lower Sixth, I was in a School production of the Fire Raisers by Max Frisch, directed by Anthony Barnard. Don’t look too hard at the photos to spot me; I was a fireman and the Doctor of Philosophy whose sole speech was drowned out by sirens and fire alarms. Happily it wasn’t my only appearance on the College stage (in the old gym), but it was with friends made in that show that I went to see a production of Oh What a Lovely War at the Bromley Little Theatre.

So began my fascination with the Great War which led to me directing Oh What a Lovely War twice, most recently at the Minack in Cornwall, marking the 100th anniversary of the declaration of war on 4 August 1914.

So when I was then tasked by my colleagues at the Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre in Crayford with directing a play to commemorate the end of the war, there was a bit of head scratching. Eventually we discovered that the great 1927 novel of All Quiet on the Western Front had been staged professionally at Nottingham Playhouse and in theatres in the US. We made contact with Robin Kingsland, the writer who had adapted it, and then, with great fortune, obtained the permission of the Remarque Estate to perform it.

In email exchanges with Mr Kingsland it was clear that he felt strongly that the actors playing the young soldiers should indeed be young; in that respect I was very fortunate to be able to tap into the enormous talent in our Youth Group but, with some recent departures to University (including my own son Harry, a 2017 leaver), I also needed to look elsewhere.

And where else to look but the Eltham College Drama department? Kerry Robinson very kindly pointed me in the direction of one of her pupils who was taking a year out after leaving last summer and Harrison Marsh duly turned up for auditions last July.

I had no hesitation in casting him as Albert Kropp, best friend of the storyteller Paul, and along with a cast of 7 other young men, all under 25 and the majority of whom were 17 or 18, we duly marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice over the course of the week which included Sunday 11th November, playing to full houses.

Mr Kingsland joined us for our final performance and wrote afterwards:

I just wanted to say again to the whole company and creative team behind tonight's performance, how very impressed I was with what a beautiful job you've all made of the show….it was a very fine production - strong performances by a very talented cast, terrific set design and costumes, and very good direction. I really couldn't have asked for more. And coming on this especially important centenary commemoration made it all the more poignant.

And why is any of this interesting to readers of Plane Talking? Well maybe some of you will fondly remember acting on that old stage in the gym, being directed by Tony Barnard, and maybe some of you out there are still acting or directing! But also, in casting Harrison, I was very pleased to be able to tap into some talent emerging from the College Sixth Form and create a bridge between School and local theatre which hopefully may be maintained in future seasons.


Mike Higginson, OE 1969-1976