Soham Grammarians
The Importance of being Earnest - March 1970

in conjunction with ELY HIGH SCHOOL
by Oscar Wilde

in order of their appearance
LANE - Ivan Cox
JOHN WORTHING - Peter Jaggard
LADY BRACKNELL - Christine Spearing
CECILY CARDEW - Rosalind Greensmith
MISS PRISM, her Governess - Susan Beeby
MERRIMAN - Andrew Humberstone
REV. CANON CHASUBLE, D.D. - Peter Leonard

ACT I : Algernon Moncrieff's flat in Half Moon Street, W.
ACT II : The Garden at the Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire.
ACT III : The Drawing Room at the Manor House, Woolton.

There will be two intervals, in the first of which coffee will be served

SET DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION Mr PJ Askem, Mr RGS Bozeat, Mr AJ Mason, A Barrett, IE Cox, GE Cross, AJ Crow, R Fletcher, J Fry, B King, PG Layer, DJ Neeves, M Parker.
LIGHTING Mr RJH Makin, MA Brogan, HD Wilderspin, CR Maschke, SB Thornhill, SD Bokor.
STAGE MANAGER Mr RJ Humphry, assisted by AN Baldrey, RJ Hart, GE Cross, PD Griffiths, R Fletcher.
PROPERTIES Mr.RJ Abbott, assisted by SJ Melton.
MAKE-UP Mr AG Cornell, Mrs MA Cornell, Mrs S Beeby.

Grateful thanks are extended to: Mayfair of Ely; the Phoenix Antique Shop, Fordham; Mr P Bailey, Mrs YR Gamble, Mrs VMC Laird, Miss A Ford and to many others who have helped with this production.

The producer wishes to thank most sincerely the Head Mistress of Ely High School for her kind co-operation in making the production of this play possible.

Produced by Mr DJ Kilvington

source Mrs M Armitage

Scene from the Inside

Donald McFarlane

The Importance began in Ernest (sic) during the first week of the Spring Term, when casting took place. The play was divided into five sections for convenience, and one section was rehearsed each night. Travel from Ely for the girls meant that especially in the first weeks rehearsals were late in starting: whole packets of biscuits were bought and devoured as soon as the girls arrived (subsequently, the girls arrived much earlier, but the biscuit tradition persisted). The vending machine also proved useful particularly when DJK [editor - Mr DJ Kilvington] provided the sixpences as an apology for being late. The first rehearsals were very boring - so were many later ones until some continuity of action was obtained. But as time went on everyone gained a feeling for the stage - particularly Cecily who managed to find a splinter for her foot while measuring for costumes.

A whole-day rehearsal was arranged for the Tuesday of half-term, weather permitting. The weather did not really permit, but the rehearsal took place despite a six-inch fall of snow overnight. By this time Act I was almost smooth, but the long haul through Act II was not encouraging, and Act III ... well. Lady Bracknell and Jack dominate the dialogue and their interchanges, though witty, demand that everyone else shall stand around and react - this is difficult.

With three weeks to go the biggest problem was words, despite earlier deadlines and DJK was getting worried ...

The Thursday before performance week did give encouragement. All the (magnificent) scenery had been erected, the furniture was used and, most importantly, we had an audience of about twenty - technicians, designers, experts of all kinds, and AGC and his family. They laughed; they laughed at jokes we'd ceased even to snigger at eight weeks previously - they laughed even in Act III, and this added tremendously both to our morale and our performances. Pride cometh ... the next night was a dreadful anti-climax. One bald head drooping inexorably towards the table was our only audience. Impetus was lost, the prompt was continually at work, the head never stirred. In the end, the rehearsal was abandoned in favour of a discussion of amongst other things, legs, and next year's play. But a feeling of dread persisted - only the dress rehearsal remained.

The costumes arrived on the Monday of the dress­rehearsal - they were rather tatty - distinctly less good than the high quality acting (we thought) and staging. The afternoon was generously donated for make-up and costume preparation; after school everything went smoothly except the acting. The promise of the previous Thursday wasn't maintained; the tea-party scene flagged - it was the first time Cecily and Gwendolen had used the silver ware, and it took a lot of getting used to. There were six prompts.

Another rehearsal was required. It took place on the Tuesday: Acts II and Ill were fair, but not much more, and the rehearsal was chiefly remembered for the arrival of the ladies' mascot - a large, cuddly, fluffy thing in a plastic bag. Its presence henceforward was vital - on one evening, having been left at home, it was retrieved at vast inconvenience rather than risk a performance without it; on another occasion it was stolen and ransomed for a pair of trousers. But the fact remained that the rehearsal was reasonable only - DJK's pessimism climaxed in a puncture which had to be mended before he could get home.

On Wednesday - first performance day - the tension could have been cut with a knife. The cast assembled at six in the Physics Lab - and a thoughtfully-installed TV set was used instead of the knife to relieve the tension - though Nationwide and The Doctors have their limitations. After make-up and a forced smile from the producer we made our way backstage ... But it went well. The audience did laugh; Jack, in carrying off his part very well also nearly carried off the back of a chair; people were being applauded as they exited, particularly Gwendolen and Cecily after their tea-party; Jack and Algy left a complete page out at the end of Act II, but did it cunningly so that it didn't notice; spies in the audience reported that people were liking the play. Then after a very pleasing performance (no prompts at all) a second curtain-call caught some of the cast already half-off the stage. DJK was furious, and we had to rehearse specially the following evening.

Thursday seemed an anti-climax. Though things went very well - by rehearsal standards - DJK still prowled around anxiously rather than watch lnky's death on Softly Softly; and little things made the cast rather apprehensive (though the audience apparently missed them) such as half an inch of foam on the sherry, another - different - page being missed out by Jack and Algy, the front of the grand­father clock swinging open, and so on.

Friday was again very polished from our point of view - save for the one dreadful moment in Act III when Gwendolen asked Jack a question Cecily should have asked Algy .... At the final curtain call the ladies embarrassed with kisses the little boys who presented their bouquets; and Lady B thoroughly embarrassed DJK by summoning him to the curtain with a line from the play. The curtain closed for the last time and one of the most professional plays ever produced at Soham was written into the School's annals.

Summer 1970 Soham Grammarian provided by Frank Haslam

from the 1969-70 EHS magazine, via Miss Pam Blakeman


"The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde was performed at Soham Grammar School in conjunction with Ely High School on March 11th, 12th and 13th. In this play Wilde mocks the elegant society of his day, its conventions and assumptions.

The play maintains a balance between farce and irony. The humour is provided by the plot and the characters, in particular the illogicality of Lady Bracknell, The other characters were Miss Prism, played by Susan Beeby, the respectable governess, Gwendolen, who was Lady Bracknell's daughter, played by Heather Barker, and Rosalind Greensmith played the part of Cecily.

The male roles were played by Peter Jaggard as the forthright John Worthing, Donald McFarlane playing the lively role of Algernon. The chivalrous admirer of Miss Prism, Dr Chasuble, was played by Peter Leonard and the role of servants by Ivan Cox and Andrew Humberstone.

This was not the first time that a play with a combined cast of Soham and Ely Grammar Schools has been performed at Soham, and it has definitely improved the relatlonship between the two schools to such an extent that members of the sixth form from our school were invited recently to attend a 'Sixth Form at Home' evening at the Grammar School which was much enjoyed. During this informal evening Donald McFarlane was awarded the drama prize for his performance in the play.

Rosalind Greensmith, Christine Spearing,

Cambridgeshire Times - March 19/20 1970
Ely Standard - March 19 1970
cutting sources: Mrs Armitage/Chris Jakes

Wilde mocks the elegant society

In 'The Importance of Being Earnest' Oscar Wilde creates the essence of the elegant society of his day in order to mock, gently but inexorably, its conventions and assumptions.

The play maintains a delicate balance between the farcical situations of the plot and the ironical presentation of the characters; it is the tone with which Lady Bracknell states, concerning Lord Bracknell: 'I do not intend to indeceive him. Indeed, I have never indeceived him on any point. I would consider it wrong,' that is convincing in spite of the illogicality of her words.

In Soham Grammar School's production of this play the sense of the 19th century was admirably conveyed through the decor of the drawing room, skilfully converted to a garden for the second act.

All details combined to contribute to this overall impression from the design of the programme and to Lady Bracknell's lorgnette. It is a pity that the female costumes did not tone better with the set; the exception was that of Miss Prism who was the epitome of a respectable governess.

Miss Prism, played by Susan Beeby, was not only the fussy governess but also coyly persuasive as she unveiled the attention of her reluctant but chivalrous admirer Dr. Chasuble, played by Peter Leonard; the scene between these two characters set the atmosphere for the second act.

Donald McFarlane's lively Algernon was a good contrast to the more forthright John Worthing, played by Peter Jaggard. Lady Bracknell, played by Christine Spearing dominated the stage during her scenes but Gwendolen, played by Heather Baker, had a certain poise which labelled her as her mother's daughter.

Rosalind Greensmith played an ingenious Cecily and the servants Lane and Merriman were played by Ivan Cox and Andrew Humberstone.

This play was performed on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evening to a full house each time, and it was produced by Mr DJ Kilvington. The girls taking part were from Ely High School, and the producer thanked their Headmistress far her kind co-operation in making the production of the play possible.

Thanks were also extended to Mayfair of Ely, the Phoenix Antique Shop (Fordham), Mr P Bailey, Mrs YF Gamble, Mrs VM Laird, Miss A Ford and to the many others who had helped the production.

Set design and construction - Mr. PJ Askam [Askem], Mr RGS Bozeat, Mr AJ Mason, A Barrett, IE Cox, GE Cross, AJ Crow, R Fletcher, J Fry, B King, PG Layer, DJ Neeves and M Parker; lighting - Mr RJH Makin, MA Brogan, HD Wilderspin, CR Maschke, SB Thornhill and SD Bokor; stage manager - Mr RJ Humphrey [Humphry], assisted by AN Baldrey, RJ Hart, GE Cross, PD Griffiths, and R Fletcher; properties - Mr RJ Abbott assisted by SJ Melton; make-up - Mr AG Cornell, Mrs MA Cornell and Mrs S Beeby; business manager - Mr GH Rees.

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last updated 13 Jan 2011