‘Passion, Poison & Petrifaction’ is a short play by George Bernard Shaw which bears an interesting subtitle of ‘The Fatal Gazogene: a Brief Tragedy for Barns and Booths’.
As far as is presently know, it was the first play performed by MDC – although there may well, of course, have been others during the earlier years when it was ‘merely’ an ‘After School’ group?
What is, thanks to finding reports in the Walthamstow Guardian archives, is that the play was one of three that the Drama Club entered in the 1958 Essex Youth Drama Festival – and that after winning the earlier ‘District’ competition on the 15th March that year, it duly progressed to the Regional Final that was to be held at the Sidney Burnell School, Walthamstow in early April.
As is shown in the first two newspaper reports, the other plays were ‘The Man in the Bowler Hat’ by A.A.Milne (re-staged by the DC in 1974) and ‘The Family Group’ by Mabel Constandurous – the script of which has recently been found – and initially thought to have been presented towards the end of the life of the Drama Club – so a rough estimate that was only around 18 years adrift!!!
The third newspaper report confirms that there were four teams in the final and that this was won by the Mayfield Youth Centre in Ilford with a play called ‘The Laboratory’ – a farce by David Campton. Unfortunately the rather ‘devastating adjudication’ (as described by Peter Denholm – the Guardian Reporter) does not indicate what place ‘Poison, Passion & Petrafaction’ came – nor whether it was one of the two plays considered as ‘good’ – or one of the two plays considered as ‘poor’. Alas – we will never know – but going by the consistency of results of this competition in later years, MDC probably came second!
Interestingly, in edition of the Guardian a week or so later, Peter Denholm wrote an article along the lines of the importance of encouraging young people – not destroying their interests and self worth by inappropriate and unhelpful negative adjudications. In this respect he referred to the example of an extremely upset young girl who thought, on the basis of what had been said at the adjudication of the above ‘Final’, that she had let all her friends down – and was consequently inconsolable!
Just shows how lucky the MDC was to be run by adults who knew how the work with, encourage and get the best out of, young people – and make it great fun!
The play itself, was first performed in a ‘Booth’ in Regents Park in 1905, and was described as a ‘comic mock melodrama’ – so ‘very Markhouse’ – and indeed there is some recall of the intention to repeat this 1958 performance at a later date. Unfortunately this did not happen, which was a great pity for those in later membership – as at least one member can recall Cyril Malyon’s recount of an hilarious scene where one character (Adolphus) foams at the mouth after being poisoned – and then swallows ceiling plaster as an antidote – a stage effect apparently facilitated via the use of a goodly helping of meringue!
According to Mick Everett the play was filmed by the BBC, so possibly, somewhere in either their own, or Walthamstow Council’s archives, there may still be a copy – so we live in hope that the above scene might eventually be seen!
Meanwhile, in addition to the inclusion of the newspaper reports, it is also possible to show the list of characters – which hopefully might prod a few memories of who actually fulfilled the roles!
Guardian Newspaper Report:
‘Waiting for a Cue’.
‘Young drama enthusiasts at Marsh Street Youth Centre are spending most of their spare time learning their lines. Eachh Monday they meet at Markhouse School, Walthamstow, rehearsing their parts in the Essex Youth Drama Festival. Marsh Street hopes to enter three One Act Plays for the festival. They are ‘Passion, Poison & Petrifaction’ by George Bernard Shaw, ‘The Man in a Bowler Hat’ by A.A. Milne and ‘The Family Group’ by M Constanduros’.
There will soon be vacancies for new members in the group.
The clip also adds the following lines – which may just be a misprint?
‘In an effort to form a larger metalwork class, the meeting time is to be changed from Friday to Wednesday’ ????
- Lady Magnesia FitzTollemache
- George FitzTollemache
- Adolphus Bestable
- The Landlord
- Police Constable
- Choir of Invisible Angels
NB: Read the synopsis of the play on Wikipedia – it sounds a real hoot and, additionally, confirms that a ‘Gazogene’ is a Soda Siphon!