Theatre group re-opens with open air performance

The Hampshire Theatre Group’s first public performance since Covid lockdown was held on Saturday 22nd August when they gave two open air performances of ‘Its Up to Us Now’ in the delightful grounds of Hatchwood House, Odiham, by kind permission of Mrs Veronica Parsons.

Written and directed by JP crew member Roger Stanwell as the theme for a special canal cruise on John Pinkerton in June, to commemorate 80 years since the expected invasion by the Nazis, the drama takes place in June 1940.

The play opens as local folk assemble to listen to the Prime Minister’s wireless broadcast to the nation. Dire warnings from the Smart Gent (Steve Sowerby) on how to recognise fifth column infiltrators, and the issue of ration books brought cast and audience together to wonder how ordinary folk can help the war effort.

We learn that Marjorie (Gill Sowerby) has been enrolled as a milling machine operator at Basingstoke ( cue song I’m the girl that makes the thing that drills the hole that holds the ring…). Joan (Joan Warren) was conscripted to the Idle Women, aka the Inland Waterway National Service, transporting essential goods by barge. Ethel (Helen Price) has yet to find a role, though teenager Kath (Jessica Warren) hopes to meet a nice young man at the next village dance. The Spiv (Bernard Stone) can provide many items not readily available in the shops, from an onion to ‘silk’ stockings!

Joan, a refugee from Austria, started her rendition of “Lilli Marlene” in German, though the villagers quickly insist she continue in English! Yvette (Lily O’Sullivan) who escaped France ahead of the German advance gave an equally inspiring French rendition of “Ou sont tous mes amants”.

As John Pinkerton approaches her usual turning point at Winchfield, the crew are hailed from the pill box by Local Defence Volunteer, Corporal ‘Sidney’ Harbourbridge (Tim Carey-Yard) for help in directing a stranger to the Aldershot Garrison. Our anonymous Smart Gent and the audience immediately assume he is a spy, and instruct the corporal to arrest him. “ No – I know him” is the reply, and special guest George Formby (Matthew Quilliam) is introduced with a flourish of songs to entertain the troops at the garrison.

The audience were in fine voice to join the entire cast, with George on his ukelele, and the show culminated with a review of how the local folk had indeed helped win the war, sourced and aided by the Smart Gent.

Joan, with her excellent German, later helped interrogate POWs; Marjorie was promoted to shop floor manager; French speaker Yvette joined the resistance in France and Ethel ended up packing parachutes.

Kath was found to have a talent for Morse code, and intercepted coded enemy messages at a secret Y station. The Spiv? Well he finished the war procuring goods in a more official capacity!

The Basingstoke Canal Society wishes to thank the Hampshire Theatre Group for permission to reproduce the photographs, and the time spent rehearsing, mostly by Zoom, to produce an excellent show, and look forward to next year’s offering.