Amateur Theatre and Experiences

Barnes Charity Players

While involved with the Singing Course at the RACC, Michele and I discovered that Deirdre was also very involved with a local Theatre Group in Barnes called the Barnes Charity Players (BCP), now called the Barnes Community Players who were very active and put on two or three shows a year and a Christmas Pantomime.

Shorly after we had joined Deirdre’s class, BCP was holding auditions for their next production, and I persuaded Michele to attend and audition for a part in the play. I remember that Darrol Blake was the Director, and I went with her as “support crew” and observer, with no intention whatsoever of taking part. As it turned out, there was no role available for Michele but I was offered a minor role in the production! Although I did not accept the role – because of work commitments – the “stage was set” and Michele and I enrolled into BCP and were both involved in many of the productions over the next 10 years. 

How BCP works

In 2000, BCP was a very friendly group of players who mostly lived locally to Barnes in London’s SW13 district. The aim is to raise money for local charities through ticket sales for the various productions that BCP produce. There is a Committee who decide on the Production schedule and which Charities receive donations, and they report to the BCP members. The productions are performed in a number of local venues, including Kitson Hall and the OSO Arts Theatre – see photo – and the Barnes Methodist Church. The OSO Centre is also used for smaller productions, various meetings and parties. The favourite local “Watering Hole” in my day was the Sun Inn 

Principal Players at BCP

I cannot remember all the Players, and so my apologies for any omissions, but these BCP members were particularly important and/or memorable to me and I enjoyed their company as directors, fellow actors and socially. Some have moved on from BCP, but where possible I have included a link to their social media profile.

Fergus and Phyllis O’Kelly
– I was very sorry to hear that Fergus had died very recently. Fergus and his wife Phyllis were the beating heart of BCP in my time there, and made me feel very welcome. I shall miss his professionalism, wonderful singing and engaging acting. Sadly missed.

Deirdre O’Kelly
Deirdre is supremely talented as both singer and actress, and also as a Musical and Stage Director. Always patient, she knew how to get the best out of her less talented colleagues.

Amanda Harker
– Amanda is absolutely essential to the success of BCP, and I am so glad to see that she is now on the Committee. A professional dance instructor, trainer, costume designer, in my view she held many of our joint productions together with immense skill and patience. Her efforts at turning a rabble into a group of passable dancers for any particular routine required in any one BCP show defy rational explanation!  

Darrol Blake
– When Darrol retired as one of the BBC’s leading Designers and Directors, BCP was fortunate enough to attract his attention and his services as Director to many of the shows. In my time, I remember him as a charming individual, although sometimes in the habit of forgetting that he was directing amateurs and not professionals.

Keith Perry
– Keith is a wonderful actor and fine Director. Quietly spoken and modest he was a teacher at the time, and no doubt used to dealing with motley crews of children, which required supreme patience. He brought this talent to BCP and I greatly enjoyed working with him.

Susan Conte
– Susan is absolutely passionate about anything involving arts, theatre, film and productions and a very nice and talented individual. Extremely encouraging, I worked with her as the Director in my last appearance at BCP as an actor. She is linked with BCP, Hampton Hill Theatre and the Richmond Shakespeare Society, and is currently the Artistic Director and Founder of her own Wild Duck Theatre.

David Day
I have said a lot more about David elsewhere and he is one of my closest friends to this “day”! Always modest, he brought humour into every production and made the long hours of rehearsal in cramped conditions infinitely more bearable!

Marc Pearce
– When I first met Marc, he was only 24, but you could tell from his work ethic that he was determined to succeed! Highly gifted, he was interested in all forms of theatrical work, from acting and singing to stage production and directing. He had the “lead” in several shows, and we resumed our friendship at St Michael’s Players in Chiswick.

Fleur de Henrie
– Fleur is another very talented actress and singer, and at the time was very attached to Marc Pearce. It seems that they are now married – belated congratulations! Fleur also joined St Michaels Players and I remember that we were co-actors in one or two shows, where she had the starring role.

Martin Wright
– Martin is a very nice bloke, but I always had the impression that we were in some form of competition for roles in the various BCP shows! We did perform in various shows together – notably My Fair Lady as two of the four Costermongers – and he was extremely good.

Andrew Lawston
– Andrew was another “youngster” at the time I was involved with BCP and I remember him as a very talented co-actor and a bit of a “cheekie chappy”!

Patrick Van den Bergh
– Patrick I remember as a more serious individual. Another fine actor, he had a slight accent, which meant that he had an unfair advantage for some roles!

John and Chris Mounsey
– The only father and son pairing at BCP, both Mounseys were great characters. John was educated at Eton, but despite that (!) he was great fun, with a mischievous sense of humour. I was in several plays with John, and one with Chris: both are fine actors and good company.

Personal Performances and Recollections

I think that the best BCP production that I was involved with was “My Fair Lady”, starring Basil – a professional actor – as “Henry Higgins” – and Deirdre O’Kelly as “Eliza Doolittle”. The Director was Darrol Blake, and the Choreographer was of course Amanda Harker. I think most of BCP were involved one way or another, with Fergus O’Kelly as Alfred  Doolittle and Marc Pearce as Freddy and in my view it was a great success.

Some years after My Fair Lady, and with a little more acting experience “under my belt” I was very fortunate to be asked by Deirdre to be the lead in the next BCP production which she was directing. The Play was “Blithe Spirit”, based on the Noel Coward novel. The producer was Susan Conte, Marc Pearce our set designer and I had a great supporting cast which included John Mounsey as the Doctor, and professional actress Jane Sherwin as Madam Arcati. To watch our version of this story, please select Blithe Spirit by Barnes Charity Players

Private Video Recordings and Personal Problems Resulting
OR “No Good Deed goes Unpunished”

Over the years that I was with BCP, I had always thought that it was a shame that all the effort and energy that went into putting on one production which lasted only for one week would be consigned to history and not remembered. Not only that, but the actors  in the play would be the only people unable to judge and view their own performances. And so – out of my own pocket – I arranged for some of the shows to be captured on Video. The list of previous BCP shows recorded includes Peace in Our Time, Top Girls, Salad Days, A Midsummer  Night’s Dream and – finally – Blithe Spirit.

As a small personal gift to those most closely involved with Blithe Spirit, I arranged for extra copies to be printed. However, a rather unseemly squabble arose as to who actually received the Videos, and why others did not, and I was held to blame. Apparently, by not distributing the Video to the entire supporting crew, I was devaluing or not appreciating their contribution.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. At BCP we all contributed to each show in our different roles. I did not have an acting role in many of the shows – and only in one of the 5 shows that were videoed – and I often contributed off-stage in a “support” role but did not expect to receive a gift: and I had the opportunity to watch both the rehearsals and the “live” show. The gifts were meant for my fellow actors in Blithe Spirit who did not otherwise have an opportunity to judge and remember their own performances.

It seemed to me to be a totally unnecessary reaction to what was meant in the nicest possible way, and led directly to my joining St Michael’s Players, which was in any event much closer to my home in Chiswick.

St Michael's Players Chiswick

St Michael's Players
St Michael's Players

I read recently that St Michael’s Players in Chiswick have been going for 70 years, which must be some sort of record. The building shown in the photo was used as the Theatre, with a small room off to the right as the “dressing room” for the actors when a show was in progress. Next door to St Michael’s Church in Elmswood Road and within easy walking distance of the Copper Cow pub, it really is a very friendly group.

The Players had the same format as BCP – namely putting on 3 or 4 amateur productions a year – but differed in that the aim was not to raise money for Charity, but to “break even” financially and maybe have enough surplus to afford the occasional party for the members. I thought that this was an excellent ambition, and did my best to assist!  

Principal Players at St Michael’s

I cannot remember all the Players, and so my apologies for any omissions, but these  members were particularly important and/or memorable to me and I genuinely enjoyed their company as directors, fellow actors and socially. Some have moved on, but where possible I have included a link to their social media profile.

Jane Atkinson
– Jane was the Player’s Chairman when I first joined, and was not only a fine actress, she was also a most generous hostess, with parties at her home a regular feature. An extremely attractive and interesting lady!

Chris Hulatt
– I believe that Chris has been a Player longer than anyone – 30 years and counting! Another talented actor, ready to assist with whatever production task that was necessary and in charge of PR and membership, he is essential to the Players and a thoroughly nice individual.

Bryony Wilman
– I shall always remember Bryony as the very patient and long suffering director of many of the plays I was involved with at St Michael’s! She is of course also a gifted actress, but I remember her more for her generosity when she was directing, much of the rehearsal time being spent at her home. 

Paul Ritchie Tomkinson
– What can one say about this man? Supremely talented, ex-professional ballet dancer, choreographer, champion gymnast, writer, raconteur, actor and producer. And extremely nice into the bargain! It was great fun working with him in Amateur Theatre…

Elizabeth Ollier
– In my opinion, Elizabeth was one of the most talented actors I had the pleasure of working with, and has what it takes to be a professional. She was always modest and was great company with a sense of humour (often required in Am Dram!)

Alastair Dewar
– I see that Alastair has now succeeded Jane as Chairman: unlike most of us, he had a “proper job” in the Human Resources sector, but we never held that against him! I acted with him in a number of plays, and he was also great fun to be with.

Hampton Hill Theatre - Calendar Girls

In 2012, Susan Conte suggested that I might like to audition for an upcoming play to be performed at the Hampton Hill Theatre in Teddington: Susan was linked to the Theatre, and – if I remember correctly – had some influence over this new production which was to be a stage version of “Calendar Girls”, originally a novel, and then made famous by the 2003 film starring Helen Mirram, Julie Walters and a hugely talented support cast of other top English actors.

The role I auditioned for was the husband of one of the two female leading characters, and required a “Northern” accent: to my surprise, I was awarded the role, and rehearsals started shortly afterwards with an entirely new group of actors whom I had never met before. Michele and Susan Conte also had roles.

The Hampton Hill Theatre is a professional venue, and therefore completely different to the “am-dram” facilities I had been used to at BCP and St Michael’s. We had proper dressing rooms – not a crowded “free-for-all” changing area – and there was an auditorium with comfortable seats for the audience of 200 people: in other words, a proper theatre!

The play ran for a week, and involved a certain amount of nudity for the ladies concerned. This was the point of the story – in order to raise money for Leukaemia Research, and in memory of the “other” husband who dies from cancer, the ladies of the local Woman’s Institute decided on a daring scheme to produce and sell a nude calendar.

This of course made the Play more interesting! And in order to show support for the ladies in the cast, I wrote a short “Pete and Dud” type script, and persuaded the guys involved including Dave Dadswell (the other husband) – to put on a private performance for the girls, which involved a certain amount of male nudity!

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and it was probably my first and last time as an actor in a professional theatre: I think the show was well received, and I was particularly pleased when one of the audience complimented me one night after the show on my Northern accent! Thank you, Susan Conte, for giving me this opportunity! 

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