My father found this photograph among his father’s papers. Unlabelled, as these things so often are, he only knew that it was probably from the 1930s-1940s in Northampton and shows the cast of an amateur production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with his father among the company.
A small amount of online research revealed more photographs, images of the programme and more details about the production.
The photo shows the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the Northampton Drama Club in Abington Park in 1945. The production was directed by Osborne Robinson from the Northampton Repertory Company. The Club performed a variety of plays throughout the war including Twelfth Night in 1942 which featured a young Richard Baker, evacuated to Northampton, who later became a television newsreader.
Founded in 1931 as the Northampton Town and County Drama League, the club eventually became the Masque Theatre in 1951 on moving into their new premises. In 1955 they achieved notable success with Cardenio, the first known performance since 1613.
The Masque Theatre continues to flourish and will be presenting Henry V in July 2016. They have an impressive website at www.masquetheatre.co.uk with an archive of production photos dating from the 1930s to the present.
Richard Foulkes wrote an article on Shakespeare performances in Northampton, writing mainly about the professional Repertory Theatre, and claimed ‘There was no Shakespeare during the war. The difficulties of assembling a sufficiently large and well-balanced company were too great and with clothing materials rationed it would have been impossible to produce costumes in house.’ (‘A fairly average sort of place: Shakespeare in Northampton 1927-1987’ Shakespeare Survey, 47, 1995).
These photos would suggest otherwise.
Abington Park has two further connections with Shakespeare: the museum in the park is on the site of the manor house which once belonged to Elizabeth Bernard, Shakespeare’s granddaughter, who is buried in the local church. In the eighteenth century the house was owned by John Thursby whose wife Anne was a friend of David Garrick who visited the house and planted a cutting allegedly from Shakespeare’s New Place mulberry tree in the garden in February 1778. The plaque marking the event is now in the Abington Park Museum.
Kate Welch, Information Assistant (and Philostrate’s granddaughter)