The Company of Seven

Celebrating over 60 years of theatre history.

The Story So Far…


CHAPTER I
In the Beginning

The genesis of the Company of Seven occurred in the Millicent Anglican Parish Hall on a cold evening of October 12th in 1949. The Reverend J.L.A. Price, being a recent immigrant from the British Isles was rather keen on increased social activities in the town. As an opening his gambit convinced some of the younger members of the parish to present, under his direction, A.A. Milne’s one act play The Ugly Duckling. This play had a cast of seven.

On the evening of the presentation there was much merriment during the dressing up and make up procedures. I recall donning a pair of ladies silk pajama pants (pink) and white silk stockings to simulate a courtly dress. Anyway the performance, before an audience of about thirty succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. On the technical side, a stage had been rigged at one end of the little hall out of trestle table tops, various boxes and a few ashlars of Mt.Gambier stone. By means of a piece of fencing wire tensioned between opposite window frames, a curtain was supported which moved freely. The lighting, which was very favorably commented upon, consisted of two small industrial floods placed either side of the stage, with 150 watt lamps shining down at the appropriate angle and a piece of timber supporting a row of 60 lamps, with reflectors made of jam tins to serve as foot lights.

The CAST of our modest, but hilarious production, was as follows.

CHAMBERLAIN (& Director) ………………. REV. J.L.A PRICE
KING…………………………………………….. MR. J. MORRIS
QUEEN………………………………………….. MRS. G MULLINS
PRINCESS………………………………………. MISS J EDLINGTON (now Mrs. Chewings)
LADY IN WAITING…………………………… MISS S MANHOOD (now Mrs. Giddings)
PRINCE………………………………………….. MR. R. CHEWINGS
MANSERVANT…………………………………. MR. G. ROWE

In the afterglow of this first venture into amateur theatricals, great discussions were held on the topic of “Where do we go from here? ” After deep and for us profound thought, it was decided that for a band of players to succeed in a town the size of Millicent, it would need to be recruited from right across the community. As a result a public meeting was called for 8p.m. on the 23rd November, 1949 in the Parish Hall The minutes of this meeting give the Chairman ‑ Reverend J.L.A. Price, Secretary ‑ Mr. G. Rowe, Committee ‑ Mrs. G. Mullins, Mr. J. Morris, Mr. J. Williams and Miss M. Bellinger.

In General Business the Secretary refers to the Company of Seven; apparently those concerned had come to the conclusion that as the initial production had a cast of seven, the Company of Seven would be a much more intriguing title than ‘Millicent Dramatic Society’. However the die was cast, and, whether by design or chance, we have been the ‘Company of Seven’ ever since.


CHAPTER II
Early Productions

A constitution was adopted at an extraordinary General Meeting on December 1st., 1949. Among other matters tills constitution, ARTICLE 9. States, “it will be the duty of the committee to make recommendations to the General Meeting of the Company (an extraordinary General Meeting) with regard to producer, stage manager, wardrobe mistress and business manager for each production”. The General Meeting will have full power to reject the committee’s recommendations and make other proposals, these officers for each production being ultimately elected by the majority of the Company.

ARTICLE 10, Dealing with duties of officers elected for production of any play, states the duties of producer (now known as Director) thus

A) To select cast and understudies
B) To arrange rehearsals.
C) To be personally responsible to the Chairman and through him die whole Company for the standard of production. One may safely say then that when the above guidelines have been observed the standard of production has been maintained.

In January of 1950, Theatres Associated of Adelaide were touring the South East with a production of Noel Coward‘s, ‘The Young idea‑. This company was invited by the Company of Seven to present this production in Millicent. The Company of Seven would hire the institute, arrange booking and front of house ‑ and of course a suitable reception afterwards Profits were to be shared equally between the companies. in the event, the evening was, to our delight most successful, the end result being a profit of 30 pounds accruing to the Company of Seven. Another bonus was a chance to see an experienced cast and backstage crew at work. Valuable experience was gained in prompting techniques, voice production, makeup and the achievcment of the maximum effect with the minimum of props. The most valuable lesson was to observe die strong discipline of the Company by the principals ‘I‑rank and Leisa Grennel’; incidentally, the junior female lead was played by one ‘Anne Haddy’ the age of sixteen.

The first full scale production by the Company was “George and Margaret” by Gerald Savoury, a typical British drawing room comedy. Strangely enough the actual date of the production is not mentioned, however a statement was presented on 5/7/50 showing a profit of 44 pounds 18 shillings and 10 pence. This was made up to 45 pounds and presented to the Hospital Committee.

As our first venture, so close on the heels of a professional company, we were certainly on our mettle ‑ actually we were all scared stiff (there is nothing like a state of sheer terror to resolve the mind). From memory it took seven weeks to get the show on the road, rehearsals averaging three a week, with quite a few unofficial ones by various members between times. of course in those days, with Hotels closing at 6p.m. and no T.V. or Drive‑in Theatres we suffered few diversions, anyway our producer Mr. J. Mackie proved to be a veritable slave driver. on the night the adrenalin must have been flowing copiously, as we went at a great pace, without recourse to the prompt and were in a state of euphoria as the curtain fell ‑ We felt we had indeed arrived.

“George and Margaret” traveled to Mt. Gambler and played to an audience of about 25, but received an enthusiastic write up in the “Border Watch”. By contrast we played to a full house in the Kingston Institute on 25th August.

In the meantime the next production, a somewhat typical Australian Melodrama entitled “Quiet Night” by Kitty Bluet was presented with great vigour and a few touches of unrehearsed humor. The play revolved around a night in a country hospital, complete with bed‑pans, antique wheel chair etc. One ‘walk on’ part was a stretcher bearer, who happened to be wearing fluorescent socks, this character later doubled as an accident victim and was duly carried in with the colourful footwear in evidence.

At the end of the scene, the now deceased stretcher bearer/accident victim assisted in clearing props from the stage; unfortunately the Institute curtains faded by five inches to reach the floor of the stage, consequently the bright green socks were observed with much merriment and audible comment during die interval.

Although performed with as much enthusiasm as the first production, the Company was not quite professional enough to make a mediocre script entirely credible, however credit must be given for flexibility. The script called for a Scots Physician, now such an accent is not easily acquired, and no suitable Scotsmen were at hand, but by chance one Henrick Gelson, a newly arrived Latvian immigrant with experience in the National Theatre of his homeland made himself known to the company. He was greeted with glee and the part was quickly treated to a change of accent. As one old member of the company was wont to say, ‘necessity makes its own laws’

At this stage, a brief description of our original home, the Millicent Institute hall is appropriate. The old institute building, a very solid construction, sported a fancy globe suspended above the entrance porch bearing die legend ‘Globe Talkies’. In view of its ultimate fate, the use of die title ‘Globe’ was appropriate. This late nineteenth century building had enormously high ceilings in all rooms, thick walls, ornate lathe and plaster ceilings which shed large lumps of plaster at unexpected moments, rather obnoxious drains and a general air of having seen much better days. However it possessed an excellent stage, even though we were hampered somewhat by scanty wings. It was home and we loved it. The Globe had a great theatrical atmosphere, odds and ends of old shows, touring companies and various past glories could be found in odd comers. Of course in the immediate past years its chief function was to serve as what was known in those days as a ‘Picture Palace’. Saturday and Wednesday night ‘flicks’ were a permanent fixture for many townsfolk, with the odd matinee in school holidays thrown in.

This was a challenge to Company of Seven as we had to construct our sets outside or in the wings on any nights when the hall was free and erect the whole show on Sunday, with a dress rehearsal Sunday night, performances on Monday and Tuesday nights with the set struck after the show on Tuesday nights. The backstage crew would then collapse until the next weekend, when a final tidy up would occur.

The advent of the town Drive‑in led to the eventual demise of the ‘talkies’ in the Institute, which gave much greater scope for set building and effects.

Acknowledgments

John Morris
Chris Hollingsworth
Val Mitchelmore
Irene Bishop
John Mullins
George Sargent

Special thanks must go to John Morris who was instrumental in making this book possible.


Some of the Plays performed by the Company of Seven –

The first Play.
1949 – At the Millicent Anglican Parrish Hall
The Ugly Duckling
1950 – ‘Globe Theatre’ Millicent Institute Hall
“George and Margaret”
1956
Pink String and Sealing Wax
“Dark Brown”
1957
Two Dozen Red Roses
Reluctant Heroes
1960
Quiet Wedding
Campbell of Kilmour
The Corn Is Green
1961
Rider To The Sea
1962
Gaslight
1963
My Three Angels
Ladies in Retirement
Hot Summer Night
1964
Dear Charles
Shadow of Doubt – Millicent Presbyterian Hall
Bell, Book and Candle – Millicent Methodist Hall
1965
They Came to a City
The Badger Game
1966
Night Must Fall – Millicent Show Hall
Blithe Spirit
1967
The Reluctant Debutante
See How They Run
The Chalk Garden
The Proposal
The Rose and Crown
1968
The One Day Of The Year
Rape of the Belt
Sailor Beware
1969
Running Riot
The Whole Truth
Charley’s Aunt
As Long as They’re Happy
1970 – Millicent Civic & Arts Centre
The Sound of Murder
The Devil His Due
The Monkey’s Paw
The Time of Her Life
Rookery Nook
1971
Sweeney Todd
Simon and Laura
1972
Meet A Body
Rebecca
Wanted One Body
1973
The Crucible
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
The Bear
1974 – 25 Year
Billy Liar
The Bald Prima Donna
Squat Betty
The Sponge Room
Patrick Pearce Motel
1975
Bonaventure
The Desert Song
Birds On The Wing
1976
Marble Arch
Gloucester Road
The Lesson
The Creation
Don’t Utter A Note
Antigone
1977
The Coffee Lace
Trevor
Oklahoma!
Plain Jane
Front Room Boys
1978
The Real Inspector Hound
Not Now, Darling
Harvey
1979
The Adventures Of A Bear Called Paddington
Arsenic And Old Lace
The Typist
Just A Song At Twilight
1980
The Story Of Carmilla
Move Over Mrs Markham
Raggedy Anne
1981
The Slaughter Of St. Teresa’s Day
Chase Me Comrade
Don’t Drink The Water
1982
I am A Camera
Black Comedy
A Real Cool Corpse
Barefoot in the Park
1983
Death Trap
A Night Out
Collect Your Hand Baggage
Little Brother, Little Sister
The Vampire or The Bride Of Death
1984
Mainly South East
The Bed Before Yesterday
1985
Farewell Brisbane Ladies
Verandahs
1986
The Ghost Train
How the Other Half Lives
1987
The Sunny South
Down Came A Jumbuck
1988
Why Not Stay For Breakfast
Down Came A Jumbuck
Remains To Be Seen
1989
Any One For Tennis
Monday To Friday

References
‘A Personal Recollection’ The Company of Seven Theatre Group’s History 1949-1989 by John Morris, Chris Hollingsworth, Val Mitchelmore, Irene Bishop, John Mullins and George Sargeant. First published May 1995.

The Company of Seven A Personal Recollection ISBN 0-646-22719-X
The Company of Seven FaceBook Group Page
The Company of Seven FaceBook Fan Page
The Company of Seven Friends United Page
The Company of Seven National Library of Australia listing
The Company of Seven State Library New South Wales listing
The Company of Seven State Library of South Australia listing
The Company of Seven Australian National Library Trove entry
The Company of Seven WorldCat.org
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