Not many realise that, following the evacution of the school to Wisbech during the Second World War, Hélène and Frank Dash collaborated to write a documentary play about life in occupied France. Not only that, but, daringly, pupils of Hornsey County School were drafted in to join in the production.

Laurie Farrington was kind enough to send me the above original picture and the full script of the play, which was signed by Frank and Hélène:

Here is the report that followed in the July 1942 copy of The Stationers' Magazine:

A documentary play of life to-day in a corner of France, written specially for the occasion by Mr and Mrs F. L. Dash.
Here was a war-time production in which the School-in which any school- could take pride. The play was of absorbing interest and so the world of theatre was brought right into line with one of the many and various war efforts. The standard of production, of acting, of make-up, of costume, of lighting, were all first class, and the play entertained without stooping to any of the lower levels of contemporary taste. The characterisation was vivid, and on the whole, well varied and one of the most difficult aspects of play-writing, namely, the scene climaxes were most effectively staged. There was also plenty of amusing stage business to animate the scene, and good French music was used with taste and effect. It has recently been said of our young R.A.F. writers that they write with dash, vigour and conviction; so apparently does Mr Dash's collaborator. There was no disturbing weakness amongst the actors, who introduced themselves before the play in a style made familiar by the film trailer. While the further innovation of female players was more than justified, I do not think it unfair to say that chief honours of the acting went to Sylvia Miller and Vernon Duker, both of Hornsey County School. As Madame Gudrin, the central figure in the play, Sylvia Miller gave a restrained, moving performance, admirably sustained throughout, the level of which one did not fully estimate till the play was over. The part demanded more emotional intelligence than most of the other parts put together. It was a considerable performance to move so convincingly through every scene. Audrey Salter as Mme. Dantec acted well, if in too subdued a fashion. It may have been the fault of the play that the parts were not sufficiently contrasted; this appeared as a colourless reflection of the central character. As Pierre Gudrin, Bonner acted as always with spirit and vigour and an inward shining light, but here he sacrificed a certain amount of conviction by trying to give too much. A. Davies as Denis, gave a pleasant, thoughtful performance in a small part, which was dramatically a foil to Pierre. The younger boys played by G. Brooks, L. Farrington, J. Harrison, J. Jordan, and J. Heale, gave an attractive combined performance of controlled rowdyism, revelling in slogans and songs against the Boche. The singing was spirited, Farrington an inspiring conductor of the school of Mickey Mouse; and the general effectiveness not one whit impaired by the fact that their strong dialect was not a Breton one. R. M. Beckley as the Deputy Mayor, contrived to look and to sound more French than anyone else in the play This was a vintage performance in a part which bore no gold labels on the bottle. Local colour and character variety were contributed by F. 8leeze as Breton fisherman, Chapple as the local doctor, P. Abell as the village priest, and K. S. Bains as the rural constable. All gave sound performances, notably Bleeze in a part which gave him opportunities to spread himself. He swore and was drunk with the charm of someone who had never done these things. D. I. Hemstead as the English Pilot gave a performance that was both convincing and sympathetic. As a type he was well chosen with the right diffidence towards his own courage. But to act the complete imbecile is, however, beyond the capabilities of most English boys, at any rate on the stage. The Nazi characters, balanced as they were on a tight-rope between farce and fact, were superbly played. Duker as Von Schlagel gave an admirable performance in terms of voice, bearing and gesture. His voice seemed just right in its quality of brittle brutality, whether speaking in German, French or English. Here was a performance of a part which, while a ' gift " to the actor, could scarcely have beeg bettered on the professional stage. His N.C.O.s, Galton and McKeer, supported him admirably, being as they were effective advertisement of the regimentation of the Nazi in terms of thought, walk and laughter. The three differential sounds of laughter, echoing hollowly from one to the other, provided a piquant commentary on the German "freedom of the 'Yes' " ! The slight criticisms one might make about inaudibility in the second and third scenes and about an occasional loss of tempo which made the play drag somewhat in its middle stages, are perhaps irrelevant to the true qualities of the production, for I fancy the producer would have eliminated these surface weaknesses by the next performance. Balance then was the feature of the whole play, and its production. The relation between entertainment and propaganda, the grim and the gay, the heroic and the domestic, were excellently measured. And through it all the character of place and people shone through the simple, moving tale with light and radiance and hope for the hour that will come. The tension seemed to increase with the quantity of English spcken; and it was remarkable how much English was spoken by French and English alike by dramatic devices which in no way straiaed credibility. The play was enthusiastically received with a sincere regard for the theme in the moving finale, as the strains of Marseillaise rose from a random whistle to National Anthem, applause changed to an even more reflective silence. We have hoped since that the play would be performed before another audience, as it so well deserves to be. It now seems probable that it will be performed in Hornsey in the autumn. It will have there a proportionately greater success.
The play was preceded by a series of national dances given by the pupils of Hornsey County School. In addition to a high level of dancing, there were numerous colourful tableaux, a splendid variety of costume and some fresh carolling. All the dances were from the Allied Nations with one rather neutral addition ; and by a coincidence, this last, a so-called Irish jig, was the only one which did not appear genuine. The Irish have a culture of their own which, in terms of music and dancing of the folk, is in many respects superior to the English, and the English in thinking them a quaint variant of themselves do wrong to parody them. The English dances have their own grace and charm, of perhaps a more characterless charm than that, say, of the French and Polish dances. They invite a light, rather than a fantastic toe. The French and Polish dances were particularly lovely, but it was the Cossack dance which was best applauded, probably for the vigorous, colourful nature of the costumed dance than for the excellence of the dancing. It was danced charmingly but approximately; that is, this most exacting of all folk-dancing technique demanded more than could be given. Finally, it was such a pleasure to hear so many good tunes.

C. R. K.

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