An inventive colleague

Monday 4th June 2012

“TRAP? As in door?”

“Two actually. But just a narrow one, upstage centre, to start with.”

“Your idea?”

“No. John’s. He knows how to do things like that. I don’t. Oh… and it isn’t going to cost anything.”

The above conversation with the headteacher may well never have happened. Although I enjoyed startling him on occasions, it’s more likely that we just went ahead, did it, and showed him afterwards. You could, in those days.

John taught English – when he wasn’t busy building something, printing something, devising something, or looking out for something for something he was planning to start next term. Think Great Escape: the scrounger, forger, manufacturer, surveyor and tunnel king; all in one.

“These’ll do it. There’s a smith in the village. Good deal for two bottles of our elderflower,” he’d tell me, brandishing some piece of iron machinery that would then be inserted somewhere as a load-bearing, torque-converting or scenery-suspending device.

The initial trap-door allowed forty urchins to make an entry, singing, from under the stage, emerging up the steps from a grim cellar, for the opening of Oliver!

By the time we did Maria Marten, John had cut a second, larger trap, down-stage centre, with a counterweighted lift, into which the villainous Corder could slowly descend when digging a grave… and whence Maria’s ghost could later ascend to haunt him.

During Oh, What A Lovely War, a beer-stall and trench emplacement were among items to appear via the lift, to gasps from the audience. These were, after all, only school plays…

Revolving scenery, explosions, gallows, flying machines, a radio-controlled snake: if you asked for it, John made it happen – with the eager assistance of the Stage Technicians Club, some of whose members spent more weekend hours in the Drama Hall than they did at home.

I still have the programmes from many of those productions: twenty pages long in some cases; set and printed in the school’s reprographics centre. No prizes for guessing who ran it.

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