Friday, 4 March 2016

Week Nine: Beware the Ides of March

William Shakespeare wrote those infamous words in the play Julius Caesar  Act 1 Scene 2. It is amazing to think that on April 23 2016 it will be 400 years since the day of his death.  And we still go to see his plays today!

I can’t remember the first stage production that I ever went to, but I do know that I was very young.  My grandfather had always bought season subscriptions to The Okeefe Centre in Toronto and I remember one night going dressed in my finest and seeing men in fancy suits and women having their hair piled high on the head and just glittering with diamond tiaras.  I fell in love that night with everything to do with the stage.

So I was tickled pink to find an a gentleman in the family tree that made a name for himself backstage and win many awards for his work!

 John Hedley Palin was born May 12, 1913 in Macclesfield, Cheshire.  His Parents were Ernest John Palin and Emily Pickford.  In the 1911 census, his father’s occupation was a confectioner.  His father died when he was just 4 years of age.  John married a Connie Walton in 1938 and they had one son.

John H Palin, Hedley, as he was known, had joined a local theatre group in 1949 and taken a few acting roles. After playing with a concert party associated with St. George’s Street Baptist Church, Hedley became a founder member of the Macclesfield Thespians who performed at the Ebenezer Chapel in Hurdsfield Road, and later, during wartime, he took many parts in the productions of the Macclesfield Repertory Company. He was never wholly confident on stage, and contemporary reviews reinforce this.

John H Palin, perhaps the single biggest influence on Macclesfield Amateur Dramatic Society (MADS) activities during its first fifty years.

This Was A Woman by Jean Anouilh, MADS first play of the 1951/52 season, was produced by Hedley. He was a courageous and enterprising producer, starting with This Was a Woman, that he truly made his mark. He was responsible for the production of over sixty plays for MADS between 1951 and 1990, and over twenty for the Macclesfield Majestic Theatre Group from 1971 (for whom he also acted as chairman) and the annual pantomime of the Jean Patterson School of Dancing. He also produced for Buxton Opera Group, Bollington Festival Players, Stockport Garrick, Altrincham Garrick and the de Novo Productions at Capesthorne Hall and was a member of the Steering Committee of the then newly-formed Royal Exchange Theatre Company in 1976.

John Hedley Palin’s productions of The Bear by Anton Chekhov was presented at the Buxton one-act festival in 1953 and provided Peter Mann with an award for best individual actor. Hedley went one better in 1955 when his production of The Sound of Stillness won the one-act festival, completing a remarkable double for both MADS and Hedley by winning the full length and one-act festivals in the same season.

And then Don’t Listen Ladies! was performed 26 February to 2 March 1957, produced by John Hedley Palin and had ‘the polish and high standards usually expected from the Society.’

Time Remembered, the February 1959 production and the third play by Jean Anouilh to be performed by MADS in a little over four years, received a gushing review from the Macclesfield Advertiser.

If we say that this is as fine as anything of his [Hedley Palin’s] that we have seen for many a season, that his delicate and sure handling of a large cast, and his exquisitely designed and lit sets gave off, like a vapour, those intangible qualities and essences of poetry which permeated every scene and under one spell, then he has only had his due.

MADS one-act play The Monkey’s Paw, produced by John H Palin, won the McGrath Trophy in the preliminary round of the British Drama League’s National Festival of Community Theatre, held at the Worthington Hall, Manchester on 19 February 1965.

The Lark by Jean Anouilh was presented by MADS as part of the 1966 Macclesfield Arts Festival, allowing the Society to choose a difficult but rewarding play away from the main play season. Again produced by John H Palin, the leading role, that of Joan of Arc, was played by Dorothy Nixon in ‘a stupendous performance’.

John H Palin’s production of The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt, second play of the 1966/67 season was awarded the Simon Saft Memorial Trophy at the 1967 AGM of the British Drama League (North Western Section) for the most outstanding and adventurous play.

Anton Chekhov’s The Proposal, also produced by John H Palin, and previously performed by MADS at the 1958 Macclesfield Music Festival, was revived in 1968 for the British Drama League’s one-act festival and for the Buxton Drama Festival where it won the comedy open class.

Hedley Palin gained further festival success in 1970 when his production of the one-act play The Animal won the open section of the Cheshire Drama Festival. In the early part of 1972, Hedley Palin’s production of Yves Cabrol’s The Elephant went one further, to the Northern Area Final, in 1974.

Hedley Palin’s main season production of Jane Eyre reached the final of the 1974 Cheshire Community Council One-Act Play Competition and would receive considerable complimentary press coverage following the five-night run at the Little Theatre in February 1974.

The 1972 production of Arms and the Man was Hedley Palin’s fiftieth production for the society; a remarkable tally in just twenty-one years. Hedley’s contribution had clearly been part of MADS climb to be the standard bearers of live theatre in Macclesfield. His contribution to local theatre was recognised in 1973 when he was appointed the adjudicator for the Donald McLaughlin Trophy by the British Theatre Association, a trophy that he himself had won with his production of Teahouse of the August Moon in 1962.

The John H Palin Trophy for Stagecraft, awarded by the British Theatre Association, was inaugurated at the start of the 1974/75 season in recognition of his second term as adjudicator.

Hedley was elected an honorary life member of MADS at the 1974 AGM, president in 1979 and would directed a remarkable total of sixty-seven plays for MADS before his death in 1990.

John Hedley Palin, at 76, died on 10 April 1990. A man of the theatre to the end, he was busy with rehearsals of The Secret Tent when he was taken ill. Hedley’s will bequeathed £2,000 to the society for new sound equipment.

In 1993, the first floor coffee/rehearsal room was refurbished and named the Hedley Palin Room.

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