The David Gribble Archive : Music
Musicals written for the Dartington Playgoers
The Dartington Playgoers are an amateur group with a high reputation. In their heyday they used to book the Barn Theatre at Dartington Hall for three weeks a year, and still perform a Shakespeare play in the Hall Gardens every summer.
In the 1960s they invited the cast of the school production of Roll on, the Free Life to perform at one of their parties, and enjoyed it enough to ask me to write a full-length musical for them. This was a success, and I was later asked to write three more. They each ran for a week in the Barn Theatre, and always had full houses by the end of the run. I was a teacher rather than a playwright, and I never made much effort to get them produced elsewhere, although The Message did have one night at the Plough in Torrington, where the audience outnumbered the cast. I had the good fortune to have first Tim Moore and then Charles Morley as musical directors. To have my music played by such outstanding musicians was a great compliment. I think Tim only changed one note, telling me kindly that he was sure I had meant it that way, but Charles made generous alterations to one or two accompaniments, and introduced harmonic extravagances at the ends of the finales that were quite outside my range.
The Best Job in the World was the first of these musicals, written for eight principals and a group of students who played the parts in the Mummers’ Play presented by COW (Culture for Office Workers), and, in the original production, also played in the orchestra. The action takes place in an office variously described as an employment agency and a recruitment consultancy, where six people have answered advertisements for a highly unusual job. They are a poverty-stricken single mother, a rich businessman with financial worries, an important figure from the environmental movement, a wealthy wife who feels her life has no purpose, an unsuccessful student and a young woman who so lacks self-confidence that at first no one even notices her. Who will get the job?
The Practical Joke is organised by Arthur Bethel, an amateur psychologist, who matches up a bunch of people prejudiced in various ways, to spend a week-end with those they are prejudiced against, and, as he supposes, to learn to be more tolerant. The prejudices include race, gender and age, and there is an eighteen-year-old school girl who seems to hate almost everybody, including people with stupid prejudices. The victims discover the joke and co-operate to turn the tables on their host.
It was scored for particular musicians – piano, bass and drums, trombone, electric guitars, piano accordion and penny whistle – but the man who I hoped would play the accordion and the whistle withdrew, so I had to learn to play the accordion myself, and the poor penny-whistle player had to sit in the orchestra pit for a couple of hours every night just in order to play in two short numbers.
The Message is about a potter and his wife who are socially active and have three grown-up children living with them who are looking for a message that will tell them the meaning of life. Each of the children is swept up by a different spiritual guru – the Jijirama Shala, who sings to himself that it doesn’t do them any harm, and he is doing very well, Eric Pickford, who makes a huge amount of money from the Siblinghood of Creation and Laura Joan Miller, who, in a previous incarnation, was a cabbage. The parents efforts to wean their children from these leaders fail, but the children are eventually otherwise disillusioned.
The title of Lemonade in a Dirty Glass is taken from Road to Alaska. When Bing Crosby and Bob Hope find themselves in a tough bar, Bob Hope asks for lemonade. Bing Crosby nudges him anxiously, and he growls, “In a dirty glass.” The story involves the loss of a valuable ring which is thought to have been stolen. Each of the six characters behaves in a particular way in order to hide a weakness or failure. They are a reluctant hippy, an actress who has never had an important role, a bossy hotel manageress, a failing school-teacher, a conformist city figure and a secretly sentimental marriage guidance counsellor who pretends to be cynical. The investigation of the supposed theft results in them all being exposed, and, much to their surprise, finding the exposure a relief.