by James Elroy Flecker, produced by Eric Hart
21-22 July 1939, Cannock School
Rummaging through the Chelsfield Players archives unearths a show that was performed barely weeks before the outbreak of World War 2. Hassan is a tale of medieval Baghdad, shot through the lens of the Arabian Nights and celebrating an exotic view of the Middle East considered quaint today but alluring at the time. This production appears nowhere in the official archives, but it definitely happened as the photos and reviews prove.
Again, the producer (i.e. director) was Eric Hart. We don’t have a cast list but we can glean some roles from the review:
Caliph Haroun al Raschid Vernon St Clair Tomalin
Hassan Colin George
Pervaneh Dorothy ‘Bunty’ Orme
Rafi Eric Hart
Selim Gordon Cameron
Yasmin Gladys Hollands
Hassan was the Society’s first open-air production, performed at “Woodlands” in the grounds of Cannock School (now Browns School), which had an amphitheatre.
It appears to be the amateur premiere of a play written 25 years before with a cast, according to later records, of 100 performers plus a small orchestra in only the Society’s fourth performance, demonstrating that the idea of amateur theatre had properly grabbed the local imagination in a very short time. The reviewer described it as “a real triumph” and “a fine show”, with the hope of “many more to follow”.
He got his wish: there have been over 200 productions so far.
The long anticipated production of Flecker’s “Hassan” took place as arranged in the beautiful setting of “Woodlands,” Chelsfield, on July 21st and 22nd, although there were fears of a postponement on account of bad weather. On Friday afternoon there was a thunderstorm accompanied by tropical rain; but the weather cleared as if by magic before the play began, and the courage of the producers was rewarded by a large attendance, including many people from a distance.
“Hassan” had never before been produced in the open air nor performed by any amateur society in its entirety. No acting edition of the play has been published. Accordingly Mr. Hart had to rely entirely on his own dramatic and artistic instincts in adapting the play for an open-air production, and he achieved a real triumph in spite of many great practical difficulties, such as the necessity to carry the electric current from Chelsfield House, half a mile away.
The incidental music specially composed for “Hassan” by Delius was impossible to obtain, much of it being in manuscript and not orchestrated to suit a small orchestra. Mr Wood thereupon set to and composed and orchestrated almost the whole of the music which was used so effectively.
As for “Hassan” itself the vast concourse of players carried us back so realistically to the streets of old Bagdad, and to the court of that sadistic monster the Caliph Haroun Al Raschid (V. St. C. Tomalin), that after the death dance around Rafi (Eric Hart) and Pervaneh his lover (Bunty Orme) it was a welcome relief to hear the strains of “For he’s a jolly good fellow.” But for that – so completely did we share the contrasting emotions of that great souled confectioner Hassan (grandly portrayed by Colin George) – most of us would surely have joined with him the caravan to Samarkand.
We shall not forget that slow procession through the night, nor the moving voice and gestures of Selim (Gordon Cameron), nor Gee Hollands’ perfect artistry as Yasmin, nor the glamorous scene in the King of the Beggars hall.
To all the hundred players and to those out of the limelight who did so much for the success of the play by making costumes and properties, we say “Thank you for a fine show and may there be many more to follow.”