I was disappointed to have had my speaking part taken away from me in the first school play. Not that I said anything, of course. And I think there was a play every year, though I don’t remember anything about them and I was still not trusted to speak. I progressed through the classes to Junior 3 and then skipped a class – Junior 4 was the Remove, which the school used flexibly. Most children went into the class but those who were old for their year (your school age was determined by your birthday and 1st September was – and still is – the cut-off) might miss it out. Three of us went straight from 3 to 5 – my birthday is September 10th, Lynn’s is the 24th and Julia’s is December 10th. Later, Julia’s parents wanted her to go to the Grammar School and she had to spend an extra year at the Convent, as she was too young for the first year there.
And that year there was a production of Alice in Wonderland. I was dainty, winsome, had long blonde hair which was often worn in an Alice band and my teacher reckoned I had some acting potential, so the obvious casting was … the Walrus. And I know I’ve written about this before, so sorry, dear longest-term friends. Angela was the Carpenter – I said the other day that she was one of my best friends, but she didn’t miss form 4, so we can’t have started school together – her birthday is June 24th. H’m. I know she is a few months older than I am.
I remember wearing baggy trousers, a red and white striped t-shirt and braces, and a big droopy moustache that tended to drop off after a few minutes’ speaking. But I prodded it every so often and it was fine. And I was too – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Angela’s father was the school caretaker and a very good carpenter, which might give the clue to why she was cast. A very nice girl called Jill played Alice. She was a boarder, popular and attractive and also kind. We weren’t particular friends – being bright, good at games, outgoing, she was more inclined towards the less anxious and quiet people than I was, but it didn’t affect her personality. We lost touch after school, but I saw her death from cancer at the age of 49 in the paper and was very sorry indeed.
Small children from the kindergarten class played the oysters and trailed around behind us on the stage. I was in my element – I loved the book already. I know it’s more fashionable not to enjoy Lewis Carroll nowadays, but it was a more innocent time. I thought Alice herself was a touch pert – she answered back in a way I’d never have been allowed to – but I liked the odd, surreal, macabre, and I enjoyed wordplay. I also liked Alice’s independence, being something of a loner myself (yes, I know I was a peculiar child).
There were two performances and, on the first night, the most outgoing and naughty boy in the class, Vincent, who played the Mock Turtle, was the one who got stage fright and dried up for a few moments – he recovered and it all went very well – of course it was well received, it was our parents in the audience. Vincent was also being put forward against type – he was considered unreliable but the teacher reckoned he needed to be trusted. She was very good, I wish I could remember her name. But it was my last bow – the senior school didn’t do drama and we never did another play. A pity really, I think it would have been good for me.