In November 2018 at a Memory Cafe we interviewed Dora Alker, a long-time Folkestone resident, who had fond memories of attending shows at the Leas Pavilion as far back as the 1940s.
Transcript of (full) interview with Dora Alker
Dora, tell me about your memories of the Pavilion as an audience member
Yes that started I suppose in the late 1940s when I was still a child. I would have been about 10 or something. And my mother took me to what they called the tea matinees at that time and the cast, and I quite understand, having done amateur dramatics myself, they absolutely detested that idea because the tea was served in the interval and not everybody finished when the interval ended and there was still a clattering of cups and saucers.
It would be cups and saucers wouldn’t it, not mugs of tea, it would be all proper
Yes, after the interval so that was appalling for them but the variety of plays was absolutely wonderful and I don’t think people nowadays realise if you’re in a repertory company you’re playing, you’re appearing on stage one week, in a certain play and in the afternoon or the morning, whatever, you’re rehearsing for the next week’s play. So you’re having to remember words from different plays.
And they were whole plays weren’t they
Not short plays
No, no, nothing. And the range went from popular Agatha Christie of course, which was very popular in those days, to British farce but also, um, Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy was a particularly excellent production and Jonathan Prince, one of the leading actors at the time had the principal role of Sir Robert Morton and he was absolutely superb, everybody hung on his every word but he could also play a very old man without making it look ridiculous and there’s quite a talent to doing that because you can’t just put on heavy makeup and a beard or something and stagger around half bent.
No, you don’t want to do that. But the whole atmosphere there was really lovely and people who were regulars there, as we were, got to know each other and sometimes members of the cast as well.
You’d have quite a nice community atmosphere then
Oh yes, and the whole atmosphere there was, it was very intimate and so you were even more engaged with what was going on, on the stage. Some people now when they watch cinema and there’s all this action and images, digital images, they are not able to suspend their disbelief, but you can, you just get into it, you don’t think of somebody waiting in the wings, come on and say whatever they need to say, and it was really a lovely place to go, I always used to look forward to ‘what’s on next week, who’s going to be in it’ and of course I think usually when you get into your teens as well, late teens, you had a crush on whichever leading man had appeared, you know, in some romantic part.
and then next week he was forgotten and the other, oh no he’s much…
…so last week! Is there a particular play or time that stands out to you during that period?
Well, as I said, Jonathan Prince in this play The Winslow Boy. I saw an adaptation of it on television recently, I love the play, it’s very well written. People tend to sneer at plays that were written in the 1940s or 50s, but it, it posed quite a lot of social… even about a young woman wanting to get into parliament.
Yes, and some very pointed remarks from the barrister about ‘oh you’re not still trying to carry on your great scheme to get women the vote or something.
Scheme, scheming in, yes wow
And he said, she said ‘oh well one day you might see me in the house’ and he said ‘yes I would always see you in the gallery’ and that and ‘No not in the gallery Sir Robert, across the floor’.
Yes, wow, wow. So did you live in Folkestone at that time?
Yes, yes, I, well I came back to Folkestone just, I was away as a baby during the war, came back to Folkestone in the mid 1940s and I was here until the 1960s and then I was away and came back later and unfortunately not all that long after I came back, um, then it had to close. But they had a series of splendid people there and starting off of course with Arthur Brough and Elizabeth Addyman you knew all about them. And then there was a young chap Leslie Lawton who was much more ambitious about bringing more interesting plays. I think he even, even attempted to put Sheridan’s Rivals or something like that on which didn’t really go down very well with the majority of us.
I think that’s a step too far.
And I think he disappeared to the Leicester repertory company which was very well known at the time and then we had Roy Purcell and Charles Vance. And there were people who went on to appear on television or in cinema from there. Michael Cochrane who I always remember as a young chap there, I suppose he came as the traditional ASM or something and he’s now a regular member of the cast in ‘The Archers’ of all things.
Oh wow, wow yeah.
Well I’ve seen him on television two or three times and he does a lot of radio work.
Did you ever see June Brown in anything you remember?
I can’t specifically remember. Her husband, Robert Arnold, I can remember him. See, there you are, I’m remembering the men more than the women aren’t I.
I probably would do the same
Who could blame me? No, but I mean, later on I was fortunate enough to see people like Olivier and Richardson and Guinness and Gielgud
But not at the Pavilion
in the West End, in the West End. But a lot of the repertory company actors were absolutely wonderful, it’s just that they didn’t have the right agent or the right opportunity, as people know, who know about the theatre, a lot of it is luck.
You need to be in the right place at the right time or have the right agent. Um, so
So it’s not necessarily about your talent
No, no. But the Leas Pavilion, it was just a, a… I think that the acoustics must have been pretty good too because people didn’t seem to have any problem in hearing and that’s very important
Because initially I think it, was it built as a sort of a concert hall? Is that what it was built for?
I can’t honestly remember the origin of it to be honest because my memories are principally of the theatre.
Yeah, I was just thinking if it was built as a concert hall it wants to be suitable for the, you know, for the music doesn’t it?
Perhaps that’s why
Well that sort of shape, but I can remember, sadly, later on when the audience started to sort of diminish rather, it saw rather sparse attendance. I think probably it must have been a matinee or something and there was one lady who was, because the seats were cheaper there, there was this balcony going round which was not very well placed if you were seated in a certain place. You were right at one side of the stage and you couldn’t really see anything and, you know, the whole stage, and the director, I don’t know, had placed two people, with an important dialogue going on, quite near the wings and this woman leant over the balcony rails and shouted ‘come out, come out, I can’t see what you’re doing’.
Whilst the play was going on?
In the middle
That’s the sort of thing, that’s the sort of thing actors have to contend with.
Yeah, thank you Dora, thank you.
It’s been a pleasure to come here.