Nairobi City Players Memories (1967-1994)
The orchestra is tuning its instruments; the curtain goes up; the lights are dimmed, and the show commences………. The anticipation and excitement are indescribable. For me, nothing will ever beat that sensation.
1967: ‘The Sound of Music’ – This was a memorable year indeed because I was introduced to amateur dramatics by the Nairobi City Players. At the age of 13, I took on the role of Louisa (one of the Von Trapp children) and I was hooked! Little did I realise that this was the beginning of a very exciting journey. During this production, I met Irene Jeffery, who played one of the novices and was my personal dresser…..How lucky I was! My friendship with Irene has continued until this very day.
1974: ‘Oliver’ – A few years later, my theatrical debut was followed by an opportunity to join the cast of ‘Oliver’ which was excellently directed by David Kelsey. I joined a wonderful chorus and was given the splendid role of Old Sal; my back has never quite recovered from the experience! I recall so many delightful songs, especially ‘Who will buy my sweet red roses, two blooms for a penny?’ ‘Oliver’ is when I first met Gill Hines who played Mrs Bedwin. The next time we had the pleasure of performing together was in 1976 during The Theatre Group’s production of ‘The Boyfriend.’ Gill was cast as Madame Dupont, and I was given the part of Polly. After moving back to England in 1995, I sadly lost contact with Gill, but I am hoping to reconnect with her and enjoy a major catchup.
1977: ‘The Merry Widow’ was an outstanding production in every way. It benefited from the expertise of professional producer, Dr Robert Herzel together with superb musical direction and colourful costume design. The combination of these characteristics resulted in a truly mesmerising experience.
1982: ‘The Fantasticks’ This production was directed by the very talented Benny Goodman alongside Michael James as Musical Director. This play was presented at the Donovan Maule Theatre. I played the part of Luisa, a button-maker’s daughter and Roger Corfield’s role, my husband at that time, was cast as Bellamy my Father!!! Not quite sure we pulled it off. However, it was a lot of fun.
There was also more light-hearted entertainment on offer in the form of pantomimes and, after participating in a few shows for The Theatre Group and Phoenix Players, under the strict rule of James Falkland, I moved on to roles in traditional pantomime and several other productions.
1986: ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ – In this production, directed by Larry Oaks, I enjoyed my role as Princess Rose alongside Maureen Turner – my handsome ‘Prince.’ It was such a laugh. John Humphries gave a delightful performance as Dame Lucy, and I particularly loved working with Barry Jobling. He is both a talented musician and lovely friend. Gottfried Sauer also deserves a mention for playing the back end of Caroline, the cow, while his wife Tina, was one of the lovely dancers. To this day, we remain very close friends. I have to mention that singing the famous Michael Jackson number, ‘Thriller’ was probably the most cringeworthy performance of my life. Embarrassing to say the least! Goodness knows why Barry thought I would be able to pull it off! Michael Jackson would have been appalled.
1987: Old Time Music Hall was popular at this time, and I simply loved every moment of my involvement in these shows. The traditional old songs were wonderful, and it was a great experience to go back in time.
1989: ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ In this show, directed by Jon Tarlton, I was cast as Polly Perkins, and I remember playing alongside Cheryl Macey. How lucky was I! Denise White was so ‘over-the-top’ as Queen Wotta Woppa but was completely loveable in her part. I will never forget Denise who was a gem in every sense of the word. Jackie Holt as Bill the Bosun a talented lady indeed.
1990: ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was another production which was presented under the watchful eye of Jon Tarlton. On this occasion, I was assigned the role of Queen Lucy alongside King Ezekiel played by Ted Washburn. We were a good match! Cheryl Macey as Florizel is certainly would a mention. Another memorable performance – Nurse Toogood, played by Keith Atkinson – was a laugh a minute. So enjoyable! Who says pantomimes are not fun?
1991: ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ Jon Tarlton as Director and Ben Mason as Musical Director led to another lively production which I enjoyed being a part of. Cast as one of The Caliph of Baghdad’s wives was a fun role. Raj Thakar was great.
1992: ‘ West Side Story’ – This show provided the greatest challenge of all for me. I was cast as one of the ‘Jets’ and as one of the more ‘elderly’ members of the company, there were times when I felt completely exhausted. ‘West Side Story’ is famous for its lively dance numbers and rigorous rehearsals were scheduled so that we would master the right steps. However, I have never had a particular flair for dancing, and although I persevered, I found it extremely hard work. A few hours after the first rehearsal I could barely walk. The sudden use of muscles which had remained dormant for years had led to my body seizing up. I remember my daughter Jessica saying to me, ‘Mummy, what you need is a walking stick!’ Her comment summed up the situation perfectly!
1993: ‘Cinderella’ was another production directed by Larry Oaks. It was always such a pleasure working with him. In this show, I played Prince Charming alongside Lisa Rijmer who was Cinderella. Roy Lawrence was memorable in the role of ‘Fannie’ and Denise White was a definite asset as Baroness Hardupp. She had such a bubbly personality, and I miss her.
1994: ‘Aladdin,’ directed by Roy Lawrence. Sadly, this was the last NCP production with which I was involved, as I returned to England in 1995. Since then, there has been no ‘treading the boards’! Not brave enough in this new world. I do miss those times. Perhaps 2021 will bring about a new determination to resurrect my involvement in amateur dramatics. Who knows? For the time being (as and when Covid allows) I will continue to enjoy singing in the choir which I have joined here in Cheltenham.
Mary Epsom’s contribution to all the Nairobi City Players productions deserves a huge accolade for Costume Design. She worked wonders.
On a slightly different note, I would like to mention Connie MacDonald and Frances Cattermole who both ran the productions behind the scenes as Production & Stage Manager They ruled their respective domains with a rod of iron and did a fantastic job. It is sad to note that Connie is no longer with us.
As I write these memoirs, other names keep springing to mind. Ray Charman, who played Don Quixote in ‘Man of La Mancha’ was phenomenal. I was lucky to perform in The Theatre Group’s production of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ playing Jack, while Ray took on the role of the Dame. He was superb. Since I have been back in England, I have had the good fortune to re-establish contact with him and had the pleasure of seeing him in a couple of shows at the Malvern Theatre in Worcestershire. Recently, he seems to have disappeared from the radar, but I am in the process of trying to track him down. Barry Martin is another extremely talented actor who comes to mind. His performance as Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in 1991was great, and the entire show was fantastic. Good fortune again came my way as I was able to re-establish contact with Barry and saw him in ‘Joseph and his Technicoloured Dreamcoat’ at the Oxford Theatre playing Jacob the Father of 12 sons in the mid 90s. I have been in touch with Barry since then but of late there has been no response – either from his address in London or his telephone number. I rather fear the worst.
My involvement with Nairobi City Players played a huge part in my life in Kenya before I left in 1995. I made many lifelong friends, and each show was enormous fun. The memories of all those wonderful productions in which I took part and those I enjoyed from an audience perspective will forever be etched in my mind. Similarly, it was a pleasure take on the role of Secretary to the Management Committee. Those theatrical days were definitely the best days of my life.
I must say a huge THANK YOU to each and every one of the NCP team and finally, I would like to salute Bryan and Mary Epsom.
Jane Ward (née Corfield/Zagoritis)