A trip down fading memories lane

by Ian Perks

I’ve been asked to write my recollections of theatre life at Saddleworth Players as I am one of vanishingly few members who played at the Mechanics Institute which is now the car park. 

The Mechanics Hall

In 1970 I had been kicking around the local amateur theatre scene for 12 years (I started young).  Mostly I played in small societies who staged their productions in church halls.  The plays on offer were Lancashire comedies, thrillers and the occasional classic.  If you were male, in your 20’s and in possession of a pulse you were in great demand so I had also appeared at Crompton’s original Playhouse (destroyed by fire in 1963) and the Lyceum Theatre Oldham.  It was while performing at the Lyceum that I was spotted by two wonderful women, Joan Nuttall and Millicent Mallalieu and invited to appear in the Saddleworth Players’ first production of 1970-71.  The play was ‘Cat on A Hot Tin Roof’ and my role was Brick, an ex college star quarterback who was tortured by his repressed homosexuality and had turned to alcohol.  The ‘Cat’ was Tricia Kenworthy who is desperate for children but given Brick’s proclivities it ain’t gonna happen.  American football quarterbacks are over 6 feet tall and are made of 180lbs of tempered steel.  In the film the part was played by Paul Newman.  I fitted neither template!  Nevertheless, I was considered worth persevering with.  Over the next two years I was in a few more productions and I stage managed a festival production of ‘Tom Jones’, directed by the inimitable Derek Clegg.  Derek was always more interested in pictures, fabrics and colours and famously said on one occasion when asked what a character should do “I don’t know love, you’re the bloody actors”.

I also helped to retrieve some scenery from storage in the upper floor of the building which was an absolute death trap.  It is a mystery how no one was seriously injured or even killed ( I do not joke!).

In 1972 the Mechanics was purchased by Oldham Council to create a car park and the Players were offered the Co-operative building at a peppercorn rent if they would undertake the conversion work.

Some marvellous people. among them the two aforementioned women, Ken Wright, John Nuttall and Tony Doherty (who later married Joan Nuttall) got stuck in with hard graft and no little skill and by Autumn 1973 the Society was ready to stage the first show at the Millgate ‘An Italian Straw Hat’.  Of course the last item on the conversion was the dressing room so we were left with an open plan, unisex space, a layout  which was not addressed until the relatively recent make over.

Sideline: – Just prior to the grand opening it was realised that the dressing area was undecorated so I spent a week (October half term) slapping 2 coats of magnolia emulsion on every available surface.  When the makeover happened the clutter was cleared from the far side of the unisex area revealing the original magnolia still clinging to the wall. 

Next time I will try to recall the memorable productions (for me) in the new theatre.

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