Sheffield's golden age of amateur plays

The recent production of Waiting for Godot at the Crucible prompted the revelation that one of the first - if not the first - amateur performances of the famous play was in Sheffield.

Thursday, 10th March 2016, 7:00 am
'Waiting for Godot' - Sheffield Morning Telegraph review 1st June 1957 Submitted John Harris

Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece was performed by the YMCA Dramatic Society in the old Sheffield YMCA Hall in Fargate on May 30, 31 and June 1, 1957 and then at amdram festivals around the country.

John Furniss, aged 83, of Dore, told the Sheffield Telegraph about his memories of a ‘golden age’ of Sheffield amateur drama, including playing the slave Lucky, two years after the play’s first professional performance in Britain.

In a letter, John said: “The YMCA Dramatic Society production was by W Jenkins ‘Gibby’ Gibson. In addition to his work as our benevolent dictator, he was financial director of Hadfields steel company, a JP and a Scout Commissioner.”

Former advertising executive John has vivid memories of the cast in the picture above.

John said: “From the left is James Marsland (Didi). I never knew James’ occupation as he seemed to be always on stage somewhere. He was also a member of the Sheffield Playgoers. Pozzo is John Neilson, a prominent Sheffield solicitor.

“The little head on my shoulder belongs to Richard Jeffrey as the Boy who, chaperoned by his father, learned and spoke his lines impeccably. On the right is John Blanchard (Gogo). He was an elegant actor and fine producer.”

Godot had a mixed reaction in its early days. But John said: “No-one walked out of our shows as far as I’m aware, because pre-contact lenses the audience was just a blur to me! The only bad time was a festival in Buxton when Jim Marsland was taken to hospital seriously ill just before curtain up and the great Gibby played Didi, script in hand, unrehearsed and uncostumed.”

And the YMCA DS got a rave review in the Sheffield Morning Telegraph from EF Watling. The classics master at King Edward VII School, who signed off with the initial W, described John as the image of patient endurance as Lucky, who renders the ‘nonsense’ speech to ‘perfection’.

The YMCA DS waned after Gibby’s death in the late 1950s. John later joined the Dilys Guite Players at the Lantern Theatre in Nether Edge.