The Amateur Dramatic Society

In more ways than one the appointment of Geoffrey Bickerton as curate at St. Luke’s church, Mow Cop, had quite an impact on the local community.  The majority attended one or other of four surrounding Methodist chapels and the sight of Father Bickerton, a tall dark figure dressed in a long black soutane and a wide brimmed black hat caused some comment in the village.  He certainly made his presence felt and as parish priest he carried out his pastoral duties with care and compassion.  It soon came to light that he and his wife were also very interested in drama.  The result of this was to enliven the stage at the Parish Room for several years.

It was not long before a nativity play was put on.  This was bound to be a hit in the run-up to Christmas and was good because it had a rather more adult and thought provoking approach than was often the case.  Many people wanted to see something else so a Passion play was announced for Holy Week.  There were a few raised eyebrows.  No children were taking part and we didn’t know what to expect.  I must have been only about ten or eleven at the time, yet over sixty years later, I remember the opening scene vividly.  Father Bickerton leapt onto the stage in a long black robe and demonic make-up proclaiming, “I am Mephistopheles, Lord of the Underworld, King of the Nethermost Hell!”  There was a stunned silence and the audience looked round nervously.  Was the wooden Parish Room about to burst into flames?  The play proceeded but all I remember was that it was very serious stuff.  By the time Mrs. Bickerton made a guest appearance as a dishevelled Mary Magdalene in sackcloth and ashes we were ready for anything and our minds were being broadened by the minute.  Who knows – this could have the forerunner of a cycle of Mow Cop Mystery Plays to put the place firmly on the map, but it was not to be.  I am not in a position to say whether the Passion play was appropriate, popular or well acted, but for Father Bickerton and his company, -soon to become St. Luke’s Amateur Dramatic Society –it was a “one-off.” The time had come for something rather less weighty.

A pantomime was proposed for the following winter.  Cinderella was chosen and rehearsals took place over several weeks.  There was a proper “book” written by Samuel French and everyone had to be members of the A.D.S. and learn their lines, a task that was not always carried out to the letter.

 However, acting in pantomime revealed that certain individuals had hidden talents.  My uncle Charlie, usually a shy quiet man, surprised everyone by taking on the role of an ugly sister and turned out to be very comical.  On the first night he forgot his lines and relapsed into the local vernacular with the words,” Cinders! Get this ‘ess-hole cleaned out! It’s getting mowed up!”  The peals of laughter coming from the audience at this homely bit of dialogue seemed to take him by surprise.  Nevertheless, he had the presence of mind to include it at each subsequent performance.

After the popularity of Cinderella the St. Luke’s Panto became an annual event.  There was no difficulty in finding local people to take part.  I remember one of our neighbours, Horace Forster, who proved to have a pleasant tenor voice.  He took on roles, which included vocal numbers.

  One of the mainstays of the society was Billy Taylor.  As the scoutmaster of St. Luke’s troop he had some experience in organising gang shows.  He played a good pantomime dame and was resourceful and inventive when stage props were required.  His son Arthur operated the lighting system, which got better and better as time went on.

Father Bickerton was the producer.  He was enthusiastic and adaptable with a natural gift for comic slapstick parts.  I think his Oscar-winning performance was as Wishee Washee the laundry assistant in Aladdin.  In one memorable scene he helped put wicked uncle Abanazer (Horace Forster) through an enormous ingeniously contrived mangle while Widow Twankey (Billy Taylor) turned the handle with gusto.  It was an ambitious piece of stage “business” that had the audience in stitches.