Anne of Green Gables was a most enjoyable experience for everyone who attended, but there were unexpected surprises, too.
On the second night the leading lady, 14 year old Ellie Rayward who played Anne, was taken ill with a serious nosebleed shortly before the start of the performance and it was not until about 10 minutes after the show should have started that it was clear that she simply could not do it. Seventeen year old Phoebe Ralph, was asked to step in to take on the major role. The costume team performed several minor miracles in a matter of minutes and the show went on! Phoebe had to use the script on stage, of course, (HTC does not have the luxury of understudies!) but it was agreed by everyone that she did a magnificent job and the cast felt that they were all swept along by the warmth and support of the audience.
But there was more to come. At the matinee performance on Saturday, HTC had two very special visitors. Anne of Green Gables is one of the world’s longest running stage shows. Adapted for stage by Donald Harron, it opened in Charlottetown, Canada, in 1965 and has been on the professional stage for most of the time since then. Donald Harron died three years ago aged 90 but remains something of an icon in Canada. It was, therefore, a huge and delightful surprise when his daughter Martha contacted the Henfield Theatre Company to say that she and her daughter Zoe were now living in London and were coming to the matinee performance in Henfield! Two days after the performance Martha sent a message to the director, including the following text:
“I can't thank you and your splendid team enough for the performance my daughter Zoe and I saw on Saturday, all the more amazing for the many constraints you must have been dealing with. Enormous amounts of work went into it, most of it unpaid but all of it much appreciated. I felt like a fraud to be treated so kindly by everyone at Henfield Hall, having done LESS than nothing to create this wonderful musical: when my father retrieved the family's hardbound copy of Anne of Green Gables to write the original script for the show, he discovered that his eldest daughter Martha had carved out the interior to hide her cigarettes in.
This is the report I wrote to my sisters Mary and Kelley last night:
The people around us must have wondered why these two weird women were crying throughout the performance of a feel-good family musical, but perhaps our Canadian accents gave them a hint. The following report will be in no particular order, just as things occur to me.
Speaking of Canadian accents, to get a minor point out of the way, I think the Anne and the Matthew could have survived a few rounds of Canadians playing Spot the Foreigner - very impressive! One sounded Australian and a few just sounded 100% British, but none of them sounded American and most sounded at least vaguely Canadian, so all in all well done on the accent front.
This is the first time I have been able to see Anne performed in a small venue and it was exhilarating. I'll bet that's part of the reason Papa was willing to travel long distances to see small town and school productions. We've always had good seats in a large venue, so the performances we witnessed in close-up also had to play to the long-distant back row. I really enjoyed Miss Stacey singing Learn Everything: her enthusiasm for knowledge seemed genuine.
On Thursday the girl playing Anne developed a nosebleed. There were no understudies so panic ensued, but the young woman playing the store clerk Lucilla, who had auditioned for the part of Anne, had been to every rehearsal and already knew the part. A shuffle of smaller parts ensued and they managed to pull it off. The main Anne was back the next day so we didn't see the replacement as Anne but we can attest from her performance as Lucilla that she really can sing. I made a point of congratulating her when we went backstage.
The main Anne, Ellie Rayward, did look like an orphan so Papa would have approved, and she was truly impressive - excellent acting and beautiful singing – and only 14! I'm sure there is no shortage of Canadian girls who could play the part, but I wouldn't hesitate to put this girl on stage in Charlottetown.
The Matthew was adorable, could really sing and, as mentioned, even sounded Canadian. I would have wept buckets when he died anyway, but he deserved my tears. The small orchestra sounded great and Zoe, who does have a teaching certificate in piano after all, particularly commended the flautist. Those songs really hold up!
We both loved the costumes, including the school pageant outfits. Matthew was in cords, which suited him, and the boys were all in overalls.
On arrival, Zoe and I had been asked to introduce ourselves to the front of house, which we did, and were promptly handed tickets for closer seats and asked to come backstage at the interval. They asked what drink we would like during intermission and Zoe had the inspiration to ask whether they had Papa's drink of choice, ginger ale - which they managed to come up with! They asked us to pose for photographs backstage with the cast, which we agreed to do, while of course protesting that we hadn't contributed a thing and didn't deserve to be fêted in any way.
I'm so glad we went”.
The picture above shows Martha, Phoebe, Elle and Zoe backstage during the interval.