RoCo's Golden Anniversary Production
of Mystery At Greenfingers
Long time member and great friend of RoCo, Elizabeth Breckin, wrote in the St Andrew's quarterly magazine (of Autumn 2013) about our production of Mystery At Greenfingers. The play by J. B. Priestley had been the very first to be staged by RoCo in November 1963 after the group was originally formed, and was selected to be performed again in 2013 to mark the society's 50th Anniversary.
You can read her article below.
RoCo's Golden Anniversary Production of Mystery At Greenfingers
by Elizabeth Breckin, Autumn 2013

"Good evening, everybody. Isn't this fun?" were the first words uttered by Miss Tracey as she made her entrance in the latest RoCo production.
Fun it most certainly was from the moment of 'Curtain Up'. Mystery At Greenfingers by J. B. Priestley was the first three act play the newly formed RoCo had staged way back in November 1963; what an inspired thought to do the production once more as part of the 50th anniversary year celebrations.
The play was set in the staff room of the Greenfingers Palace Hotel in the Peak District, and the stage set, thanks to the very hard working Brian Marston and his team, was wonderful. Fifty years ago Joe Finch, Brian Langford, Henry Askwith and their teams set the high RoCo standards which have never fallen but simply improved over the years. The play time of year was March, however, as the radio announcer informed, "snow was falling and there were high drifts in many places including the Peak District". The radio announcer was the voice of Tony Breckin, who played the part of Fred in the first production.
In November 1963 the weather was typically dank and 'Novermberish'. On RoCo's second night of the first three act play, a major drama in the world played out, as Emma-Jane Ayling reminded us in her introduction: Friday 22 November 1963 was the date of the assassination of John F Kennedy. Tragic and shattering though the news from America was, RoCo decided, then as it has since, that "the show must go on".
Personally, I am rather glad it did, as that was the night of an introduction to the then Roundhay Congregational Church, going to the Memorial Hall for the first time as a member of the audience. Lounging on stage was a certain tall, slim young man, Tony Breckin, Fred the Barman! It was the first time I'd seen Tony/Fred and I thought "Hm, not bad!" Not a world shattering event, but one which proved to be a momentous event for the young actor and a young girl in the audience. "Fred" of the 1963 and the girl in the audience met formally in the Manse lounge a little while later, 'trod the RoCo boards' together and three years later were married. It was the first of quite a number of RoCo romances. Drama and romance on and off stage!! Cupid RoCo leads the way!!
July 2013 in RoCo's Golden year, and Greenfingers was performed in a heat wave, not November mists or March snow storms. Well done to each member of the cast coping under the heat of stage lights and wearing layers of winter clothes.
In 1963 Marian Haselhurst produced the play. In 2013 Cathy Henderson bravely undertook the role also producing, similarly, a RoCo play for the first time. In this she was ably assisted by Andrea Varnavides. Cathy used the words "dream of a cast"; they certainly were and captured our interest from the word go.
Justin Archibald as the temperamental half-French chef, Arnold Jordan, was superb. He captivated us as the curtain opened on him, extravagantly miming the song of an opera singer on the radio. The audience relaxed into the entertainment, and that happy atmosphere prevailed throughout the performance. Justin's larger than life portrayal was sustained throughout, spirited and very funny.
Edna Sandars, the secretary and book-keeper for the hotel, was expertly portrayed by Kate Mace, treading RoCo's boards and warmly welcomed to the stage for the first time, we look forward to seeing her again. Miss Tracey commented that Edna has "a very sharp eye". Keen on detective fiction and 'detecting', Kate certainly visualised this description for us with her actions and facial expressions. Her polished delivery of the skilful and amusing lines provided by J. B. Priestley never faltered.
Playing Keith Henley, the hotel manager keen and enthusiastic about his job, we were treated to an excellent performance by Richard Mace. Richard's thespian ability showed us several facets of the character, gently flirting with the young Miss Tennant, coping with an unexpected guest, with the staff, and with a rather self-important company detective before eventually realising he was actually more attracted to Miss Sanders!
For five years Alice Rayner, the youngest member of the cast, was part of Junior RoCo, gaining in confidence and ability. Both skills came to the fore in her representation of Helen Tennant, the new games and sports hostess for the hotel. From being the new girl wanting to create a good impression, her mild flirtation with the manager, which annoyed Miss Sanders, to being the bad girl in the story, Alice was a credit to herself and the Junior RoCo team. Well done too to the make-up department for putting ten years on Alice's age through make-up and hair style.
All hotels have maids (played by Linda Austin and Pauline Hemingway in 1963); the Greenfingers maids of 2013 were a superb pair, Sally Philips played by Kim Tomlin and Clara Packer by Sarah Merrifield. Their costumes were identical and very much of the era - congratulations to the costume department. Both Kim, playing the older and more experienced maid, and Sarah, playing a simple and good hearted less sophisticated member of staff, delivered their lines beautifully and their timing was brilliant. One small cameo which caught my particular attention - almost at the end of Act III after Miss Tracey shocked everyone by unintentionally firing her revolver into the air. The door opened and two inquisitive, confused and frightened heads crowned with white frilly uniform hats appeared round the door, once above the other. The heads stared into the room. Their wide eyes roamed the stage, noted no one was dead, then they quietly disappeared. Wonderfully executed.
Rose Heaton, the rather abstracted hotel manageress, was evocatively played by Rachel Cockburn. Rachel left us in no doubt that her character Rose was troubled and clearly, from conversations between Sally and Clara, really not herself. We were taken from anger and sadness to ecstatic joy when she and her husband, none other than chef Arnold Jordan, made up their differences and were later able to make their escape together, thanks to Miss Tracey.
Fred Poole, the talented cocktail barman, a very suave charming man who by the end of the play turns out to be a rather nasty character, was admirably and most confidently played by James Hassett. Special mention must be made of the fact that Jimmy stepped into the part only two weeks before the production! Had we not been told, no one in the audience would ever have known. Making not only his debut with RoCo but on stage acting, Jimmy gave his all to the manner born.
Every detective story needs a detective. Company Detective Robert Crowther was played by someone well known to RoCo, Adrian Widdowson, welcomed back to the stage after a long break. The detective, as he mentioned several times, was an ex-Scotland Yard Officer. A rather pompous, heavy handed policeman lacking in grace and rather lacking in intelligence too. Adrian played this part with finesse and complete control. He showed to best advantage the skills of the playwright as Crowther 'fenced words' with Miss Tracey in a 'Miss Marple-ish' manner; we could feel some sympathy for him as he came to terms with his 'help' from Miss Tracey. We laughed as he bumbled round his questioning and at his high handed conduct of the suspects. His final scene, when he'd been knocked out by Fred (yes, by Fred! the charming barman), was brimming with well-timed and superbly acted comic action.
Finally we come to Miss Tracey! Played vividly by Dorothy Tillison in 1963. Played no less brilliantly by Sheila Telfer, the longest continuous member of RoCo, in 2013. Miss Tracey, a lover of detective fiction, with a lively imagination, sense of humour, the art of listening and excellent powers of deduction. Sheila's sympathetic interpretation of this character highlighted these with great skill. Miss Tracey's sense of imagination and humour had caused her to: "work out a little scheme to see if I could take everybody in". She did! By creating a fictitious Mrs Jernigan who was seemingly murdered. However, knowing there was a company wide problem with drug dealing, there was also a serious side to her visit to Greenfingers. Overall, Miss Tracey found "this whole thing the greatest fun. I wouldn't have missed it for anything".
Listening to the comments as people left their seats, I don't think any of the audience would have "missed it for anything". Priestley's cleverly written play and this production had clearly been a huge success. How wonderful to be entertained by the excellence of the cast, the really amusing lines and be intrigued by the plot. The minds of the audience had been working out "who dun it" - some spotted all the clues, others hadn't. Everyone had enjoyed a wonderful evening.
RoCo is and always has been a team - on stage and back-stage, stage management and the theatre management. Caring, sharing, giving of themselves. Geoffrey Tillison, the first RoCo President, and Dorothy, his wife and the 'architect' of the dramatic society, were in the audience for the Saturday night performance, along with Michael Beard, who had also been in the first production. At the end of the evening, in a succinct and moving speech, Geoff paid tribute to the cast and team of this production. He thanked all the members of RoCo, those who were there at the beginning, those who have striven and worked to keep the society going through the years, and those in the present who give so much to each production. Geoff also hoped those yet to be born would keep up the excellent tradition.
Long live RoCo! Long may the caring, friendship, teamwork and excellence of live theatre continue in the suburbs.