An Ayrshire Arts Archive ~ Arts Groups and Venues

Craigie College of Education : A Dramatic History ~ 1964 - 1988

Drama and Theatre at Craigie College of Education, Ayr (1970-1981).

The College Theatre

In early 1970, I think, the Theatre was handed over to us. It was a splendid performance space in so many respects. The wing space was adequate, the sight lines for the audience were good, there was a fly tower over the stage for scenery and lighting and a fly gallery to operate the mechanism from. Over the auditorium there were four lighting bridges allowing us to light any part of the theatre. In the control room, sited at the rear of the auditorium, was a thyristor board boasting two presets, a sound system that was sophisticated for those days and a large cinema projector. Later the original lighting board was replaced by digital control. The operator could communicate with a Stage Manager’s desk in the right wing. To the rear of the stage was a white plastered wall which did service as a cyclorama. Behind it was a passageway giving access to stage left. Under the stage was a tunnel leading to a trap door system in the centre of the stage and to the small orchestra pit. These were normally covered with rather heavy sections of flooring which could be taken up to produce openings of various sizes.

One much-advertised feature of the theatre was the banked seating, which could be retracted to reveal all or part of the auditorium floor, to allow for theatre in the round or to convert the space into a dance floor, in a matter of moments. Unfortunately, it took two strong people, usually the college porters, twenty minutes to put down the seat-backs to prepare for this to happen. If the note-rests, which could be clipped on to the seat-backs, were in place, it took even longer. The fact of the matter was that the theatre was a compromise. It had been built as such. It was a dual purpose theatre and lecture hall. If it had not been I doubt that it would ever have been built at all.

We were delighted with our new theatre, despite its shortcomings, and learned to live with them. It was just a pity that the fly tower was not high enough to allow full-sized scenery to be flown, that the “orchestra pit” was only large enough to accommodate a small band and that the stage floor was highly polished and generally had to be covered for productions as it reflected light like a mirror.

The college appointed a series of theatre technicians who were of valuable assistance in mounting productions as well as in maintaining equipment and servicing lectures and film shows. Our first two technicians, Gordon Patrick and Jim Douglas were especially efficient and reliable. During the 1980s this post gradually disappeared and was absorbed into the Audio-Visual Aids department along with those of the Closed Circuit Television technicians.

The College and its Theatre Group presented the following productions in the theatre. I hope that it is a substantially complete list. Apart from Tod Lowrie and Amahl, which were directed by Jack Tosh, Head of English, all the rest were directed by members of the Drama Department.

Two productions are not included in the following list: Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Robert Stefani using a Children's Theatre group and Lady Audley's Secret, a Victorian melodrama, directed by Jane Moreland. I am not able to supply a date for either them, although they both took place in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

1970 The Crucible Arthur Miller
1971 All the King's Men Richard Rodney Bennett
  Tod Lowrie A. Ross and Bryden Thomson
1971 Century the Twentieth Ian Johnstone
  Orpheus in the Underworld Offenbach
1972 A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare
  Oh What a Lovely War! Chilton & others
  Amahl and the Night Visitors Carlo Menotti
1973 Six Characters in Search of an Author Luigi Pirandello
  Viva Mexico! Park and Dunn
1974 The Devils John Whiting
1975 Twelfth Night Shakespeare
  The Boy Friend Sandy Wilson
1976 The Caucasian Chalk Circle Bertholt Brecht
  East Lynne Ellen Wood (adapted C W Tayleur)
1977 La Belle Hélène Offenbach
1978 The Birthday Party Harold Pinter
1979 Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare
1980 Noye's Fludde Benjamin Britten
1981 Murder in the Cathedral T.S. Eliot

The following comments are not intended to be comprehensive but represent what stands out in my memory. I am sure that other people who were involved would recall different productions and events.

My highlights include Ken Brice’s production of All the King's Men, which was beautiful to look at and had a wonderful children’s chorus. Century the Twentieth was remarkable in that it was a full-length documentary play written by Ian Johnstone who was one of our own students. I found The Devils a very exciting play to direct with a very strong cast, including a new member of the staff: Robert Stefani as Grandier. Twelfth Night, with student Saskia Langley as Viola and Robert Stefani as Malvolio, was also very well received by large school audiences. Jane Moreland’s production of The Boy Friend was elegant and beautifully designed. Student Anni Eskdale was a splendid Grusha in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The theatre with its open stage and good projection facilities was very suitable for Brecht. I wonder why we did not mount more of his work.

By the time of The Birthday Party it was becoming difficult to recruit members of cast from the increasingly pressured Craigie student population and we began to draw on those members of Ayr Technical College that were now sharing our building, as well, as ever, on former students. Past student Janet Gimson was a memorable Meg in this production.

Recruitment was even more difficult for Romeo and Juliet and we used some pupils from local secondary schools. Our re-visitation of Noye's Fludde employed the services of many schoolchildren. Our last production, Murder in the Cathedral, although it was, I believe, successful artistically, featuring Robert Stefani as a very moving Thomas, proved very difficult to cast. Pressure of college work made it difficult not only to recruit actors, initially, but also to retain players once rehearsals began. We drew on all our usual sources and from beyond them. The women of Canterbury included my wife. Eventually I also had to break a self-imposed rule not appear in plays I was directing, and took over the part of Third Knight.

It became clear to us that an annual college production had ceased to be a viable event in a college that was both contracting in size and diversifying its courses. After all, public performances were always basically intended to serve our students with an opportunity to participate in drama and theatre. Changing circumstances now made it so difficult for them to take part that we were in danger of losing sight of this basic function.

Of course the Craigie Theatre was not only used for our own productions. There were occasional touring companies and many musical recitals by instrumentalists, bands and orchestras, including frequent visits by The Scottish Baroque Ensemble. The Theatre was also used by Ayr Intimate Opera who performed Mozart’s The Magic Flute in 1972, Gounod’s Faust in 1973 and Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia in 1980. It was also used, on at least two occasions, for large-scale Shakespearian productions by the Compass Club. These were The Taming of the Shrew and, in 1978, a production of Macbeth, which ran for a week and attracted school audiences from all over the West of Scotland, to see Bill Grierson as Macbeth and Barbara Crouch as Lady Macbeth.

David J F Crouch (BA, MA, DPhil, Diploma in Drama in Education)
York, 2010

Devils 1
Craigie College Drama Group. The 1974 production of The Devils by John Whiting.  magnify

Stage of the College Theatre viewed from the banked seating magnify    ©Frederick Bentham, New Theatres in Britain (Rank Strand Electric, 1970), pp.28-9.

View of the Auditorium from the stage.magnify    ©Frederick Bentham, New Theatres in Britain (Rank Strand Electric, 1970), pp.28-9.

Devil 1
Craigie College Drama Group. The 1974 production of The Devils by John Whiting.  magnify

Craigie College Drama Group. The 1979 production of Romeo and Juliet. magnify

Craigie College Drama Group. The 1981 production of Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot.  magnify

Images from David J F Crouch (personal collection). 

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Creative Ayrshire acknowledges the assistance of David J F Crouch (BA, MA, DPhil, Diploma in Drama in Education), Carolyn O'Hara, Ken Walker, Mike Bailey,  Barbara Crouch and the Librarian UWS for the provision of material for this section of the website. 

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