Wick’s dynamic duo props’ ladies, Margaret Davy and Sue Whittaker have been slaving away behind the scenes in Wick productions for an amazing number of years.
Margaret Davy began in 1958, Sue Whitaker joined her in 1978, with hardly a show missed by either of them since.
However, over the last couple of years, they have been nurturing their successors and now they have finally decided to hand over the keys to the props cupboard for good.
“And, oh dear” (writes Rosemary Bouchy in the February 2013 Newsletter) “won’t they be missed!
Wick has been fortunate to be able to draw upon the wealth of experience built up by these two hard-working members and their ability to find, or make, anything requested.”
Both have been made Honorary members of the Company and Margaret assures us she will remain involved with the Workshop team painting our sets.
But for their efforts in ‘props corner’ they have the grateful thanks of Chairman John Garland, all the Committee (past and present) and every director, cast and crew member or photographer who has had the benefit of their quiet competence and professional expertise.
Top of the Props!!
Wick News – May 2005 : Interview by Rosemary Bouchy
The lights go down between the acts and we see a couple of black-clad figures gliding silently and efficiently around the set. Not resident theatre ghosts, but the prop ladies going about their business. Now, just what stories could they tell, I wondered?
Plenty, it turned out, when I started to talk to Margaret Davy and Sue Whittaker, who have been loyally slaving away for an amazing number of years.
“Have you always worked together?”
Margaret: No. Persuaded by friends, I joined the Wick long before Sue, and decided to work back-stage since I wasn’t interested in acting. My first production was The Hollow in 1958. I continued working regularly after that with various friends to help me.
Sue: I came on the scene in 1978, and joined Margaret organising the props for How the Other Half Loves. Our team at first included Frances Thorne, but she went on to do the lighting and we have continued as a twosome ever since.
“With the vast range of props needed, you must have become adept at making things.”
Sue: Yes, indeed. Among many other items, we have made six flamingos for Alice in Wonderland and bundles of money cut from an old telephone directory for Loot. This was all very time consuming.
A dead ferret was needed for Sailor Beware. I got some very funny looks when I asked for something that looked like one in ‘Trends’. “Go upstairs”, said the shop assistant, getting rid of me. On enquiring again, I was told “I’ve had requests for some odd costumes, but never a dead ferret!” Finally I made one from stuffed tights.
Another time I made some noses for Pinocchio – the larger ones looked so rude that I had to draw the curtains at home to hide my work from the world. They looked OK on stage, though.
Margaret: Then there was that sirloin of beef. We made a lovely one from papier-mâché, only to be informed at the dress rehearsal that it had to be eaten!”
“Could you remember any really funny or embarrassing situations?”
Sue: We’ve had some amusing times with dummies, especially before we had a car and had to walk through the streets carrying one. For ‘Allo ‘Allo, I went to a branch of ‘Ann Summers’ to see if I could find suitable dummies. I searched around and found myself staring at a selection of vibrators before backing off nervously into a pile of whips. After a hasty exit, I eventually found inflatable ones in a sex shop and was careful to assure the sales person that these were for a play – I wasn’t just being greedy taking two! After my shopping expedition I went on to see a friend in hospital – still clutching my ‘Sex Shop’ bags!
“Have you ever had difficulties with props once they were in place?”
Margaret: For The Hollow, we needed a large lobster. A friend from a fish restaurant provided a shell which smelled terible – and certainly didn’t get any sweeter during the run.
We had great problems with artificial Christmas trees in The Snow Queen. It had been intended to use real ones but the Fire Prevention Officer wouldn’t allow these. The replacements wouldn’t stand up and the director suggested we might lie down and hold them!
There have been a few crashes, too. A full tray holding some of my mother’s precious china was dropped at dress rehearsal. The busy director simply told the cast not to bother with all that – just get rid of the pieces. I was most upset.
Another crash involved Sue, who, carrying a tray of mugs back to the canteen after supplying interval drinks, tripped on the stairs leading from the old dressing room. The noise was heard all over the Barn – this in the middle of the second act!
“There is plenty of room backstage now, but I’m sure you didn’t have such comfortable quarters in the old days?”
Margaret: We certainly didn’t, especially around the tiny stage in the original Barn Theatre. It was a real squeeze, and many of the props had to be kept in a chilly pit down below. Still, we had plenty of fun never-the-less, with wonderful gossip sessions going on in the cramped dressing room.
“You must need a great deal of space to store props while they are not being used. Have you ever thrown anything away and then regretted it?”
Sue: Oh yes. We had for years an old-fashioned shop till and a gramophone with a horn taking up precious space in the workshop. They were finally disposed of, only to be desperately needed later, the till for On the Razzle and the gramophone more recently in The Winslow Boy.
“Are you happy in your work?”
Both: Most of the time! We love being involved, and if that means being there at each stage from play-reading to production, so much the better. But we do like to have our props list early – the day before dress rehearsal simply won’t do!
Wick is fortunate to be able to draw upon the wealth of experience built up by these two hard-working and obviously much needed members, who continue to search out and discover all kinds of strange items. Nowadays computers provide a helpful aid to finding odd objects, but even so, that doesn’t make the leg-work and inventiveness ant the less. Long may they remain ‘top of the props’!