The Unsung Mentors: Part 2

 

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An extraordinary little memory-bearing time-capsule from the past. This from my friend Gaynor Miles Clark, a snapshot of a group of tutors and alumni of Monmouthshire Young People’s Theatre, dating, from the 1960s.

Mollie Wanklyn sits sideways on the bench, her body turned to the camera. It’s so like her to have intuitively balanced herself in the composition to the three tutors to her immediate left. She was a woman of graceful angles held in opposition, legs always immaculately crossed and sloped, insteps arched. (Her body language was similar to that of the actor Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s film of ‘The Birds’, all gleaming hose and pencil-line skirts in artfully arranged repose.) Mollie was the chief tutor and director with the company. Her influence on me was, though lightly scattered, nevertheless deeply sown. Her voice was rich and nuanced. She smoked cigarettes with elan and was always dressed beautifully, though subtly.

Centre is Marcia Griffin, who taught dance and who we all called affectionately, ‘Bunny’. While Mollie was somewhat daunting because she was such a presence, Bunny was a bottle of pop, and her enthusiasms and skills were myriad, coupled to enormous warmth and empathy.

Patricia Flowers, at the right, was I think the youngest tutor during my time, and she became a friend who I saw socially. Much later in life I tried to contact her. But though I was able to send a letter to an address I was given, I never heard back. There were half-lost memories of my time at MYPT that I thought she might help me recollect. Perhaps she didn’t receive my letter, or it was from a past she’d set aside and didn’t want to return to. Either way I was sorry. I was as fickle as any fourteen year old at the time we’d known each other, and I probably dropped out of her life as my own became more exciting. No reason at all why, therefore, she should have picked up the threads when I returned as an adult, full of questions.

Julia Hibbard’s head can be seen between Marcia’s and Pat’s. She was the niece of my ballet teacher, Myra Silcox. I think that her teaching came after my time at MYPT, as I don’t recall being in her classes.

Of the men I recognise only Robert Page on the right. He was among the generation of older students who went on to teach with MYPT. I knew him from the beginning, when we’d both been in a production of Henry V with the company. He was a magnificent, hearty youth, forever laughing and with a ripened actor’s delivery way beyond his years, all wrapped in the marvellously musical inflections of the south Wales coal fields. He was kind to me, joshing and ribald and tender, when I was as frozen and frightened as a kitten on a motorway!

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6 thoughts on “The Unsung Mentors: Part 2

  1. For half a moment I thought it was ‘Contis’ back in the day,it’s something about the ‘black and white.’ Upon a closer look I realised it couldn’t be. I’m probably very wrong but I sense a harmony between these people and I don’t know if that was the note struck back in Clapham North.
    Love from a cold but at the moment dry, Folkestone.
    B xxx

    • I’d been so lost and unhappy at Hartridge Comprehensive on the Ringland Estate in Newport. At home I’d clamped up, not sharing how I was feeling. My parents must have noticed the changes, because they called Mel Thomas, the drama organiser for the county, and asked him to talk to me. I don’t really know how he came into their orbit. Mel swept me away to Pontypool and the decommissioned school that MYPT ran out of. I arrived in the middle of a choral verse speaking class being conducted by Mollie Wanklyn. There was no messing about. In at the deep end and reciting ‘Do you remember an inn, Miranda?’ with a mixed age group of students, of whom I was the youngest. It was as though my lungs had been collapsed and suddenly there was air flooding in. Mollie was a powerhouse, her enthusiasm taking no hostages. We did her bidding, opened our mouths and the sound poured out. Bracing. Exhilarating. Life affirming. Home!

      • My ‘home coming’ was less instant and more to do with, having chosen to be at Contis, I did not tell my parents how uncomfortable I felt to start with.
        I’d never danced and I clung on to my one acting class a week tenaciously.
        Friendless for my first year, puzzled by the vocal confidence of my peers, very different from primary school, something was evidently fullfilling a need and then…
        Leaving ‘Barrie’ behind me, joining ‘Lyric’ was wonderful, as that was when the magic alchemy of friends enveloped me and as you know, is with us still. Being a year older than me…ha ha…I think we discovered you when we were in ‘Leonardo’ and you were in ‘Stratford’ but your memory may be more accurate than mine.No ‘school anthem’ to share but a HOST of show tunes!
        Merrily waving my ‘jazz hands.’
        B xxx

  2. Fascinating Clive. I stll find it difficult when looking at any old black and white photos to imagine that there was colour then, but I know there was because I lived through the sixties and remember colourful days! The ladies look so elegant don’t they, with their lovely long legs and so poised, so self-possessed. And the bench is so sixties too! With love from France ( -8° right now as I write) I’m glued to the Rayburn… xxL

    • Lizzie, it’s interesting I always feel, when watching old black and white movies, to think on how different they would have been in colour. Still there are photographers who work only in black and white. I wonder if the day will ever come when that’s no longer the case, unless for some imitation of past style. I do LOVE black and white. When done well, it creates wonderful mood.

      It’s been a damned long winter, and wet wet wet here in the Ystwyth Valley. Ty Isaf is permanently awash with mud. The pony paddock has occasionally looked like a WWI battle ground, and the lawn has become a bog. There’s not a blade of grass to be found there. Nothing but moss. It’s like walking on warterlogged pillows. I am SO done with Winter. Mind you, the daffodils are coming out. February is the new Spring! Sending love. xxxxxxxxxxx

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