Tag Archives: Horner

Further Shows at Sime Road

By Sears Eldredge

Next on The Barn’s Spring Season was Rag Bag Revue produced by Horner, Roberts, and W. Hogg-Fergusson. This is the first show in which the Dutch/Indonesian female impersonator, Henri Ecoma, appeared—dancing and singing “La Conga.” Beckerley, who liked to sing as well as act, became part of the “Barn Quartet.”

I liked singing. So did Joe Bernstein, a professional tenor, Ken Luke, headmaster of a Malayan public school, bass, George Sprod, Australian Smith’s Weekly artist and cartoonist alto, and me . . . somewhere between Joe and George; I quote Joe In short, the Barn Quartet. Under Bernstein we were really good. We sang in every show except plays.[i]

. . . .

Joe wrote music and made sure we learned the score. A hard master Joe! When he put his hands on his hips with that pained look and the shake of his head, we three knew we [were] for it . . . not infrequently. We were good because Joe was a professional.[ii]

Beckerley also appeared in a number of skits, and even Searle appeared in two offerings.

When not working on the sets I did quite a few of standing in as understudy for the young female roles: Man of Destiny and Bird in Hand were two at Sime Road. . .. Actors were often unable to rehearse being out on working parties. . .. I could invariably fiddle my stay in camp to fit with a rehearsal when needed. Searle did not favour my, I quote, ‘stage struck desire to appear in plays’. I reminded him of that when he and I were cast in “Hamlet goes Hollywood,”[1] I was Ophelia. . . Ron, Laertes cum American reporter. I come on stage with straw in my hair, nursing a bunch of flowers. As I cross the stage, I offer each flower to the audience: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.  There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel that’s for you.”  (NOW HOLDING OUT A CHINA JAR) And [there’s] sulpher, that’s for scabies!” Audience loved it. Ron was good as the American reporter. He too loved it. His American accent was almost a Southern drawl, quite in keeping with the comedy. Stage struck.[iii]

The next show of the Spring Season was an adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s “Masterpiece of the Macabre,” Rope, produced by Jon Mackwood and W. Hogg Fergusson, which played between March 28 and April 1. The Dutch performer, Fritz Scholer, appears again in the cast. Then, on 4 April, Music Thru the Years, opened. The show was a cavalcade of music compiled by the pianist Bill Williams with songs, sketches, and dances. Beckerley took the part of a female character:

In “Music through the Years” Alan at five feet two. Alan is the black whiskered villain to my five feet nine damsel in distress. I sing, “No, no, a thousand times No, you cannot buy my caress. No, no a thousand times no, I’d rather die than say yes.” Alan, “Marry me or your father will die!” Me, “Oh, poor father!” Alan, “Into the water with him!”  Me, “Oh, but he can’t swim!” Alan, “Well, now’s his time to bloody learn.”[iv]

The Barn Quartet sang a number of times in the show: “One song, ‘Comrades in Arms’ was a sort of best seller; the audiences not allowing us to retire before a repeat of it. Stirring stuff! I liked it so no chore for me.”[v]

This show was followed on 11 April by Nuts and Wine: A Gourmet’s Revue, which contained “Bolero” and “Lady of Spain,” danced by Henri Ecoma.

Caricature of Henri Ecoma. Desmond Bettany.
Courtesy of the Bettany Family.
View more of Desmond Bettany’s artwork at: www.changipowart.com

P. G. Wodehouse’s comedy, Good Morning, Bill, was scheduled for 18 April, but for some reason it was replaced by John Drinkwater’s comedy, Bird in Hand. And the four original one act plays by Lt. W. H. Ferguson that were next on the schedule were also canceled. Scotch Broth, a hastily cobbled together Variety Show, went on instead, opening on 25 April. The Highland costumes are credited to Besser & Burn. And here again, was Henri Ecoma. This time he was playing the native seductress, “Tondeleyo” [sic] from the 1923 London hit play, White Cargo. Beckerley had distinct memories of Ecoma:

. . . Henri on stage was a girl, he didn’t have to convince anybody. Anybody can put on a wig, tart himself up etc., etc., but strip him and confront an audience in a dance designed to arouse sexual desires is something that made Henri unique . . . he moved like a girl anyway. He also had a disconcerting way of switching to Dutch when he got excited, which was not infrequently and expecting us to keep up, as it were.[vi]

In early May, The Barn Entertainment Committee announced their Summer Season, which would contain the usual variety shows, plays, etc.—even a Dutch show—a night of Shakespeare, and an A.I.F. Concert. But their plans for a Summer Season were scuttled when the Japanese announced that they were all moving to Changi Gaol to replace the European civilian men, women, and children who had been interned there since the fall of Singapore and were now to take up residence at Sime Road.

Rice and Shine will be taking a short break in the New Year, but will return to continue the Changi story, plus cover a few other locations, soon!

[1] A comic sketch in Rag Bag Revue.

[i] Beckerley, J. Letter. 26 July 04.

[ii] Beckerley, J. Ibid.

[iii] Beckerley, J. Ibid.

[iv] Beckerley. J. Ibid.

[v] Beckerley, J. Ibid.

[vi] Beckerley, J. Letter. 24 April 05.

Return to Normal

By Sears Eldredge

After their return to regular quarters, the “P.O.W. WOWS” continued their revues, one of which featured a new song by Bob Gale, “Some Day I’ll Come Back To You, Dear”:

 Someday troubles will be over,

One day right will conquer wrong.

Peace will come to stay forever,

And at last, we shall view,

All our dreams come true.[i]

On Saturday, 10 September, Australian Medical Officer Charles Huxtable, as he had done many times, accompanied two patients from Roberts Hospital to see the Variety Show in The New Windmill Theatre (the same show that had been running prior to the “Selarang Incident”).[1] There he saw Fergus Anckorn perform his “Egg Trick,” described here by Anckorn’s close friend, Norman Pritchard: 

He [Anckorn] did this show where he takes a handkerchief out of his pocket — silk handkerchief — stuffs it in his hand, opens his hand up: it’s not laying there. . . handkerchief has gone into the egg: the egg shell.  And he explains this to the audience tries to make them feel that [they’re in on it] . . .

But just in case you’re not quite sure, he breaks the egg into a tumbler . . . and the egg and yolk falls out. So – the egg trick.[ii]

A marvelous trick, but the backstory about how the egg for this trick was obtained is even more remarkable: 

[Anckorn] saw the Jap Commander, who gave him a bit of paper to go to the store to get the egg he needed for the show. But when he got to the source of supply, the Jap had asked him how many he wanted. So, he just realized there was no number on the order. 

            So he says, “Fifteen” . . . 

And I thought he was going to do this egg trick every night for two weeks — with fourteen eggs. And Lester Martin, Gus, and I got a pin — each a pin — and totally took a section of the egg out — a section of the shell out large enough to get the yolk out, put it in a saucepan, and made a lovely omelet . . . which the three of us ate.  

And the next day after the show, the General pulled him in and asked for an interpreter.

            “What happened to the other eggs?”

So Gus said ([he] had to think pretty fast), “Rehearsals!” And he got away with it.[iii]  

Back in the India Lines, I Killed The Count, opened on 17 September to tremendous applause. “Jack” Horner’s comic abilities in his Cockney character role almost stopped the show.[2][iv]Searle’s interior setting with scrounged, or POW-made furniture, was much praised. The sketch of the set design in Searle’s IWM Art folder is done in red and black on brown paper.[3] It shows a standard three-fold interior setting with a door in each wall. Notes on the sketch show how the setting could be constructed from a series of flats pinned together. And at the left of the sketch are notes listing the furniture and props required.

Toward the end of the month, another new theatre (“The Glade”) and concert party (“The Gladiators”) appeared with a production of Old King Cole performed by the S.S.V.F.[4] POWs in the Southern Area.

[1] Huxtable’s unpublished diary has been instrumental in recovering this history of entertainments in Changi..

[2] Horner was also passionate about theatre and the publication of his diary by his family has been an invaluable resource.

[3] The image was not made available for this blog.

[4] Singapore Straits Volunteer Forces.

[i] Anckorn, F. collection, n.p.

[ii] Pritchard, Interview, 28.

[iii] Pritchard, Interview, 28-29.

[iv] Horner, Diary, 48, pb.

Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105

Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22