Below are some personal reminiscences from Mrs Marg Netley – a life member of Berrigan Amateur Dramatic Society – of her time with BADS from 1955 to 1989.
The Berrigan Drama Club was originally formed in 1923, by a local dentist, Garry Byrne and featured D.E. McLeod in the starring role of their first play, "Tom, Dick and Harry".
It was continued over the years, featuring the local talent of Snow McLeod, Dorothy and Len Abbott, Gordon Allan and Laurie Shiels, among others.
In the 1950's, Lol and Alma Lynas moved to Berrigan and fostered much of the local talent at that time, presenting musical reviews which were written by Alma and later established plays with audience appeal. Alma had been associated with the Tivoli Theatre during their years in Melbourne and the locals benefited greatly from her years of experience and love of the theatre.
When I arrived in Berrigan in 1955, the reviews were already underway and she had a good following. Locals such as Judy Chisholm, John and Kevin Bush John Burwood and Snow McLeod were starring. Maureen Ryan and I joined in for "Happy Days", a slapstick comedy review which was also written by Alma and lots of fun - I still have the photos of Maureen and I dressed as "Ada and Elsie" in our comedy routine which at one stage found me doing leap frog over John Burwood as he bent over.
The first of the serious plays we tackled was "the Ghost Train" by Arnold Ridley and this was much more challenging, requiring the actors to learn scripts as before a lot of adlibbing went on. Alma was quite a perfectionist when it came to scripts and we always had the first reading at her place where she had already cast the play and went into the characters in depth. We were a strange mix of people stranded on a ghostly railway station set in Truro in England I played a cantankerous old biddy with my parrot. Years later when Jim and I went to England, we visited that same railway station in Truro, Cornwall and it was quite eerie being there.
After our first success with a drama, we then launched into an English comedy, "Cuckoo in the Nest" which was also well received. We took this on tour to Oaklands and had lots of fun but the boys kept ducking off to the local pub and it was hard to keep track of them. Jim Netley made his debut as a drunken chauffer who had to weave his way across the stage. He looked very realistic!. Alma banned drink during rehearsals and shows and I think it was a wise move. We usually adjourned after the show to the Federal Hotel which was over the road from the Berrigan hall.
The next ambitious performance in 1964 was "Blithe Spirit", by Noel Coward. Judy Chisholm played Elvira, Helen Dickie, Ruth and their husband was Kevin Bush. Bill Abbott was Doctor Bradman and Marg Pola his wife. I was Madam Arcati and the maid was played by Patty McLoughlin. Twenty five years later, Helen Dickie directed the silver anniversary performance of this same play with three of the original cast members playing their same roles - Kevin Bush commuting from Leeton each week for the rehearsals. Judy Chisholm played Elvira again and I was Madam Arcati. It was a great success and 1964 cast members who had left the district came to the first night performance which was a trip down memory lane.
Sadly, sometime after the first production of "Blithe Spirit”, in 1964, Alma Lynas died from a heart attack and she was sadly missed. Lol remained with us for some years and was given life membership posthumously in 1989, together with Judy Chisholm, Helen and Malcolm Dickie and myself after the last performance of "Blithe Spirit" in 1989. Alma and Lol were a great team and gave us all lots of fun and enjoyment in drama over the years.
From the end of 1964 to 1974 there was a big pause in drama. Helen Dickie and I were busy raising our families during those years and it was not till 1976 that we regrouped and decided to stage another play as a tribute to Alma and Lol Lynas. It was an ambitious undertaking for Helen and myself as we had not directed a play before but we decided to go ahead and chose "Boeing, Boeing," a comedy involving a love triangle with three air hostesses. We found some new talent in Judy Guilmartin and Sandra McAlpin and together with Peter Noble and Paul Cottom, we had a show. This was not without its problems however as the set had a large number of doors built expertly by our new stage manager, Greg White, who was the backbone of our many later productions - sets guaranteed to last indefinitely. One of the actors came in the wrong door, which threw everything into chaos on the first night but we were saved by Helen Dickie (playing Bertha the maid), rushing on stage to untangle the lines - only then did she realise she had the script in her hands. The play was well received and encouraged us enough to keep going and expand our horizons.
In 1977, I directed "Time Murderer Please", a comedy thriller with some new faces appearing. Mac Lane played the lead role with Gerald Ryan, Geoffrey Dunn, and Bill Petzke, all new talents. Monica Ward and Jenna Baker joined Sam McAlpin and Helen Dickie for the female roles. This play really tested my skills as a director as some of the cast had trouble remembering lines but with lots of extra coaching the play evolved and was well received by the audience. At a very dramatic moment, one of the actors said "You mean the woman with the red eyes and the green hair"! This provided some comic relief from a tense situation in the play but certainly wasn't intended. After the last performance, I was presented with a large jar of coffee to make up for all the late extra practices.
The next production in 1978, was "Not Now Darling", a comedy set in a fur salon. Pauline Fankhauser, Marjorie Atkinson, Joan Tainch and Kim Butler were newcomers and the main role was played by Jim Rossiter, a local farmer and politician. It was a very large role and he played it admirably. We had to find several fur coats and the scenes in underwear presented a problem for some but it was a good play and well received by the audience. I enjoyed directing it and had a good cast.
Helen Dickie directed the farce "Cat on the Fiddle" that same year and it was very popular and lots of fun. This play presented more newcomers; Lindy Dalgliesh and Neil Cameron. It had eleven cast members incorporating those with experience and the new recruits which worked very well.
The drama club or the B.A.D.S. as we called ourselves was really flourishing and we decided to branch out and cater for our younger generation by way of presenting a series of workshops to promote drama. At that time I was teaching at St. Columbas School and had attended a seminar run by the Deniliquin Drama Club on workshops for children. This was run by a Sydney dramatist, George Mannix and he was so impressive we decided to get a grant and invite him to Berrigan. Thus began a new era of drama in the town and George and his team made many trips to Berrigan, over the years, presenting such shows as "The Hobbit", "Animal Farm", "The Little Prince" and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". These shows incorporated children from all schools and the B.A.D.S. assisted in many ways, billeting the team and providing equipment, and help with props and supervision of the children. The Berrigan hall with its many rooms provided the perfect venue for George's productions and he fostered a love of drama in many of the younger generation. George's use of movement and music was quite magical and aroused an imaginative response in the children. Amongst his team was Zoe Carides, who made a name for herself later in theatre and films.
At St. Columbas' school, I was teaching drama and wrote a melodrama "Dangerous Doings at Doolans" Using both children from the school and members of the drama club - this was a successful combination and the drama club have always lent a hand in school shows, led by Malcolm Dickie with lighting and props being a specialty.
When the presentation Sisters retired from teaching, the children presented a rock musical, "Lost in Space" which was very successful and Helen and Malcolm Dickie created some great special effects with Malcolm building a time machine for the show. Another very successful production was "Charlotte's Web" I remember Mrs. Flo Bush was the pianist and the day before the show she became ill. I hastily learnt the piano score and luckily everything ran smoothly. After the show, Michael Jones, the principal, presented me with a telegram saying, "Offering accompanist position to spirited red headed pianist. Wardrobe provided. Request immediate reply. Toodles from Liberace."
In 1979, Helen directed "My Wife's Family," a farcical comedy introducing a new batch of players, Wendy Chisholm, Judy McIvor, Heather Barclay and Robyn Baker; also Locky Stevenson, Lindsay Dalgliesh, Ken Phillips and Stuart Lee.
In 1980, "There Goes the Bride", was a popular comedy and in this I played grandmother of the bride with Graeme Pyle as my husband and Wendy Chisholm as the bride; Michael Jones and Nelva Good, playing the parents. During this period Lol Lynas was the curtain puller. This era also saw the beginning of the catering period when Marg Salter and her team provided their expertise for delicious suppers and meals for music hall performances.
In 1982, Helen directed "The Cat and the Canary", a classic comedy thriller, introducing Richard Sloane, Jenni Fruend, Bruce Simpson Debbie Benson, Bern McIvor and Jennifer Duncan as new talent as well as some of the regulars. The parties after the shows were even better than the shows themselves as everyone let their hair down and had fun – the clean up being the next day when everyone finally emerged, some sooner than others. One of our classic parties in the form of a barbecue was out at Dickies place, "Kilmarnock". They had a massive bonfire burning down the old place over the road. It was some barbecue!
Now we had the era of the melodramas and music hall productions, beginning with "Mad Aggie", followed by "Gladys of the Goldfields" and "The Fair the Fearless and the Frightful". These shows were popular with the audiences participating enthusiastically after an excellent meal. They also gave a lot of new actors the chance to try out, many of whom became devout members of the team. So many people were involved in these shows and are too numerous to list them all. Helen and I took turns directing or sometimes we were on lighting or music. There were so many jobs behind the scenes as well as on stage and we had lots of willing helpers. We also took some one act plays to the Wagga Drama festival and although we didn't win we gained some valuable experience.
We did have a core group of dedicated people in their different fields. Heather Barclay, Lockie Stevenson, Lindsay Dalgliesh, Marg Salter, Greg White, Malcolm and Helen Dickie, Stuart Lee, myself and many others and all worked willingly as a team. They were great days and I'll always treasure the memories.
With all our new young members, we decided to have a few bus trips to Melbourne, seeing as many shows as we could fit in to a weekend. We went in Burwood's buses, usually in the dead of winter rugged up to the hilt and full of energy. One year we booked in to the Glensborough private hotel which was fairly cheap. A whole busload of us arrived and the only other patrons that weekend were a reunion of some lodge where all the women wore white dresses. It wasn't far from the Hilton hotel but was definitely a poor sister, with cupboard doors falling off all over the place. However we were only there to sleep - briefly. And spent most of our time at shows or hitting the shops or the market, where I remember being thrown in a water trough when I turned up late for the bus. One of the shows we saw was "A Chorus Line" and I can remember Peter Withers snoring loudly in our aisle after he and a few others had been to the races. He came alive that night though, when we went to a nightclub and one of the drunks at the next table mistook Bill Petzke for the golfer Jack Nicholas. We all played along with this and had lots of fun . On the way home in the early hours, a few of us pinched a pile of papers near the hotel and went delivering them to all our friends at the "Glensborough", who had gone home at a reasonable hour. These trips were very popular with everyone and well attended.
One of my favourite plays which I directed in 1985, was "Chase Me Comrade", a delightfully crazy farce. We had a great cast with Peter Finn as the Russian ballet dancer and Locky Stevenson in one of his best comedy performances ably assisted by his wife Meredith and Phil Anderson, Graeme Pyle, Bill Sloane, Bob Congdon, Judy Chisholm and Wendy Lane.
In 1986, one of George Mannix's team, Jenny Nicholls, who had spent quite a bit of time with us, directed "Black Comedy" in which Merle Petzke joined the cast . It was very successful also. The last play I directed was "As Long as they're Happy" another comedy with Locky Stevenson and newcomers Jackie Fitzgerald, Kylie Dempster, Les Wakem, Darren McCartney, Diedre Hill and Simon Withers.
The last play I appeared in was "Blithe Spirit", playing Madam Arcati in 1989, before we left Berrigan after 35 years to live in Tasmania. I was very sorry to leave all the friends I had made over the years but Heather and Helen and others have kept me in touch and I have followed the progress of the Drama Club with great interest.
I always remember a quote from a critique which said "Congratulations B.A.D.S. you really are the G.O.O.D.S."