Beyond the Books - Letter to Joan and Todd, 1943


Letter to Joan and Todd, 1943

16 October 1943

Dear Joan and  Todd

No, nobody is keeping anything from you and to prove it, here I am writing to you. The reason my handwriting probably resembles Emily’s late on a sunny afternoon is because my hand is still bound up. I am on crutches but swing around quite well.

We even got out a couple of evenings ago - to an amateur production of Uncle Vanya  in the local village hall, accompanied by our father and Emmeline’s aunt. It was all rather Uncle Joe, the ticket proceeds being, after covering necessary expenses, to assist the Russian war effort. This can’t be a great sum because the village hall holds, at most, about fifty people – though I think there were three performances in all.

I was never that keen on amateur theatre – it makes people bright-eyed and nerve-wracked and combines a lot of mumbling and extraordinary presumption.

In this production, Uncle Vanya himself was, Father said, a retired solicitor.  Mr Browne was far too anxious to separate out his own solid reputation from the wasted life of the main character, so he seemed to be playing two parts - one rather pompously trustworthy. The lady who took the part of Sonia had also decided to contribute some of her own thoughts to Chekhov’s  play. These included allusions to the first British fighter plane ever shot down (near Peaslake) in the ‘angel’ and ‘rest’ speech. After the curtain and applause she made a rambling appeal to the audience, citing the barbarism inflicted on Russian culture – ‘samovars and Tolstoy’ comes to mind - and asking for further contributions.

There was just one person with acting talent on the stage, the man who played Telegin or ‘Waffles’, and he turned out to be a hasty replacement. The original choice had injured himself in what was considered a rather Checkhovian way - by falling off a ladder when picking apples.

Rather charmingly he was sidelined at the party afterwards. He lost a leg in France in 1940 and we had a nice chat about crutches and prosthetics. He said he had, briefly, been a professional actor but had had to take over the family tile business when his father died and ‘enter a world of green and brown mostly.’

But everyone seemed to have a good time. Our father was in fine form and described the production as ‘a bit Curate’s eggie.´

Next week they cut the plaster off and I think I get walking sticks.

Love to you both and, of course, hugs for Emily, Halliday and Foster

 Peter