Islesburgh Drama Group’s exhibition From Page to Stage, now on at Da Gadderie in the Shetland Museum and Archives, gives an interesting glimpse into the theatrical world.
The display of some of their most colourful and dramatic costumes, props and photos provides a taste of the shows performed since the group’s formation in 1950.
But also, the inclusion of the files and folders containing bills for the financial costs and scripts gives some idea of the vast enterprise involved in putting on a performance. This work, with its detailed stage sets and rehearsal plans depicted on page after page, goes on behind the scenes to make it all happen.
Beautifully laid out, the exhibition has as its centrepiece a painted backdrop from a production of On Golden Pond, just one of the many major works staged by the group. Its first was The Winslow Boy, and other famous plays have included All My Sons, The Crucible, The Importance of Being Earnest and The 39 Steps. There has even been a production of Macbeth.
The group has staged musicals too, with the favourites of South Pacific, Oklahoma, Carousel, Hello Dolly, My Fair Lady and Oliver among them.
Beautiful period costumes, carefully sourced to be in keeping with the era, are displayed throughout Da Gadderie. A bead-encrusted and embroidered ivory-coloured jacket, a gorgeous midnight blue evening dress with fuschia flounces, adorned with a feather boa, and another highly embroidered creation with a bobble trim are just some of them.
The drama group, a true Shetland institution, is well known for its pantos, which it introduced into its repertoire in 1970 with a performance of Cinderella. Since then its pantos have become hugely popular and run for 10 nights to full houses.
A rail of comical costumes with lots of bling shows the range of panto outfits. An oversized polka dot clown suit, lime green chiffon pyjamas, gold lame creations and others such as pink satin with dangly flowers and turquoise fabric with orange feathers give an idea of the weird and wonderful world of the panto.
Then there is the headgear – feathered headdresses, padded glittery turbans and much more that have served the group through performances such as Ali Baba, Puss in Boots, Mother Goose and Babes in the Wood over the years.
Just as the costumes have to be exaggerated so does the make-up, an important part of the production with has to be visible to the audience in the back row.
Written documents on the walls testify to the work of the group. For a panto, work starts early in the year – by March the panto has been selected and in the ensuing months lots of the logistics would be sorted. In August the pace hots up and rehearsals, three nights a week, get started, with punctual attendance insisted upon.
One of Islesburgh Drama Group’s recent productions was Blue Stockings, the story of three promising women science students at Cambridge University in the 1890s, who were allowed to study there but were not allowed to graduate – shockingly this did not happen until 1948.
The giant books used as props are in the exhibition, together with the bloomers and the immaculate costumes – a dress with lace trim and tiny pearl buttons, a blouse with pie crust collar and, for the men, top hats and suits of the period.
A display case has other items from the time – diamante evening bags, gold brocade shoes, a cigarette case, hat pins and ostrich feathers.
The exhibition is impressive in its quality and variety and has been well attended with many glowing comments in the visitors’ book.