The history of Cox & Box in the Great Witley Operatic Society goes back twenty-eight years. The Society’s show in 1987 was Princess Ida; among the new members that year were Judi Fieldsend, introduced by her sister, Jane Dodd, and Ian Walton, introduced by his friend Mike Faulkner. Judi and Ian took the roles of Melissa and Florian, and this pairing proved appropriate, since they themselves fell in love during rehearsals and were married not very long afterwards.
As the week of the show approached, the matter of the After-Show Party and the Entertainment to be offered was discussed. We three, that is Mike Faulkner, Ian Walton and Paul Thompson, volunteered to relieve everyone else of the task of providing entertainment by performing Cox & Box. Members of GWOS whose memories stretch back further than St Mark’s, Cherry Orchard, will remember the Village Hall at Holt Heath and its tiny stage – none of us ever knew until years later, when it was too late to act on the knowledge, that this stage could actually be opened out to twice its apparent size, though even if so opened it wouldn’t have been very big. Somehow we crammed a fireplace, a bed, a hatstand, a table and two chairs into this minute area and performed the show at the After-Show Party.
We make no scholarly claim to “authenticity” for our production: we unashamedly use the 1921 “Savoy Edition” constructed by Harry Norris and J.M.Gordon (respectively Musical Director and Stage Director of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company at the time), a task they undertook with the sole purpose of creating a very short show which could be used as an alternative to Trial By Jury as a curtain-raiser for the shorter full-length operas The Sorcerer, H.M.S.Pinafore and The Pirates Of Penzance.
In the years since 1987, we have performed Cox & Box often, probably at least twenty times. We have performed it two or three times at Tanworth-in-Arden, we have performed it as part of a double bill with Trial By Jury at the Huntingdon Hall, we have performed it at the Swan Theatre as a curtain-raiser for a GWOS production of The Sorcerer in 1992, we have performed it at the Norbury Theatre as part of a Gala GWOS Evening, we have performed it at the Buxton Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, twice in the Festival Club, once in the Paxton Theatre and once in the Opera House; we have entered the Worcestershire One Act Theatre Festival three times and won it twice. For nearly all these performances, we were accompanied by the wonderful Joy Reeve, to whom our gratitude is boundless. We have performed with an orchestra only twice: for the week of the GWOS show in 1992, before The Sorcerer, and twenty years later in the Opera House at Buxton in 2012.
At an early stage in this story, it was clear that our production needed some discipline and, for the full production at the Swan in 1992, Judi Walton was invited to direct us (a tall order, since one of us was her husband, one was the Chairman of the Society, and the third is a tenor!). She carried out this job, it need hardly be said, splendidly, with a velvet glove concealing an iron hand, and the standard of our performances was greatly improved.
Our most recent performances, in 2015, have arisen from our entry into the Worcestershire Theatre Festival of One-Act Plays. We saw off all other competitors and came home with four trophies: the Overall Winners’ Trophy; the Adjudicator’s Award; the Award for Music; the Award for Comedy (Ian Walton!). Victory in this qualified us for entry at the Quarter-Final Stage in the All-England Theatre Festival of One-Act Plays. Here we were less successful: the adjudicator wasn’t familiar with the D’Oyly Carte canon and seemed not much impressed by our efforts. We said, with Princess Ida, “Is this the end?” but, as for Princess Ida, it turned out not to be the end, “in the following remarkable circumstances”. The first adjudicator, at whose hands we had fared so well in the Worcestershire Festival, recommended, unknown to us, that we be invited to perform at the All-Winners Festival, an event we had not even heard of. In due course we were so invited and performed our piece in Woking on 24th July. Even at this All-Winners’ Festival there was an Adjudicator, apparently a senior and much-respected member of the Guild of Dramatic Adjudicators. He said a number of nice things about our performance, but the Cup we came home with was not, in fact, thanks to him: it was the Audience Appreciation Award. We rather feel that such an Award is well worth having.