It may surprise you to know that once upon a time I was the new boy at Water Lane. There were a few surprised faces when the new boy decided to run for the committee. It must have been a slow AGM because I managed to secure a place.
It coincided with the election of a new Chairman – one Clive Bastin. It’s fair to say that Clive inherited a pretty stagnant situation: audiences dropping, revenue decreasing and not many ideas for injecting a spark into proceedings.
Picture the scene, gathered round Clive and Pat’s dining room table: a new committee including Granville Rush, a dedicated backroom boy who designed our programmes, posters and sets with no aspirations at all to ever take to the stage, and his first stage appearance still 12 years away- I kid you not.
As we launched into the first part of the standard agenda, Clive got to his feet and revealed a white board with a strategic plan for the future of the group. It’s fair to say a few older members of the committee looked like rabbits caught in the headlights. I bought it – big time – as did the other committee newbie Chris Winstanley, and for the next three years we set about helping Clive overhaul every aspect of our group and proudly calling ourselves ‘Clive’s Boys’. Every production the game was upped – bigger and better – even sneaking out after dark to hammer massive posters into fields on the four corners of the town.
After three years of Clive’s chairmanship the group was unrecognisable. He drove it and he took us along with him – he was truly brilliant.
Fast forward to 2002: I’d been away for eight years living in Manchester but I was back and on the committee once again but the situation wasn’t dissimilar – particularly the finances – and we were struggling. Enter once again an amazing Chair – Pat Bastin. Through the next few years we were so lucky to have her hand on the tiller, steering us though some very rocky waters. Pat was quieter as Chair than her lovely hubby but equally committed, always listened, and knew how to harness the talent within the committee to get us out of a very tricky corner.
Why am I writing this ? Because I’m one of the few existing members who saw personally how they operated, and I’d like to acknowledge the huge contribution they have made to Water Lane – more than anyone would ever be aware of. Quite simply – and I say this without any exaggeration- our group would not be here today without them. When I became Chairman myself I’m not ashamed to say that my whole approach was based on the brilliant things that I’d seen them do and the way they had conducted themselves.
I also had the pleasure of directing both of them – both are superb character actors. Clive has huge stage presence, although, by way of balance, he was a nightmare with the number of rehearsals he missed and the words ‘books down’ meant nothing to him! However, on opening night he went out there, word perfect and stole the show – the director was heard to mutter in the wings ‘how the bloody hell did he do that …?’
Pat is always solid, reliable and wonderful to watch – I can say nothing rotten about her – apart from saying that although she was literally the first person who showed me how to switch a computer on, her mobile phone tech skills have always been properly dodgy! Typically, though, Pat will never be defeated: if she doesn’t know how to do it, she’ll keep on until she can – texting, Facebook, Zoom – she’s mastered the lot.
When our dear friend Shirley Mackrill decided to stand down as President during my Chairmanship, there was only ever one choice to take over – and what phenomenal Presidents they have been – supportive, encouraging, rightly opinionated, attending every production and event and, most importantly, providing wise council to no fewer than four chairmen.
So it really is the end of an era and, as Pat said at our AGM, she has watched us grow from a Drama Group to a Theatre Company without losing the essential elements of friendship and family that make us who we are.
I’m proud to have been part of their Water Lane journey and I’m proud to call them my friends. I am sure that you, like me, will want to see them at our events for many years to come.