We sat down with lifetime member and group Vice President Val Aves to discuss all things acting from her time in the group.
When did you join the group and how did you first get involved?
It was about 1976/77. It's such a long time ago, I can't remember the exact date. My husband and I moved to Twyford and palled up with a couple that lived on the same road. She was a member of the drama group, so we were invited to watch their shows, and then we were always invited to the after-show parties too. On one of these occasions, I just got talking to people and I thought, I like the sound of this. And I've always been keen on makeup, so I said, “Do you need somebody to do makeup?” And they said, “Oh yes, we always need people to do anything really.” So that's how it started. And my husband decided to join as well.
At the time, they were starting to rehearse one of the pantomimes, and they asked if I’d like to be in the chorus. And I said, “Hmm, I don't know, what have I got to do?” And they said, “Well, you've got to join in the songs, and do a bit of dancing.” And they kept saying, “Come on, come on, you'll love it, you'll love it.” So, I said, “Oh, all right then.” And I started to go down to rehearsals, which were fun. And then they gave me a line to say. Did I fret over that line?! Absolutely ridiculous. Anyway, the first night came and I thought, Oh my God, am I going to be able to say this line? Fortunately, I was and I thought... Oh, what a relief. And then I started to enjoy the dancing and singing and everything. It was lovely. And afterwards I thought to myself, I really enjoyed that, I think I'd like to stay. So, after the pantomime, they were doing a play called The Anniversary, and the director asked if I’d come down and read. “Well, I don’t know about that,” I said. “I’ll come down and listen.” So, my husband and I went down and we were listening and then suddenly the director asked me to read Karen and asked my husband, Nigel, to read another part. And then it came to the casting and the director said, “Right Val, I want you to play Karen.” And he wanted Nigel to play a part too. “But I've got no experience,” I said. “Yes, but you read it so well. Please do it.” So anyway, I agreed and the rest is history as they say, because I got the bug and I loved it.
Were there any particular roles you played that really stood out to you?
Oh, so many. Well, there was The Importance of Being Earnest, and I was the main character, Lady Bracknell. That was quite an honour to play that part. There was another play called Dangerous Obsession, which was a thriller and was directed by my husband, who I've got to mention was a very good director. And it was a three-hander: there was only Mike Brooks, Frank Kaye and myself in it. It was 75 pages long and I never left the stage. That's a lot. Because even if you're not speaking, you've still got to act. That was quite a challenge. And the biggest challenge was appearing on stage in my swimming costume. It was set in a conservatory and it opened with me going around watering all the plants in this swimming costume. So that was a bit daunting as you can imagine.
In pantomime, I nearly always got cast as the witch and I absolutely loved it. I've got the most awful cackle. It's really very strong and very loud. And just to be so evil and nasty. Oh, I loved it. And I remember on one occasion, I think it was the first time I'd been the witch, there was this little boy sitting in the front row. He was so frightened that he started to cry and his mum took him outside and he watched me from the foyer, through the glass doors. I was also principal boy on occasion. Two of my favourite roles as principal boy were when I was Robin Hood, which I loved, and when I was Robinson Crusoe, which my husband directed.
There was also Dame Agatha’s Greatest Case, and I played Agatha Christie, which was quite different. I had to look so dowdy and horrible, and I had this very deep voice. That was a challenge. Oh, and early on, there was this play called Sailor Beware which was a comedy and I played little aunt Edie who was a tiny little thing and had straight hair parted in the middle and she wore a hair net and glasses. I remember that one very well because afterwards a friend of mine said, “Who was that woman playing Aunt Edie? She was marvellous.” And I said, “Well, actually, it was me.”
I also remember being in a Festival play called The Trial, performed in front of an audience and a panel of judges. It was a dark piece, and I was nominated for Best Actress. I didn’t win, but I was very chuffed!
On another occasion I was in a musical called Salad Days, in which I was required to play six different parts. That was quite a challenge, with the quick changing of costume, appearance and character. But a very enjoyable show in which to participate.
Did you ever get back to doing makeup after that first show?
Not really. In fact, I never really got into the makeup because it all happened so quickly. I did assist sometimes in the dressing room, but it wasn’t my main thing. I also did a spot of choreography. That was hard, trying to think of different things. And it could also be a nightmare on occasions because Ron Brown, Nigel Aves, Tony Pranglen and Neil Tyler were so naughty, misbehaving in the back row and not getting on with what they were supposed to be doing and I had to get very cross with them, only in fun. But I didn’t choreograph for very long and I was glad when they found someone else to do that.
Do you have any funny acting memories you’d like to share?
I was the evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I had to put my hand into the wings and bring out a silver tray with a chalice on it which I had to hold up. So, I put my hand into the wings, brought this tray out, and what was on it? An empty lager can, which is not at all the same as a silver chalice! John Jeffrey, the stage manager, had switched them. On the same pantomime, I had to undo the scrolls to tell Snow White her duties and as I undid the scrolls there were pictures of naked men and a load of confetti came out and I had to carry on acting as if nothing had happened!
How would you describe Twyford Drama to people who aren't involved?
Well, I think it's great. I love the camaraderie you get from it. I love the social aspect. It changed my life completely, it really did. You make friends forever, which I've done. It's a lot of fun. It's a fantastic hobby. You get so much pleasure out of it. But you're also giving pleasure to other people, which is nice. And I think our particular drama group is great, I really do. I would recommend it to anybody and even if you haven't got the confidence, don't let that put you off, because if you try something you will gain confidence and you will realise, like I did, how much you're enjoying it. My whole family were involved in the pantomimes, which was great. And, Nikki, my eldest, did a bit of choreography when she got a bit older and she also took part as principal boy and girl a few times. But yes, I'm so glad I had it in my life. I can't tell you how much I miss it. I really, really miss it. But, yes, I loved it. And my husband loved it as well. And we did it together, which was so important.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
One thing I must mention, because it meant so much to me, was when my husband Nigel, who was President of the group for a long time, got Lewy Body disease, and the drama group was so supportive. They were marvellous. They rallied round. They tried to help me in whatever way they could. They used to give me lifts to the hospital and things like that. Invite me round for a meal, do shopping or anything. It meant so much to me. And I was very, very, very grateful.
We’ll have more memories from Val coming soon – keep an eye out for our next interview with her on directing! In the meantime, if you fancy trying your hand at treading the boards, just visit our Get Involved page to see how you can join Twyford Drama!