[DWJ] The Terrible Fisk Machine (was: Question about DWJ Kirkusarticle)

Sally Odgers sally at sallyodgers.com
Thu May 5 20:44:16 EDT 2011

  David Troughton is a fairly big name. He plays villains a lot. He's 
been in Doctor Who and Paradise Heights among others. He's a son of 
Patrick Troughton and uncle of a boy in the Harry Potter films. 

Sally Odgers

On Thu, 5 May 2011 22:23:46 +0100, Joe wrote:
I had a slow morning at work, and my mind turned to the question of DWJ’s
> plays, raised on this list a month ago. So I spent a happy hour rootling
> through catalogues and Google books, and can now shed a little bit more
> light on the matter. 
> As Deborah mentioned, the titles are as follows (although I suspect your
> dates may be off slightly, Deborah, but the Writers’ Who’s Whos and
> Yearbooks all disagree too):
> The Batterpool Business (1968 – also cited as 1965 and 1967)
> The King’s Things (1969 – also 1970)
> The Terrible Fisk Machine (1970 – generally cited as 1971)
> That’s as far as I got with the first two. But for the Terrible Fisk
> Machine, I found the cast listing reproduced in the 1972 Who’s who in the
> theatre (15th edition – for a wonder one of two carried by my library),
> which has a section entitled ‘London Playbills’ that lists everything in
> every London theatre for the year. Here it is:
> 7 November, 1970
> Presented by the Unicorn Theatre
> Mr Wilberforce....................Richard Jacques
> Miss Fisk..............................Matyelok Gibbs
> Johnny................................David Troughton
> Jerry Mander.......................Laurence Keane
> Veronica Tradgett................Rosemary Blake
> The Mouse.........................Rosalind Speight
> Miss Mimosa Jarndice..................Jan Breton
> Mr. Sidney Bluett...................Henry Manning
> Directed by CARYL JENNER
> Do any of those names mean anything to anyone?
> Then I uncovered a review (yeah!), buried in an article by Virginia Koste in
> the Children’s Theatre Review (volumes 19-21 pp.56-57, I think). The
> article is actually about Caryl Jenner’s Unicorn Theatre, but 
> DWJ’s play was
> the one she saw. This I found in Google books, and stitched together from
> snippet views (I suppose it’s not really kosher to do this, but with
> patience it can work). Here’s the bit we’re interested in:
> “The Unicorn plays to steadily full houses of regularly returning 
> playgoers,
> so that a varied repertory is an actual necessity. The performance that I
> saw at the Arts Theatre was of The Terrible Fisk Machine, by Diana Wynn
> Jones; a bit of science fiction exploring human values in an essentially
> comic spirit. The staging entailed imaginative shifts of perspective: the
> second curtain, for instance, opened to reveal an enormous ",here
> representing a pea fallen from a table in the first act, and the gasps of
> recognition— that the actors so small in relation to that green pea 
> had been
> maliciously miniaturized by the terrible Miss Fisk's machine— fused the
> audience in delighted discovery. Skillfully directed by Miss Jenner, the
> actors were energetic and accomplished, attuned by experience to their
> responsive audience, so that the performance's rhythm was easy and alive
> with collaboration. Matyelok Gibbs (playing Miss Fisk) is an actress of such
> electric and subtle power that she could magnetize any stage; her devotion
> over many years to Unicorn's is further evidence that this company has
> chosen its purpose, in contrast to some less fortunate groups both here and
> in England for which children's theatre is the only resort of undeveloped or
> inferior talents on their way in or out of the profession. The Terrible Fisk
> Machine is by no means an extraordinary play. Some of the best scripts that
> I have come across, however, have been engendered and produced by the
> Unicorn. For example, Mary Melwood's The Tingalary Bird (the first play for
> young people to be awarded a "limited guarantee against loss through the
> Arts Council of Great Britain's New Play scheme") is a rare and beautiful
> work by any standard, and her Five Minutes To Morning is almost as good
> (both now available in this country by arrangement with New Plays For
> Children).”
> I’m not too sure from this what, exactly, the second curtain opened to
> reveal – an enormous speech mark in the shape of a pea? This could 
> be a flaw
> with the scan – I couldn’t pull up an actual image of this part to check. 
> But then again it could be a “, I suppose – or maybe a pair of inverted
> commas to create a yin-yang effect. And I’m afraid I can’t be 
> totally clear
> of the title of this article. It may be ‘Of the Unicorn: a personal 
> view’,
> but ‘Of the Unicorn’ could be the truncated end of a longer 
> title. I haven’t
> been able to find it cited anywhere. And (obviously) I haven’t really seen
> the full text – so if anyone’s institution does subscribe to this 
> journal,
> perhaps you’d have a look (unless I’m the only one worrying about the
> question of the pea – quite likely I suppose). 
> I found this rather terser (but equally detailed) summary of the play in The
> best plays of 1970-71, Ed. Otis L. Guernsey Jr.:
> “THE TERRIBLE FISK MACHINE by Diana Wynne-Jones. Female scientist 
> diminishes
> human beings with her Fisk machine. With the Caryl Jenner Productions
> Company. (16)”
> It sounds to me reminiscent of the Four Grannies / Chair Person type of
> story, or some of the Warlock at the Wheel ones. But that name Jerry Mander
> could easily have appeared in Changeover too. It's a tantalising little
> glimpse. Perhaps there are more reviews out there, and some information on
> the earlier two as well - would newspapers and theatre rags have carried
> reviews of children's plays in the 60s? Solid performance dates would help
> there, but for that we'll need earlier editions of Who's Who in the Theatre
> or similar. Who knows, maybe there is even a text or two somewhere... 
> Joe
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Mon, Apr 4, 2011 at 5:36 AM
> Subject: Re: [DWJ] Question about DWJ Kirkus article
> To: Diana Wynne Jones discussion <dwj at suberic.net>
> At the very beginning of her career, she wrote three plays:
> "The Batterpool Business". First produced at Arts Theatre, London, 1968 "The
> King's Things". First produced at Arts Theatre, London, 1970
> "The Terrible Fisk Machine". First produced at Arts Theatre, London, 1972
> That is absolutely all I know about them. Does anyone else (Farah, Minnow,
> Charlie, perhaps?) know any more?
> -deborah
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