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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

A Class Act - Bart Street

27th to 29th October 2005.

By David Slade, based on a true story. In memory of Mr A Oliver of 16 Cross Street, Reading.

Between 5-50pm and 6-15pm on 22nd June 1976 Alfred Oliver, who was 60 years old and a tobacconist of 179 Bartholomew Street, Newbury, was fatally assaulted and the sum of £12 stolen from his till. He died 24 hours later having never gained sufficient consciousness to give any information to the police about his assailant.

It was a case that created an immediate sensation due in some part to the victim's place in the local community. All the trappings of a hunt and early arrest were present, as the local police had several strong leads to follow.
For instance:
• A thief had stolen a fur coat from a car parked in Northbrook Street at about 6pm.
• A woman motorist wearing a green coat was sought.
• A Local lad of 15 had apparently gone into the tobacconist’s shop, seen the stricken Mr Oliver on the floor and fled in terror and had failed to report it.
• A Woman had been nearly knocked over by a man with “staring eyes” who had been running in the Market Place at about 6:05pm.

All this evidence was gradually filtered and left the local police force with a tough choice.

Meanwhile at the local Plaza theatre in the Market place a touring company of actors where getting ready for that evening's performance. The play they were enacting was called The Monster and it was seen as a big success. One of the main characters in the play was a detective who was disguised as a tramp, and the person playing this part was an American named Philip Yale Drew. Mr Drew was heavily addicted to drink and loved the high life and was seen as the life and soul of the party.

The local police were given a stark choice: pin the blame on somebody quickly or call in members of the murder squad from London’s Scotland Yard. Ultimately they had no choice but to call in the Yard. But love quickly develops between the two people in charge of the investigation, even though one of them was seen chasing men in the disco.

Seen through the eyes of a number of local characters, Mr Drew visits the local disco and gives a memorable performance on stage. Two local couples split up at the disco and go their own way, giving Mr Drew more chance to befriend the locals.

The local children are not left out as one of them visits the tobacconists. As Mr Oliver lies fatally injured on the floor, he flees the scene in terror without reporting the incident. This leads to the children believing the Police have arrested the lad and then are keeping him under a watchful eye. So they decide that they must try to spirit him away to a country where he can’t be extradited from.

The police from the Yard interview over 300 local people and compile a huge dossier of evidence before they decide that Mr Drew is the Principal Witness and bring him in for questioning where all the evidence is put to him. Denying it all entirely it’s ultimately put before a jury at the inquest.

At the inquest Mr Drew is found not answerable to any of the accusations made against him. But Drew had made so many friends in the town since that dreadful day that the locals forgot about the crime and only cared whether Drew got off and so when the verdict was announced it was like a festival and Drew was paraded through the town like a cup-winning captain rather that a man who a few minutes earlier had stood accused of the murder of one of their own.

A hugely unsatisfactory conclusion, it might be said.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Real-life whodunnit

A Class Act: Bart Street, at New Greenham Arts, on Saturday, October 29

The 1970s remind me of joining a popmobility class at the Greenham air base. How well I remember pounding around the gym to the hits of the day in the firm belief that it was doing me good!

How strange it was to be back on the base for Bart Street - a story set to the music of the 70s, written by local man David Slade and performed by A Class Act, a theatre group of young and old who work so well together. Nearly all the adult cast had at least two parts and could switch from one to the other without batting an eyelid.

The story is based on the true events in Reading in 1929, when local tobacconist Arthur Oliver was killed, and there was little evidence for the police to gain a conviction.

David Slade had the extraordinary ability to envisage this event in 70s Newbury and set it to the music of the day.

The adult members of the cast burst on to the stage with a belting rendition of Blame it on the Boogie, with Wendy Orpwood as soloist. She was evidently comfortable singing, so it was no surprise that she sings with another group in Reading. Paul Wrightson followed with a very sinister solo of Killer On The Loose, his mask and the smokescreen setting the scene for the unfolding play. Paul is a brilliant rock singer, formerly with Arena, where he honed his acting skills and their album.

The story is based around Newbury's old Plaza, the tobacconists in the Arcade, and a travelling theatre group led by David Slade as drunken fading artist Drew.

A group of youngsters persuade one of their gang to try to pinch some cigarettes from the shop and he finds the owner badly injured. The youngsters run off, the police arrive and the old boy is taken off to hospital where he dies.

The talented young actors, aged from nine to 14, were confident and their song and dance routines were well-rehearsed and executed.

The third venue was a nightclub, where the adults performed some brilliant 70s numbers, including an Abba tribute by Wendy and Natasha Atkins, Brickhouse by David Slade, which was followed with a duet with Rosie Sinfield who has moved up to the adult group with ease. The rock numbers were performed by Paul Wrightson in one of his dual roles - Gerald, an aging rocker.

Newbury nick, the final venue, had Dennis Heath as the chief constable and his sidekicks Det Sup Chapman played by Paul Wrightson, DC Futcher (Mark Read of Kick FM fame) and Louise Embling in her first performance for A Class Act. Dennis was excellent as the bumbling chief constable and showed true professionalism with his convincing one-sided telephone conversations.

The murder investigation concluded that Drew was the murderer and he was convicted and tried. The locals and jury were unconvinced, and when he was released there was cause for celebration in the finale.

However, such is the skill of David Slade that as the troupe leave the stage, and the audience began to think of leaving, the identity of the killer is revealed - Gerald - going home with his nagging wife when he strangles her. A great way to end an exceptional performance.