Sister act looks for an encore

Penelope Arkwright and sister Prue remember their years on the Buxton stage in the 1940s and 50s.
Penelope Arkwright and sister Prue remember their years on the Buxton stage in the 1940s and 50s.

TWO THESPIANS who trod the boards at Buxton’s former Playhouse theatre — recently brought back to life as the Pavilion Arts Centre — took a trip down memory lane during a visit to the town last week.

Penelope Williams and younger sister Pruedence were members of Anthony Hawtrey’s repertory company which came to Buxton each summer, performing weekly shows at The Playhouse.

Between them, the pair spent five seasons in Buxton, between 1948 and 1952, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Yes, Minister star Nigel Hawthorne, Patrick Cargill and Joan Sanderson, then cast members who went on to become household names.

The sisters, who come from an acting pedigree, relived old memories last week during a visit to Buxton for the town’s annual opera, arts and literature festival, but after a search for old photographs and memorabilia relating to their time spent in the town proved unsuccessful, they turned to the Advertiser and its readers for help.

Prue, 78, said: “We went to the museum looking for old memorabilia; they had some programmes from the shows, but no photographs.

“There must have been photographs, because every week they would put up pictures of the performers, taken after the dress rehearsals but before the Monday performance.

“It would really mean so much to us if we could see some of those pictures again.”

Built in 1889, the Playhouse theatre has gone by many names over the years – The Entertainment Stage, the New Theatre, the Pavilion Theatre, The Hippodrome and, from the mid-1930s, the Playhouse. The repertory company arrived in Buxton in the mid-1940s.

Penelope, 80, whose late husband was Nigel Arkwright, recalled: “We (Penelope and Prue) both did assistant stage managing and that led to parts on stage.

“We worked very hard and it was most disciplined, but also lots of fun.”

Mentions of both sisters can be found in back issues of the Buxton Advertiser, and the later merged Buxton Advertiser & Herald.

One review of the show Pride and Pejudice, which appeared in the Advertiser of Saturday June 11, 1949, says: “Penelope Williams conveys all the sweetness of Jane”, while another for the comedy The Girl Who Couldn’t Quite from Saturday July 30, 1949, reads: “Penelope Williams, whether as the girl who can’t laugh or the girl who can’t remember but most of all as the girl who revels in her first laughter with Tim, wins everyone’s sympathy and takes a further step forward in a career of which Buxton has seen the beginning.”

Prue, meanwhile, regularly features among the cast list on adverts for the Playhouse productions in the Buxton Advertiser & Herald of 1951.