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BARBARA "Kit" EMMET née Hutchins

Following the sad news in March of the death of founding member Kit Emmet, John Dobson recalls an interview he conducted with her in 2011.

A year or so ago I had the pleasure of visiting Kit Emmet in Cirencester to record a long conversation in which she talked about the early days of The Questors and the many colourful characters who have become a part of our shared history. We quickly descended into howls of laughter (evidenced on the recording!) as some of the funnier incidents and misadventures bubbled up in her memory.

When I mentioned her son David's production of Titus Andronicus, which had just completed its run at The Questors, she recalled her own 1957 fund-raising production of the 'pirated' version of the play. It was billed as an 'Extraordinary' production and seems to have lived up to that description. Kit had already established a tradition of 'alternative' productions a couple of years earlier with The Tragedy of Fratricide Punished (1955) in which she parodied her own production of Hamlet, using the same actors but in different parts. Thus Vincent McQueen, who had played Horatio in the 'proper' production, took on the role of Hamlet in Fratricide Punished.

"We had a riotous time," she recalled. "Carla Field was in it, playing the Queen, and at the end I had all the bodies laid out on the floor in a row with their feet towards the audience and the duel between Laertes and Hamlet going on around them. And Carla was so funny, because she was lying there, here eyes bobbing from side to side, making sure she didn't get trodden on. We were in hysterics."

It so happened that Abraham Asseo, an Israeli theatre person of some note who was staying in England at the time and had become closely associated with The Questors, was watching a rehearsal.

"Oh, I shall never forget — because these people, they don't always understand the English sense of humour, do they? But Abraham leant over to me and said in all seriousness, 'Never mind, it'll be alright on the night.' And I thought — it's no good trying to explain!

"And that was the first time Alan Drake played the part of the blue-eyed hero which he went on to do famously in the Christmas melodramas. And it was very funny because my daughter, Judith, was a very little girl at the time and she adored him. He was her dear Uncle Alan. When he began rehearsals for The Drunkard [1959] she would come to rehearsals and cackle away with everyone else at all the antics — she loved it. But when it came to the performance, she burst into tears and I had to carry her out! Her dear Uncle Alan was being so horrid to everybody!"

It was around this time that Kit formed the Temperance Quartet, with John Howard, Arthur Boyd-Taylor and Dolly Barber.

"We scored a terrific success and we were put on quite often, in the intervals. It was great fun. But I got into terrible trouble with whoever was directing at the time. It was a melodrama and Arthur and I were to appear before the curtain, singing love duets. Well, of course I was quite tall then and Arthur was quite small, and we sort of behaved as though we were rather fond of one another. And there was this song we had to sing, 'Draw the Curtains, Willy's Dead'. I was very naughty. I had a little veil over my face and every time we sang the line 'Draw the curtains' I blew my veil so that it floated up — oh I was in terrible trouble. The Director had NOT put that in and he DIDN'T LIKE IT!"

At this point on the recording Kit dissolves into fits of uncontrollable laughter, dragging me down with her. "I wanted to go on doing it — but it wasn't allowed!"

And that's how I will choose to remember her — that irrepressible energy and life force and that irresistibly infectious laughter.

And memories of Kit's earlier years:

In an article Childhood Memories of a 90-Year Old, Kit described her unusual delivery into this world in a home for unmarried mothers. In Kit's words she was "watched by an audience of medical students lying face down on the glass roof of the delivery room. What an entrance! Small wonder that the theatre was destined to play a large part in my life!" It should be added that Kit had two married parents. The venue was chosen for medical reasons!

From a PlayBack reminiscence for Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic: Early Memories of School:
"One day, as lessons were about to begin, it was discovered that I did not have my slate pencil. Apparently this was a crime of such magnitude that I was pulled out in front of the class, my knickers were taken down and I was very publicly spanked: I was aged about 4. The really sad thing about this shameful episode is that I truly believed my crime to be of such enormity that I was unable to tell anyone about it!"

In an article A Cosseted Kid, Kit recalled her experience of early ballet lessons and that she was "a big disappointment, due in no small measure to being intimidated by the prowess of a little girl of my age called Peggy Hookham. Not surprising in retrospect, since Peggy Hookham became Margot Fonteyn in adulthood, receiving international renown and adulation until her untimely death. I was removed from the class and no further attempt was made to introduce me into the ballet scene".

A list of Questors productions directed by Kit Emmet
A list of Questors poductions in which Kit Emmet appeared