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Kay Macaulife: Women Take the Stage

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edited by Hazel K. Bell

Kay Macaulife: Women Take the Stage is a collection of the writings of a talented woman, edited by her daughter. Contrary to the picture this might conjure up, these are works that have appeared in print before, but not brought together in the way Hazel Bell has done here. This is Hazel’s tribute to her late mother, and it would be wrong to write it off as just another vanity project.

Kay Macaulife, who lived from 1909 to 1995, was a woman of many parts, as we can tell from the short introductory biography provided by her daughter. The theatre was her great passion in life; she had acted in amateur productions before her marriage, meeting her husband in the Barnes Dramatic Society. Relocated to the Sussex village of Felpham during the war, the couple became regulars with the Falcheham Players, and Kay showed her skills not only as an actress but as a comedienne. At about the same time she became a member of the local Women’s Institute, a further outlet for her abilities, and she began to write for local papers about her experiences. She formed the Kay Club, a select group of women who acted in plays written by Kay herself. It was only a short step from this to producing scripts for use by other women’s groups. Kay continued to act, moving up into professional repertory companies such as the Phoenix Players of Bognor Regis.

As well as the plays, Kay Macaulife had articles published in The Townswoman (the magazine of the Townswomen’s Guild) and was often called upon to talk to groups about her work. Mostly – at least if this collection is anything to go by -- she chose to focus on the amusing incidents that had happened to her on stage or in the course of producing one of her plays. The last few pages of the pamphlet helpfully contain a list of all Kay Macaulife’s plays, published in a period between the 1950s and the 1980s, as well as a record of the parts she played in professional productions at Bognor.

As a writer, her style showed a keen observational eye for the little details that often make organisations like the W.I. seem so funny to an outsider: the bossy chairwoman, the put-upon committee members, and so on. Yet reading them reminds us that we live in a quite different world today. Just imagine being called to audition for a television panel game, in the days when a TV appearance was still something most people only dreamed of, and being "given cups of tea and cigarettes"! Or appearing as an film extra in a crowd scene, clutching a doll in a shawl which you have to pretend is a baby…

Had she been born fifty years later, Kay Macaulife, with the opportunities available to women from all kinds of background, might well have become another Lynda La Plante. In the context of her time, she created for herself a pretty full life, ending it with a list of achievements that most of her contemporaries would have been proud to boast.


ISBN 0 9543316 1 3
Anna Brown Associates, 2003
35pp, paperback
Retail price 4

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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