Fabulous stage costumes missing in Honiton

PUBLISHED: 11:42 19 August 2009 | UPDATED: 23:59 15 June 2010

Juanita Phillips painting scenery for one of her spectacular shows.

Juanita Phillips painting scenery for one of her spectacular shows.

Copyright Archant Ltd

THE search is on to find fabulous stage costumes once worn in Honiton.

THE search is on to find fabulous stage costumes once worn in Honiton.

They were part of an extensive collection owned by former 11 times mayor Juanita Maxwell Phillips, which, since her death, has disappeared.

Joan Cox, who took part in some of Mrs Phillips' extravagant costume productions in the 1930s, has asked: "Where have all the costumes gone?"

She posed the question to Tony Simpson, of Honiton Senior Council, who is organised a season of Celebrating Juanita events.

"Photographs and reviews we have recovered prove everything Joan says," Mr Simpson told the Herald.

"Reviewers, such as the stage magazine ERA, used to rave about the costumes; Mrs Phillips' productions were regarded as a triumph of colour and accuracy, especially the historical pageants which she did many times in Honiton and all over Devon complete with period music.

"Imagine our recent charter Day magnified..."

One particularly striking pageant was performed before a huge audience of WI members at the Barnfield Theatre, in Exeter, in November 1931.

It involved 50 performers in period costume from Honiton WI, who were depicting famous women in history - along with a few famous men!

A similar event was staged by Mrs Phillips for Honiton's first ever summer carnival in 1938, but it was much bigger with 150 actors. It celebrated the acquisition of Allhallows Playing Field from the former Allhallows public school.

More than 300 children took part in the parade.

Mrs Phillips' most successful production was Dick Whittington, staged in January 1935 at The Little Theatre, in King Street.

The national theatrical press reviewed it and at least 700 people bought tickets at about 2/- each, which was a lot of money at the time.

Mr Simpson said: "We are on the trail of the missing costumes, but all is not lost. We have some first edition posters of the shows, printed by the late Archie Dimond.

We also have programmes, including a complete one for Dick Whittington and it was signed by all those who acted in the production, some of whom may still be around."

n Rare photographs of the actors in their costumes, including one of Mrs Phillips in her legendary Spanish outfit, will be shown during the first Celebrating Juanita event - a talk, exhibition and coffee morning in The Little Theatre (now Meadow View Chapel) at 10.30am on Thursday, September 30.


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