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Thursday, 20 November 2014

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Hear ye, hear ye! Bob takes his special theatre to Keswick streets

Bob Bryden has never been a shrinking violet.

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HISTORY LESSONS: Bob Bryden, Keswick’s unofficial town crier, will lead street theatre around the town from next week

Bob Bryden has never been a shrinking violet.

An extrovert who is passionate about his town, he is keen to share that passion.

That is why Keswick’s unofficial town crier will take to the streets each Tuesday for the next six weeks and lead street theatre about the town’s history.

Bob, 77, grew up in Leeds, attended Cambridge University and worked in places including Penrith, Whitehaven and North Yorkshire.

He and wife Brenda moved to the town when Bob retired aged 55.

He says: “I thought the best place in the world was Keswick. It’s a special place. I’ve had the time of my life here.”

Despite teaching for another 10 years at Wyndham School in Egremont, Bob eventually retired for good in the late 1990s.

Since then, he has thrown himself into the community, promoting participation in Keswick life.

Bob, of Blencathra Street, co-ordinates Keswick Street Theatre Players, who have been running for about 15 years and, each summer, for six Tuesdays, perform 10 scenes telling some of the history of the town.

The mini-plays are written by Bob, who aims to produce new scenes each year, dropping others to accommodate them.

The project was prompted by Keswick Civic Society, which used a guidebook to lead people around the town.

He says: “Some of the committee members acted as guides. They were so short of people to do it one month that Brenda asked me. It was very interesting but it didn’t really grab people’s attention.

“With a few friends I got together and said we could make some little theatre scenes.”

The sketches may not be entirely true to life but they are based on real events in history.

The first happens outside the Old Keswickian fish and chip shop and sees the lady of the manor, Lady Catherine Ratcliffe, warn Keswick citizens not to side with Mary Queen of Scots, who had landed at Workington.

Among this year’s new material is a scene about Keswick mountaineering brothers George and Ashley Abraham, enacted outside George Fisher.

There is also another, called Silent Movie, which takes place outside the Moot Hall.

The audience gathers for the first scene and moves around from place to place with the players, picking up a bit of the town’s history as they go.

Bob says: “Street theatre can’t be boring. There’s got to be something happening all the time or people walk away.”

The group is due to perform another of Bob’s plays at the town’s newly reopened museum tomorrow at 2.30pm.

Called Crosthwaite’s Dream Visitor, it focuses on the town’s first museum curator, Peter Crosthwaite, from the 1780s.

The players also perform Christmas street theatre.

Last year’s Happy Christmas Germany was set in 1913 and told of a British family and a German family spending December 25 together ahead of the outbreak of World War One.

This year Bob is planning Happy Christmas Germany 1914, showing how things changed in a year.

He is also planning a performance for St Herbert’s Island on Derwentwater during next year’s summer festival, telling the story of the saint.

He says: “I think it’s important that people understand about the past of Keswick. There are a lot of things to be proud of. And it’s entertaining and fun.”

Aside from street theatre, Bob has plenty of other things to keep him busy.

He became unofficial town crier by chance after being asked to don the costume and make announcements at the town’s Christmas fair.

He says: “I found that nobody was in the least bit interested in announcements. They found them boring so I used to go around and tell them jokes.”

He is seeking a successor but even when he hangs up his tricorn hat Bob will not fade into the shadows.

The father-of-five and grandfather-of-five says: “Something I’m intently proud of is that I’m on the reserve list of people who play the piano in Oxfam. It’s good because people think if the piano’s in Oxfam there must be something wrong with it so if they hear a couple of bum notes they think ‘poor chap’.”

Keswick Street Theatre Players’ summer history scenes will be performed every Tuesday from next week until July 8.

The first scene begins at 7.30pm and audience members are encouraged to arrive at 7.15pm to get a good spot.

Tickets are £2.50 for adults, payable on the day. Children go free.

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