Gordon Forum for the Arts

Newsletter

Summer 2012

Charles Barron

A Tribute

It came as a great shock to hear of the sudden death of Charles Barron, teacher, lecturer and playwright. He was chairman of Gordon Forum until three years ago.

His name is known and respected by so many people throughout the North-East arts world — as an inspiring teacher, an erudite lecturer, a sympathetic director, a gifted actor, or as a mentor to many. Throughout Scotland he is best known for his prolific output as a playwright.

Charles was an exceptionally gifted person. This is seen in his impressive output of plays.

He could turn his wide-ranging knowledge into writing about any and every subject possible; his fertile mind could empathise with any situation, every type of character. His plays are performed all over the country, by amateurs and professionals alike. However one of his greatest loves was to write in the Doric. Fooshion won the first Total Oil Scottish Playwrights Award, while Amang the Craws won the Doric Festival playwriting award and has since been published by Learning and Teaching Scotland, who put a copy into every secondary school for use in Higher English and Drama courses. Many of his Doric plays have been performed in halls large and small throughout the Gordon area by Fleeman Productions and his new comedy, Skirlie, is touring the North-East this summer.

For many, Charles's greatest achievement was his play marking the quincentenary anniversary of Aberdeen University: to condense 500 years of history into short scenes that were factual yet theatrical, and accessible to all types of audience, was a remarkable achievement. Yet he was equally capable of writing entertaining pieces for children: his play On the Home Front was written and performed by Haddo Children's Theatre and amusingly exploited the clash of cultures that might have occurred between the children of North-East farming stock and the influx of evacuees into their lives. Charles was always keen on collaborations with actors; he has worked on several plays with drama societies here in Gordon. The young actors of Mitchell School of Drama performed The Eagle Has Flown in Inverurie Town Hall, but Charles's imagination created performances of Flight using Mitchell's Dairy and a Stagecoach bus, while the site-specific piece Passion, which featured local groups Buzz and Garioch Youth Music Society, was partly played out in St Mary's graveyard. This July Mitchell School of Drama will present his Olympic Games. Thus Charles's writing legacy will continue to delight and entertain a new generation.

Charles was born and educated in Aberdeen — Ashley Road, Robert Gordon's then Aberdeen University where he gained a First Class Honours degree in English Language and Literature. He taught first at Inverurie Academy: English, History, Latin and Greek. But he found time to produce Gilbert and Sullivan operas, both there and at Haddo House. His relationship with Haddo lasted 40 years: as an actor, play and opera producer. In 1988, after retiring from his post as Head of Speech and Drama at Northern College, he took on the role of Arts Director at Haddo, founded the Youth Theatre there, and started the tradition of staging the Haddo Panto — a must-see-event for hundreds of schoolchildren and their families over many years. He retired from Haddo in 1990 to devote all his time to writing.

Charles was chairman of the Gordon Forum from September 2003 until September 2008. He led each meeting with his characteristic mix of wisdom and humour, and was adept at encouraging everyone round the table to contribute their thoughts. During his tenure he was responsible for editing this newsletter and contributed several thought-provoking articles about the state of the arts, especially in his world of playwriting and theatre. He railed against what he perceived as a "central belt imbalance" in terms of provision for the arts scene in the North-East.

He also helped set up a Theatre Skills Day in January 2003, in which local people developed their skills in acting, production, physical theatre and make-up.

Charles Barron

Charles was involved in the commissioning of new works by the Gordon Forum. In 2003 artist Louise Gardner was commissioned to create Changing Environment, a large granite menhir inscribed "in sun rain sleet or snow" at the Lecht. The sculpture contains a couple of monocular telescopic lenses that gives the viewer a close-up look of the surrounding countryside and Corgarff Castle.

Another commission in 2005 was Pete Stollery's Gordon Soundscape project, which culminated in the world premieres in Thainstone Mart of his electroacoustic compositions Still Voices and Fields of Silence. The performance also featured sonic art by schoolchildren from Aberdeenshire schools created during the Sonic Postcards project mounted by Sonic Arts Network and Aberdeenshire Council as part of the Youth Music Initiative.

A project that Charles was particularly proud to have been involved in was the exhibition, mounted as part of the Gordon Art Exhibition, of a collection of horse pictures by William Robbie (1887–1967), an untrained farmhand from Aberdeenshire. Charles, with help from artist Edi Swan, had tracked down the surviving pictures after becoming interested through writing his play about writer David Toulmin.

Charles was much in demand as a director and as recently as last November Aberdeen's Studio Theatre Group asked him to direct its 40th anniversary production — Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. This was a large cast, celebratory production and played to very appreciative audiences. It seems fitting that so many North-East actors and theatre-goers have this event to reflect on, as a memory to a man of unique abilities.

Margaret Hearne

Photo: Charles Barron christens Louise Gardner's Gordon Forum commission Changing Environment with a quaich of whisky.

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