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A Time Remembered

Johnny Bugeja

By Stephen Neish
He may be in his 80s but Cecil Gomez shows no signs of letting up. After more than six decades’ involvement with the theatre he still has plans for further productions. We learn this at the end of an endearing Literature Week chat with his long-standing collaborator and friend Humbert Hernandez, both of whom were interviewed by fellow theatre-lover Alice Mascarenhas.

Cecil was ready to stage a play called “Words, Words, Words” a couple of years ago when Covid-19 – “el microbio” as Cecil calls it – struck. Just ten days before opening night he was forced to cancel. Now, with things returning to normal, he’s reviving it and has already put some of his intended cast on notice that he’ll soon be calling upon their services. He’s also got four poetry recitals ready to go. No wonder Humbert considers him a kingpin of amateur dramatics in Gibraltar. An innovator who pushed the boundaries in many directions.

Humbert has written a book called “A Time Remembered”. It’s ostensibly a biography about Cecil but in fact it turned out to be much more than just that. “It was very obvious to me”, Cecil says, “that this could not be about me because it would be unfair. The progress of the group (from Group ‘56 onwards) has depended on everybody. Even the person who opens the curtain is very important”.

Humbert agreed and so it was that he extended the work to be a biography of the various drama groups both men have been associated with down the years. From the creation of Group ‘56, the amalgamation of that group with the St. Joseph Drama Group, through to Group 70 and latterly Group 2000, they’re all featured, along with everyone who went on their collective journey. By way of a tribute, there’s a special chapter on the late Leslie Zammitt whose “enormous” contribution to local theatre included, but was not limited to, the production of combined school plays that served to introduce so many young people to the stage.

The launch of “A Time Remembered” was the excuse, if any were needed, for a long trip down memory lane. Humbert, Cecil and Alice shared many reminiscences that clearly resonated with an audience filled with many familiar faces from the local theatre world. From Lorca’s Yerma and Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Elio Cruz’s La Lola Se Va Pa Londre, our thespians tried their hand at practically everything.

I found the account of how they collaborated on Elio’s “yanito” comedies particularly amusing. Elio would write the script and pass it on to Cecil for a second opinion. Cecil would read it and in turn send it to Humbert with the comment, “esto necesita morcilla!” This meant that it needed livening up which Humbert would duly do, adding to or subtracting from the original draft, to the sometime chagrin of the author.

Then there was Cecil’s production of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral in which Humbert played Archbishop Thomas Becket. The part includes delivering a Christmas sermon to the congregation, at which point Humbert turned to the audience and made the sign of the cross before starting. He was flabbergasted when everyone responded by crossing themselves too. They did so again at the end of the play when he blessed them and they all solemnly followed suit. “It’s the only time”, Humbert said, “that I’ve felt that I carried the audience with me!”

“A Time Remembered” is a labour of love. It contains more than 600 photographs and illustrations and covers over 200 productions of one-act and full-length plays, as well as poetry recitals. It costs £25 and all proceeds will be donated to RICC and GibSams.

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