The Only Way to Cross

Written and Compiled by David Penrose

Thurs 5th - Sat 7th March & Thurs 12th - Sat 14th March 1981

Directed by Jacquie Penrose & Janet Simpson

A musical revue based on the English and American writers and performers of the 1920s and 1930s - the heyday of the Cunard transatlantic ocean liners. Songs and sketches woven to give a blend of humour and documentary about the world between the wars.

Author and CompilerDavid Penrose

David Penrose (b 1950)

David Penrose is an amateur actor, designer, director and writer with Bench Theatre, where he has been a member since 1976.

David penned his first writing; revue sketches at Leeds University when he was an under-graduate. Apart from these, most of his writing has been adaptations for the stage of extant work. In 1980 he adapted 'The Brothers' and 'The Merchant', originally written by Plautus, both of which were staged by Bench Theatre in the open air at Fishbourne Roman Palace. He has adapted Martin Chuzzlewit (also performed by The Bench), compiled the 1981 musical revue 'The Only Way to Cross' and (together with Dik Bird) adapted the Bench production of 'A Frankenstein' which was taken to the Edinburgh Fridge Festival in 1982.

David's creative flair has been employed many times with Bench Theatre where he has been responsible for countless poster and set designs and he has occupied committee roles on many occasions - notably as Chair for five years - during his membership. As an actor, David's first Bench role was as Orlando in Ingrid Corrigan's production of 'As You Like It' in 1977. He appears regularly in Bench plays and reviews of his performances are consistently outstanding. He has won numerous acting awards including The News 'Guide' Awards and an All-England Theatre Festival Award. His directorial debut with Bench Theatre was 'The Philanthropist' in 1978. David was instrumental in the formation of the annual Havant Literary Festival in 2008 and continues to work with its organisation. He is also part of 'The News' theatre review team and his reviews of local productions appear regularly in print. David is currently Bench Archivist and lives in Havant with his wife Jacquie.

Most of the material in 'The Only Way to Cross' is original to the 20s and 30s. Where it is not, it was chosen because it related directly to the period. In creating the revue 'The Only Way to Cross' David drew freely from the work of F.Scott Fitzgerald, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Herbert Farjeon and Harold Scott, Noel Coward, George and Ira Gershwin, James Thurber, Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos, Ogden Nash, Cecil Mack and Jimmy Johnson, Spencer Williams, Fats Waller, Alastair Cooke, Evelyn Waugh, John Betjemen, Al Dubin and Harry Warren, Dorothy Parker, Alan Bennett, PG Wodehouse.

RevueThe Only Way to Cross

The initial idea behind this revue was that we should present an evening of material from the 1920s, with food and drink, in a similar style to the Victorian evenings we put on 2 years ago. The problem of finding a format for the whole thing has to be solved. Victorian Music Hall offers it's own context for what we wanted to do in that show, but the 20s had no such obvious parallel for us. It was a great age of Revue, certainly, but that particular theatre style thrived on the lavish staging of glamorous production numbers. That was completely beyond our means. Moreover it seemed inadequate merely to raid the decade for its songs without some more historical framework being included. A documentary element would fill out the period. As the material we want to perform is both British and American and reflects largely the culture of a rich and sophisticated set, the world of the Transatlantic liners suggested itself.

With the emphasis being thrown on to the ships of the Cunard line, it soon became clear that 'The Twenties' as such was a purely arbitrary division of time. A more logical span in which a self-contained part of the Cunard story could unfold was the whole inter-war period. That opened up the Thirties as well for treatment; an opportunity which we took up with relish.

The Bench Production

The Only Way to Cross poster image

This revue was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.

Cast - in order of appearance

David Penrose
Derek Cusdin
Anthony Elliott
Chris Hall
Eve Moore
Lezley Picton
Ray Osborne
Ingrid Corrigan
Ruth Prior
Rosalind Riley
Brian Smith
Denise Stapleton
Terry Cattermole


Robbie Cattermole
Jill Sawyer
Helen Simpson
Linda Westbrook


Terry Dilner Piano
Lewis Gifford Trombone
Emma Tickner Trumpet
Laura Stone Clarinet


Directors Jacquie Penrose and Janet Simpson
Stage Manager Robbie Cattermole
Assistant Stage Manager Francis Hall
Lighting Kevin Nelson
Sound Tony George
Costumes Robbie Cattermole
Jane Hart
Choreography Anne Warren
Musical Arrangements Catherine Riley
John Gleadall
Catering Sheila Spackman
Joyce Cusdin
Denise Stapleton

Programme Notes

Cunard's 'Big Three' were the 'Mauretania', launched in 1906; the 'Lusitania', which saw only eight years of service before being sunk by a German submarine in 1915; and the 'Aquitania', the largest of the three launched in 1914. After a post-war wrangle, the British took over the German ship 'Imperator', and Cunard re-named her 'Bergenaria'. The pattern of the three-ship service was thus resumed.

Every Saturday one of the three sailed for New York, at the beginning of a fifteen day round-trip; five days to New York, five days turnaround, and five days back to port. There were then six days preparation for the next sailing. This pattern continued until the lean years of the Depression.

The 'Queen Mary' was the beginning the new era. The largest of the Cunard ships to date, her weight caused the slipways to burst into flames when she was launched in 1934. After over a thousand crossings she sailed from New York for the last time in 1967. She ended her life as an American tourist attraction, permanently immobilised at Long Beach, California.

Her younger sister, the 'Queen Elizabeth' was launched in 1938, but it was not until after the war that the two ships sailed in tandem as had been intended. She lasted sightly longer that the 'Queen Mary', but met an even more disastrous end. At first an incongruous hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she was later bought again and rechristened 'Seawise University'. She was taken limpingly along to Hong King, where on January 9, 1972 a fire broke out in her kitchens. It burned all night and in the morning she finally gave up and sank.

It is ironic that both these great ships came to undignified ends in the Pacific, far from the Atlantic where their fame had been established.


The News F.N.

Stunning departure on liner

In a stunning departure from the usual fare, Havant Bench Theatre sailed off on a musical tribute to the great transatlantic liners of the Twenties and Thirties in 'The Only Way To Cross' which opened last night at Havant Arts Centre. From the decades which were so fond of the musical revue, the Bench Players provided a selection which was stylish and impressive. At the interval, a buffet supper and wine was served and those audience members who arrives in Twenties dress were invited to sit at 'Captain' Terry Cattermole's table.

The material, written and compiled by the production's narrator, David Penrose came from the best known writers of the era including F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Thurber, P.G. Wodehouse and Dorothy Parker, among others. The music ranged from Porter, Gershwin and Coward, to a brilliant selection which traced the development of American jazz from Basin Street Blues to Fats Waller. It showed a side of the Bench Players which is seldom seen. There were fine performances from the entire cast with top marks going to David Penrose who effortlessly rambled through a long and difficult narration which held together the continuity of the revue. Ray Osborne's skill at the keyboard during a musical dissertation on American jazz and blues had more than a few toes tapping as he left his percussionist behind and improvised his own version of 'Ain't Misbehaving'.

A fine performance came from Tony Elliott in a send up of the literary set from Bloomsbury. Ruth Prior's solo number was another high point of the production. The players provided an enjoyable evening which should not be missed. The musical arrangements, set designs and a remarkable array of costumes compiled by Robbie Cattermole and Jane Hart contributed to a brilliant productions. A musical revue such as 'The Only Way To Cross' allowed the Bench Players a slightly different vehicle which took advantage of the many talents in the company. with an excellent buffet dinner included in the price of £3, the evening provided a delightful change at extremely good value. 'The Only Way to Cross' will be presented tonight and tomorrow night on March 12, 13 and 14, starting at 7.30 p.m. at the Arts Centre, East Street , Havant.

The News, 6th March 1981

Production Photographs