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An Experiment with an Air Pump | 27th April – 2nd May 2015

An Experiment with an Air Pump poster By Shelagh Stephenson. Directed by Lorraine Spenceley

This daring and thoughtful drama spans 200 years.

It is 1799, the eve of a new century, the house buzzes with scientific experiments, furtive romance and farcical amateur dramatics.

It is 1999 in a world of scientific chaos, cloning and genetic engineering; the cellar of the same house reveals a dark secret buried for 200 years.

Production photos at foot of page.



New Year’s Eve 1799

Fenwick                          Stevie Hughes
Susannah                       Liz Maltman
Harriet                            Christabel Wicket
Isabel                              Laura Gamble
Roget                               Adam Benwell
Thomas Armstrong      Nathaniel McCloskey
Maria                               Natasha Rowan

The 1799 cast:

1799 cast

New Year’s Eve 1999

Tom                                 Geoff Dillon
Ellen                                Sue Bailey
Phil                                  Charles Langdon
Kate                                 Alice London

The 1999 cast:

1999 cast

Set Designer & Decor                          Adrian Pope
Stage Director                                        John Heather
Set Construction                                   T62 Members
Stage Director                                       John Heather
Lighting Design                                     Jon Lewis
Sound Designer                                     Ian James
Show programming                             Ian James, Jon Lewis
Stage Manager                                      Nikki Wilkinson
ASM                                                        Heather London
Martin Props                                         Janet Clark, Sue Hicks
Air Pump                                                Andrew Heather
Chimney Hat                                         Alice London
Bird Cage                                                Frances Migniulo
Medical Equipment                              Mary Smith
Wardrobe                                               Valerie Polydorou, Margaret Uzzell, Diana Quinn, Joan Martin

Prompt                                          Nigel London
Make-up/hair                                        Jean Golder, Penny Vetterlein, Christine Lever Technical operators                             Henry Terry, James Quinn
House Manager                                    John Heather

Refreshments                                       Heather London
Raffle                                                      Heather London

Box Office                                               Nina James
Poster/programme design                  Graham Copeland
Programme                                            John Guttridge

Croydon Advertiser review by Peter Steptoe: “I did wonder if this play started out as one for radio and for which it seemed suitable, because it was wordy. The author Shelagh Stephenson was a talented playwright with an original slant on life but as with books could have done with a good editor and the running time reduced. The speech pattern for the ‘Age of Reason’ I felt was too modern. Jane Austen indicates exactly how the professional classes addressed one another but perhaps modernity was the author’s intention.

Despite the foregoing, Director Lorraine Spenceley and her talented cast, gave us an entertaining and instructive evening. The play covered two periods, 1799 and then 200 years later 1999. The subject was science and its effect on individuals who regarded it almost as a religion. There were a variety of plots and sub plots which did much to relieve tedium when soul searching with wine glass in hand might have tipped us into boredom.

Dr. Joseph Fenwick (Stevie Hughes) was a radical physician and experimenter whose passion for science excluded domesticity and added to his irascibility. His wife Susannah (Liz Maltman) objected tipsily and occasionally incomprehensibly to being ignored but engaged our sympathy when her husband mistakenly made the common mistake that beauty and intelligence always went hand in hand. Liz Maltman of statuesque frame certainly commanded the stage.

Her daughters Harriet (Christabel Wickert) of the sharp temper and Maria (Natasha Rowan) with romantic inclinations, were a good double act. Their dreadful play was a comic highlight and emphasised the vacuity of such lives until marriage intervened.

Adam Benwell played the only historical character Peter Roget, author of the Thesaurus, and was an all round good guy as opposed to Nathaniel McCloskey as Thomas Armstrong a physician who transcended any shred of decency in pursuing his scientific interests without regard for human frailty. We were revolted by him but didn’t completely hate him. The object of his carnal desires was the crippled maidservant Isobel Bridie who suffered from curvature of the spine. Acted by Laura Gamble I cannot praise her performance too highly, which was incredibly moving. Her underplaying added both strength and depth to the part.

The characters in the house in 1999 were the geneticist Ellen (Sue Bailey) whose work was about to be rewarded financially but had lengthy reservations as to its morality and this was contrasted with her husband Tom’s (Geoff Dillon) redundancy, failure and jealousy at her success. Ellen’s friend Kate (Alice London) a fellow geneticist had the unenviable task of makeweight and boredom reliever which she did admirably. Phil (Charles Langdon) a building surveyor had a lovely Geordie accent and was the opposite of deferential Bridie without subservience for his betters. A nice performance but more measuring and less writing would have been preferable. Congratulations to the set builders for a believable period study.”

 Production photos (click to enlarge):

An Experiment with an Air Pump

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An Experiment with an Air Pump - cast - April 2015 An Experiment with an Air Pump An Experiment with an Air Pump

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