Nell Gwynn | 3rd – 8th July 2017

Nell GwynnNell Gwynn by Jessica Swale

It’s 1660 and the Puritans have run away with their drab grey tails between their legs. Charles II has exploded onto the scene with a love of all things loud, French and sexy. And at Drury Lane, a young Nell Gwynn is selling oranges for sixpence. Little does she know who’s watching.

Nell Gwynn charts the rise of an unlikely heroine, from her roots in Coal Yard Alley to her success as Britain’s most celebrated actress and her hard-won place in the heart of the king. But at a time when women are second-class citizens, can her charm and spirit protect her from the dangers of the court? And at what cost?

Bawdy, playfully anachronistic with plenty of innuendo, this is highly entertaining new play – fresh from the West End.

Nell Gwynn – Emma Wickenden
Rose Gwynn – Alice Heather
Nancy – Lynn Rushby
Old Ma Gywnn – Janet Clark
Queen Catherine – Sue Hicks
Lady Castlemaine – Sue Bailey
Louise de Keroualle – Sue Bailey
King Charles II – Mark Storey
Charles Hart – Paul Newton
Thomas Killigrew – Pieter Swinge
Edward Kynaston – Ian Evans
John Drydon – Charles Langdon
Lord Arlington – Alec Raemers
Other characters played by members of the cast

Director                                  Patricia Melluish
Choreographer                      Catherine Jarvie
Asst Director                          Sue Smith
Set Design                             Alan Matthews
Lighting Design                     Jon Lewis
Sound Design                        Ian James, Ivan Buckle
Stage Manager                     Sue Hicks
Asst Stage Manager              Janet Clark
Accompanist                         Petra Hajduchova
Rehearsal Pianist                  Louise Dunsby
Stage Director                       John Heather
Set construction                   Alan Matthews, Ian Saunders, Andrew Heather, T62 members
Set Décor                             Adrian Pope
Technical Programming      Jon Lewis
Technical Rigging                 Members of T62
Technical Operators             Chloe Belgrave, James Quinn
Costumes                              T62 Wardrobe Team
Make-Up & Hair                    Jean Golder, Christine Lever, Penny Vetterlein, Rachel Cormican, Jenny Jones
Properties                              Lynne Craig
Prompt                                  Audrey Knighton
Technical Support                 Andrew Herbert
House Manager                     John Heather
Refreshments                       Ann Herbert, Nina James
Raffle                                   Sandie Campbell
Box Office                            Gilly Swinge
Programme Editor               John Guttridge
Poster & Programme Design     Graham Copeland


We are looking for a plastic or glass insect/fish/reptile tank.  One is needed for the December 2017 production Comfort and Joy.

If you possess one, or know someone who does, please contact Sandie on 07971 415 680 or

Tanks a lot.

My Mother Said I Never Should | 1st – 6th May 2017

My Mother Said I Never ShouldMy Mother Said I Never Should by Charlotte Keatley

“My Mother said, I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood.
If I did, she would say;
‘Naughty girl to disobey”

Secrets and lies! “My Mother Said I Never Should” explores the complex and difficult relationships between mothers and daughters.  Spanning 1940 to 1987, though in non-linear fashion, the lives of four generations of women develop.  Their loves, expectation and choices are set against the huge social changes of the twentieth century.  Unmarried Jacky gives birth to Rosie, unable to cope she hands Rosie over to her mother Margaret. Rosie is brought up believing Margaret is her mother, while Jackie is her older sister.  The play looks at the consequences of this secret and the emotional repercussions.

This was a change from the originally published production The Women

Doris              Lynn Rushby
Margaret       Christine Lever
Jackie             Janet Sharrock
Rosie             Nomi Bailey

Director                                      Lorraine Spenceley
Set Design                                 Alan Matthews
Lighting Design                         Andrew Herbert
Sound Design                            Ian James
Stage Manager                           Maggie Matthews
Asst Stage Manager                   Alan Matthews
Stage Director                           John Heather
Set construction                        Alan Matthews, Ian Saunders, T62 members
Set Décor                                  Adrian Pope
Technical Programming            Jon Lewis
Technical Rigging                     Members of T62
Technical Operators                  Chloe Belgrave, James Quinn, Ivan Buckle
Stage Crew                                Stephen Harper
Costumes                                   Margaret Uzzell and team
Radio Announcer                       Paul Newton
Prompt                                       Nina James, Janet Clark
Technical Support                     Andrew Herbert
House Manager                         John Heather
Refreshments                            Ann Herbert
Raffle                                         Sandie Campbell
Box Office                                  Margaret Uzzell
Programme Editor                      John Guttridge
Poster & Programme Design     Graham Copeland



Life and Beth | 5th -10th December 2016

imageLife And Beth by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Nikki Packham

It’s Christmas, and Beth is mourning the recent death of her health and safety officer husband, Gordon.

Beth’s sister-in-law Connie and son Martin have come to stay, determined to ensure that she should have a stress-free Christmas, but between Connie’s booziness and Martin’s unspeaking and emotionally volatile girlfriend Ella, their intentions prove to be short-lived.

Only David, the local vicar, provides Beth with any comfort, but when he says a prayer for her bereavement he unwittingly summons Gordon’s ghost to return to the family home.

Gordon has been busy implementing health and safety measures in the afterlife and is now determined to stick around to help Beth manage her affairs. It soon becomes apparent, however, that his return is not altogether welcome. This play is both comic and touching. And then there’s the matter of the cat…!


Some of the cast in rehearsal:


BETH TIMMS:                       Kay Samways
GORDON TIMMS:                Stuart Scott
MARTIN TIMMS:                  Robert Hall
ELLA PACKER:                      Emma Wickenden
CONNIE BUNTING:             Sharon Hawkes
DAVID GRINSEED:              Spencer Hawkes

Director                                      Nikki Packham
Set Design                                  Alan Matthews, John Heather
Lighting Design                          Jon Lewis
Sound Design                             Ian James
Stage Manager                           Sandie Campbell
Asst Stage Manager                   Christine Lever
Stage Director                             John Heather
Set construction                         T62 members
Set Décor                                    Adrian Pope
Technical Programming             Jon Lewis, Ian James
Technical Operators                   Chloe Belgrave, James Quinn, Ivan Buckle, Andrew Herbert, Stuart Scott
Costumes                                    Margaret Uzzell and the cast
Make-Up & Hair                         Christine Lever, Heather Phelps
Properties                                   Ann Herbert, Audrey Knighton
Prompt                                        Audrey Knighton
House Manager                           John Heather
Refreshments                              Ann Herbert
Raffle                                           Sandie Campbell
Box Office                                    Nina James
Programme Editor                       John Guttridge
Poster & Programme Design       Graham Copeland

5 423

Review by Adrian McLoughlin:

First of all, thank you all so much for the chance to see this play again. It was my first contact with it since we finished our last performance of it in Oxford several years ago. It was a pleasure to see it so well performed and presented.

About the play

Like many of Sir Alan Ayckbourns’ plays, “Life and Beth” is not an out and out comedy. It is certainly funny in places but has a lot of pathos in it too and some genuinely thought provoking ideas. This means that playing it can be tricky as one never quite knows when the laughs will come – or if they will come at all. Sir Alan himself never calls his plays comedies – he always just calls them plays – and talks eloquently to his casts about not expecting a particular response. Indeed, in playing them we always discovered that responses differed wildly from one night to the next and we got used to playing to quiet houses and riotous ones on succeeding nights. This particularly applies to “Life and Beth” and it’s a great credit to you all that you absolutely understood this and didn’t play for laughs or become dispirited if they didn’t come. Well done for succeeding where many have failed in the past!

This Production

I was very impressed with the verve and pace of this show. The cardinal sin is to let the pace or energy drop and this did not happen at all throughout the evening. From the start it went at a lick and never let up. Cues were picked up and everyone came on stage with plenty of attack.

I was also particularly impressed with the movement on stage. I can’t remember any time when I thought “why are they moving there?” or “why are they standing up/sitting down?”. This is a tricky task and it was handled extremely well.

I don’t tend to notice sets much but this one seemed to do the job perfectly well. In the original production Gordon came up – and went back down – through a trap door in the stage which was very effective. We couldn’t repeat that on tour as not every theatre would be able to convert their traps quickly enough so we re-blocked as we went with Gordon appearing and disappearing in a variety of ways. You would have the same problem of course. My one thought would be that, in this production, his entrances were handled fantastically but his final exit could perhaps have been more dramatic. Maybe another “explosion” and then he was gone? Not sure but it would have given a kick to his demise. As it was, we were straight into Wagstaffes reappearance and that was wonderfully well done so we soon forgot about poor Gordon!

The performances

It was extremely well cast. Everyone seemed right for their role and there were no weak links. This can be a problem in all productions, amateur or professional, as only one weak link can completely destabilize a production – happily that didn’t happen here.

Volume was generally very good. I heard what was said without feeling it was being punched out at me. Again this is tricky, especially on proscenium arch stages, but here everything felt natural and not forced.

There was a potential hazard at the very beginning when Kay as Beth suffered a bout of coughing. Fortunately, she worked through this with little fuss and it was commendable the way neither the play nor Kay faltered at a crucial time. It gave us confidence that any difficulties would be dealt with and we knew we were in safe hands.

One point I would mention – generally, though it applied more to some of you than to others – is that Ayckbourns’ plays really need to be very accurate to the script to work at their best. His writing is very precise and, unlike some playwrights, changing his text even only slightly or adding in additional short phrases can unbalance sentences and disrupt the rhythm of scenes.  I was aware this was happening once or twice and I feel it’s something that could be looked at in any future Ayckbourn productions.

The other general point would be that the play doesn’t need help in the form of over-characterisation or too much gesturing or face pulling. There was only a little of that here but just occasionally I felt one or two of you could have taken the emphasis out of what you were saying and delivered lines more neutrally and with fewer “helpful” facial expressions. It’s difficult to do, especially without long and intensive daily rehearsals, but very rewarding when you can achieve it.

I won’t say much about individual performances – all were commendable and one or two outstanding. I particularly loved the mother and son scenes and felt they had a sadness that was implicit and not elaborated upon. Well done on those. It was extremely well cast and everyone contributed to the overall success of the production. Kay had the most to do – as Beth she effectively carries the play – but handled it brilliantly and the support she received from all of you was terrific.

There were at least two added scenes – the very funny scene change with the bed making (or unmaking) to enable Beth to effect  a quick change and the actual appearance of the police as opposed to voices off. Both worked very well. They didn’t disrupt the rhythm of the play.

General points to think about

Performing plays with only two or three rehearsals a week in evenings and at weekends, presents problems that professional productions don’t – or shouldn’t – have. Here are some observations about this point for future thought!

Line learning: It’s imperative to be on top of lines. It can be very difficult when you are not involved in doing the play all day every day for three to four weeks before opening, but not impossible. I felt this was achieved here very admirably with the exception that there were some inaccuracies that disrupted the flow a little. Worth working on I think, but don’t expect perfection – just keep working towards it! But well done for keeping the play zooming along and giving the prompter nothing to do!

Over characterization: Again this wasn’t a serious problem and, again, it is something that is much easier with prolonged and intense rehearsal periods followed by runs of at least three or four week. In general the less we signal humour or sadness or anger, the funnier – or sadder or angrier – things come over to the audience. It takes courage though and commitment to try these things on stage and that only comes with practice and opportunity. It is thoroughly commendable how well you did on this without the intensity of a prolonged professional rehearsal period.

Pacing: This is even trickier and almost impossible without hours to experiment and, ideally, previews in front of paying audiences to try things out. In this production the pace was great and that was most important – to stop the play flagging. It never once did and that helped the audience feel comfortable and ready to laugh when things were funny and stay silent when things were sad etc. Sometimes though scenes benefit from changes of pace, slowing the pace down, speeding it up etc so that all characters on stage aren’t speaking at the same speed and in the same tone. It’s often referred to as picking up each others’ pace, which is something generally to be avoided.

Relationship with the audience: Once or twice I was aware that characters who were struggling with their emotions would look down or across stage rather than out at the audience. This is difficult because, in life, we don’t tend to stare helpfully into space as we emote – and in fact we often look down and away from anyone else present Nevertheless, it’s worth from time to time finding ways to look out front as naturally as you can – without overdoing it – as we, the audience like to see your eyes occasionally. To not do so begins to indicate after a while that you know we’re out there…………. A small point but it can make a big difference to how your character is perceived.

And that’s it! Thanks again for a thoroughly enjoyable evening and an incidental trip down memory lane. I’m sorry I can’t join you all tonight but I hope you have a good – and well deserved – drink or several. Have good Christmas’s and perhaps we’ll meet again somewhere along the way.

Review by Raymond Langford Jones for Sardines Magazine:

Each half of Nikki Packham’s highly enjoyable and polished production of Life And Beth for Wickham Theatre Centre, opens with the bright refrain of ‘Tis the season to be jolly’. This being Ayckbourn, we know, as with his other yuletide comedy Season’s Greetings, we can settle down and revel in the discomfiture of – other – suburban folk as they endure the dubious delights of the festive holiday. Well, we couldn’t possibly admit to recognising aspects of ourselves and our family and friends in them. Could we?

This was Alan Ayckbourn’s seventy-first play, and the first written two years after suffering his stroke in 2006. His illness may have drawn his attention to his own mortality, leading him to such questions, as ‘how will I be remembered – as I really was, or as people have been persuaded, I was?’

What makes him such an enduring and much-loved playwright is his gift for confronting issues that many of us shirk from – and finding the humour in them. Haven’t a lot of us lost people whom we have loved, but because they were very old or incurable, discovered their passing gave us a huge sense of relief – not just for them but also ourselves? Though having only recently lost her husband of over thirty years, Ayckbourn’s Beth is grateful for getting her our own life back – on her terms. Yet it would seem she still needs permission to let go of any residual guilt – closure, in fact.

Beth’s sister-in-law-from-hell, Connie, and her well-intentioned, if none-too-bright son, Martin arrive on Christmas Eve to stay over and help cheer her up on the big day: ‘leave everything to us; treat this (i.e. her own home) as a luxury hotel.’ The warning signs are already flashing and Beth looks bleakly out at us. Up to that point, she has seemed quite sanguine about her situation, more preoccupied over the cat that mysteriously vanished on the day of the funeral than grief-stricken. To start with, she carefully fields the remarks about what a wonderful marriage she had and what a great chap her husband Gordon was. Kay Samways’ beautifully nuanced Beth finds a wide range of polite smiles, until she can take no more, her voice takes on an increasingly acid edge and home truths come raining down. Connie and Martin’s silent, accident-prone Cordon Bleu girlfriend, Ella, would appear to be far more in need of help than she is.

Then, at the end of the first half Gordon mysteriously appears. Whether he is actually an apparition or simply in her head, is left to us to decide. Anyway, our fears are confirmed: he was (is?) a self-satisfied control freak. His manifestation is professionally realised, technically by clever lighting and related special effects, whilst the excellent Stuart Scott brings his body back to life, oozing smugness from every pore. The thought that Gordon has dispensation from the powers above to return to help Beth because she is incapable of managing without him, sends her into a spin that ultimately releases her inner strength to send him packing once and for all; and maybe embark on a fresh courtship with another member of the cast? The exchanges between Beth and Gordon are finely judged, providing hilarious moments.

But all Ayckbourn’s plays require a well-integrated team of actors, each member finely attuned to the other’s delivery of his verbal choreography. A misjudged split second can play havoc with a potential laugh, even more so a paraphrased line. Nikki Packham has brought together a well-matched group of actors whose performances rarely lose pace and attack. Everyone make the most of their role.

In possibly the most difficult part, Sharon Hawkes shows us tiresome Connie dissolving first into self-pity and eventually drunkenness in a nicely controlled performance with good comic timing. But, as I said earlier, this is an ensemble piece and the key characters are well complimented by the rest of the company.

Robert Hall as Martin, who has inherited his father’s exasperating, jokey way of announcing himself every time with ‘knock-knock’ in a variety of garish Christmas jumpers, also succeeds in putting your teeth on edge with his Tigger-ish bonhomie and gets most of his laughs. Spencer Hawkes’ David Grinseed, whose prayer to comfort Beth accidentally sets in motion the supernatural events, is every inch the confident, well-meaning vicar.

In what could be the thankless part of the taciturn Ella, Emma Wickenden makes up for the loss of lines by demonstrating a wide vocabulary of bored and surly expressions highlighted by a Goth make-up, and good use of body language. Richard Stewart and Sue Hicks are convincing police officers.

Alan Matthews and John Heather’s set serves the play well and one fully believes in the world beyond the doors and windows of the living room, aided by the well-chosen furniture, and set dressing – although I would have liked to have seen a few more Christmas cards!

Jon Lewis’ lighting is exemplary and Ian James’ sound design – incorporating ‘electronic programming’ helps the play along, although I, personally, found the underscoring distracting. The final ‘appearance’ of Wagstaff, the cat was brilliantly handled, with props magically flying all over the stage. Superb!

I have been known to criticise some productions at Theatre 62 – especially comedies – for being tentative and, seemingly, under-rehearsed. This one, however, shows how the right team can transmit a joy of their crafts to a high standard, even at the first performance. Here, total commitment and strong direction have paid off handsomely. As another guy might have said: ‘Fab-u-lous!’ I can’t wait to see it again.

A Month of Sundays | 26th September – 1st October 2016

A month of Sundays posterA Month of Sundays by Bob Larbey, directed by Janet Clark

An amusing, uplifting and light-hearted play. The story revolves around two residents in a rest home: Cooper, who has voluntarily left his family to avoid the indignity of depending on them, and his friend Aylott.

To manage the painful ritual of Sunday family visits and empty condescension the two inmates tackle it with wit and humour, aware that life can only be endured if treated as a comedy.

Cooper                 Keith Wishart
Aylott                   Ian Evans
Julia                     Ruth Aylward
Peter                    Robert Hall
Nurse Wilson       Alice London
Mrs Baker            Sue Hicks

Director                                     Janet Clark
Set Design                                Alan Matthews, John Heather
Lighting Design                        Ian James
Sound Design                            Liane Marchant, Ian James
Stage Manager                          Liane Marchant
Asst Stage Manager                  Nikki Wilkinson
Stage Director                           John Heather
Set construction                        Alan Matthews, John Heather, Giles Eliot, T62 members
Set Décor                                  Adrian Pope
Technical Programming            Jon Lewis
Technical Crew                         Andrew Herbert, Stuart Scott
Technical Operators                  Chloe Belgrave, Ivan Buckle
Costumes                                   Diana Quinn and the wardrobe team
Make-Up & Hair                        Christine Lever, Jean Golder
Properties                                  Sandie Campbell
Prompt                                      Nina James, Jan Stockwell
House Manager                         John Heather
Refreshments                            Ann Herbert
Raffle                                         Sandie Campbell
Box Office                                  Margaret Uzzell, Nina James
Programme Editor                      John Guttridge
Poster & Programme Design     Graham Copeland

A Month of Sundays - October 20161-1210 9 8 Technical crew lighting and sound stage manager and crew 7 6 54


Review by Peter Steptoe, Croydon Advertiser

For those of us of mature years, the premise of this play was quite familiar, as nursing home visitation and subsequent occupation with or without dementia often beckons.

Bob Larbey has written an excellent play on the loneliness and invisibility of the elderly. One can be trapped in physical frailty with an active mind and memory intact or be physically fit with a decaying ones. Such was the descriptive power of Larbey’s writing that I visualised Mr Knitely paddling in the lake, thinking he was at the seaside with bucket and spade and the Colonel who retained his rank but died in his sleep and was removed from the home in a hearse by the side entrance. Neither of these characters ever appeared but are etched on my memory.

Cooper the one with the active brain and frail body was beautifully underplayed by Keith Wishart, his loneliness was   covered by wit, sarcasm and sexual banter, usually with Nurse Wilson, sympathetically played by Alice London. I liked Mrs Baker (Sue Hicks) the cleaning lady who met Cooper’s sarcasm with an aggression of her own. She cared for her aged Father in her home as we used to do in days of yore. It was nice to find out that she refused to let anybody else clean Cooper’s room.

Ruth Aylward had the unsympathetic part of the long distance daughter who visited on the first Sunday of the month. She   handled the reconciliation scene at the end very well and we all rejoiced.  Her Husband Peter (Robert Hall) exuded sweet reasonableness and his dissertations on the A5, they came from Milton Keynes, had a familiar ring to those who experience the M25.

My first impression of Cooper’s friend Aylott (Ian Evans) was that he looked too young; tall, slim  without grey hair, but the decaying mind in a fit and healthy body soon dispelled my unease. I was moved by his confusion toward the play’s end with its finish on a note of diminuendo. Congratulations to Alan Matthew and John Heather on the set design and Director Janet Clark on giving us a play with a message; for if you live long enough you may well get there.

Review by John Drewry

This is my second review, I believe, of a Janet Clark production, the first being The Beauty Queen of Leenane. She is a bold director who, from my limited experience, chooses challenging plays.  No-one, I think, would deny The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a challenging play.  Written by one of theatre’s enfants terribles, it’s full of dark humour blended with scary moments and a good dose of pathos.  Well, in a different way, so is A Month of Sundays.  The deceptively comic one-liners and ripostes are seasoned by the graveyard humour of two old boys raging against the dying of the light.  Shades of Vladimir and Estragon pervade the innocence.  And there are scary moments, too.  “I’m frightened”, says Cooper.  It is no wonder.  The Grim Reaper is only just around the corner, and there are increasing signs of his inevitable appearance.  George Hartley goes for a paddle, Cooper keeps going for a piddle.  Aylott is losing his marbles.  Pathos abounds, the very stuff of comedy, of course.  Especially at the very end – here we have the comic genius at work, blending farce and tragedy so we’re not sure whether to laugh or cry.  Finally, let’s not overlook that A Month of Sundays is challenging for the sheer size of Cooper’s part – on stage all the time, even when offstage taking a leak.

The choice of A Month of Sundays is a good one. More or less guaranteed to entertain the audience which, after all, is really why we do it.  It’s from the pen of an extraordinary man, who kind of had a career in reverse, as your excellent Programme illustrates.  Starting in radio and television, his last days were spent writing material for the Ockley Village Hall Amateur Dramatic Society.  A Month of Sundays was his first stage play, and with 20:20 hindsight you can see it comes from someone who wrote for radio and television.  For it is a play of words, and indeed would make an excellent radio play.  Radio, as they say, is like television but with better pictures.  The movement, look, expressions and environment of the characters are imagined.  On television, it is not that much different.  True, you have vision, but most of the movement is provided by the camera, not the characters.  Since TV grew up and ceased to point static cameras at stage plays, our sense of movement and expression when watching TV is largely an illusion created by the camera which, unseen, dances around with close-ups, pull-aways, tracking, overhead shots and fast cuts.  Punchlines especially are often fast close-ups, to emphasise the joke.  Talking to the audience is replaced by talking to camera in close-up.

The theatre director has no such available techniques. The relatively static plotline has to be brought to life on stage, and I’m glad to say that this production got it spot on.  The choreography was economical and effective.  The characters moved when they had to, stayed still when necessary, and never clashed, scissored or masked.  So from start to finish we, the audience, were relaxed and softened up for much laughter.

A word about the set and also some technical matters. The set presents a dilemma for the director and the designer.  There has to be a clinical, institutional inference, otherwise we’re simply in a bed sitting room.  On the other hand, we don’t want a Spartan room in a hospital.  What I saw and experienced was again spot on.  I suspect the team fiddled with this a little, in terms of colour, decor and properties.  Well, the fiddling paid off.  The visual atmosphere created was excellent, complemented as always in my experience at Theatre 62 with confident and apposite lighting and sound.  I have one extra word on the lighting, by the way.  In the final moments of the play, the decision was taken to pinpoint the characters in a tight spotlight.  Good thought, physically emulating what a TV production would do with a close-up.  On the night I saw it, however, the inevitable difficulty expressed itself in terms of geography and timing.  When exactly do we lower everything else and produce the tight spot?  Are the characters in exactly the right position?  Do they take up position before we bring the lighting down, or do they move into the spot?  This is a nightmare.  I have been there, and I have a recommendation.  Simply, don’t obsess about a tight iris.  It works just as effectively with a larger pool of light, allowing the actors to ensure they’re in it without effort.  The effect, with the rest of the stage going dark, is just as poignant.

Stage Management provided the usual Theatre 62 high standard of technical and HR support. Only one amusing observation on scene changes.   At the end of the first scene, Cooper went into the bog, followed a few seconds later by the female scene-changer.

And finally, on the sort of technical, Bob Larbey mercilessly exploits the tragedy of old age in this comedy – incontinence, dementia. It’s a constant battle for balance – tragedy feeds into comedy and vice versa.  Given that incontinence gives us such a rich seam of lavatorial material, I wonder whether the pathos would be enhanced if we saw Cooper’s wet patch at the end of the play.

Let me now turn to the characters themselves. First of all, congratulations to anyone prepared to take on the massive part of Cooper.  Theatre 62 seems to like offering these huge parts to actors – Ian Evans admirably tackled Richard Strauss quite recently, I seem to remember.  Keith Wishart is to be commended.  I saw from the Programme that he’d done it before.  I’m sure he found this both a blessing and a curse.  Many of the words are probably still there, the blessing.  The curse can sometimes be that the moves and moods from the previous production can also still be there, which can intrude on the current production.

Keith’s urbane, laid-back delivery was superb. It both relaxed us and drew us in.  There is a lot of talking to the audience (aka talking to camera), but rather than talking at us, Cooper invited us into his world, indeed his room, for a confidential chat.  Not as an aside, but as a chum.  His dirty moments could have been a little dirtier, just a little more overt and spelled out, giving more weight, for instance, to Mrs Baker’s comment “I thought you’d been clean for too long”.  For Cooper is a dirty old man, providing much (but not all) of the banter with Wilson.  Just a little more reverie at times, drawing us into his fantasy, so we can also strip Wilson naked in our minds.  My other mini-observation is around the wonderful lines “Bring me Aylott, send Aylott to the King” and the cod echoes that follow.  This could have been more drawn out, with each as a singular performance in different voices.  And a Director’s note – in this little scena, Mrs Baker coming in unseen behind him at the very beginning of these thespian deliveries would have milked it for more laughter.  It’s always funny to watch someone watching someone making a spectacle of themselves.  Finally, PSHAW, I think, is expressed exactly like that, which is why Cooper then spells it out – P-SHAW, a cartoon bubble rather like KERPLUNK!  But overall, these are mere peccadilloes in a nearly flawless performance.  You have given me this luxury with such a fine production, and I shall continue in this vein.

The other half of the double act, Ian Evans’ performance as Aylott. Another assured performance, clearly on top of his words and the sense, or sensitivity, of the play.  I must admit, on his first entrance I thought Matthew Parris had come on stage.  Ian has a camp persona, and it is no wonder he’s done a few pantomime dames in his time.  Please, I don’t mean he played Aylott as a pantomime dame, simply that in his body movements and his voice, Aylott came across as an old thespian who’s ended up in a home for retired actors.  And in truth, what’s wrong with that?  It actually worked very well, casting Aylott in sharp contrast to Cooper.  They consequently bounced off each other very well.  I do have a couple of notes for Aylott.  First, I’d have liked to have seen him older.  Clearly he can achieve this, because I’m sure he was older as Richard Strauss.  The other note concerns the handling of approaching dementia.  In a word, or words, forget the limbs.  Think about the eyes, the windows into the brain.  They no longer see what we see, they stare into eternity.  Take care of the eyes, and the body will follow.  But importantly, it’s in that order.

I will therefore turn to Cooper and Aylott as a couple. There are many other examples of two people of the same sex being thrown together by circumstance and forming some kind of relationship.  Neil Simon has exploited it, as has Samuel Beckett.   Gentlemen, you made me laugh a great deal.  But you didn’t make me cry enough.  It’s the pathos where the work is always needed.  “Don’t leave me Aylott” is the saddest line in the play, and the latent fear of every devoted couple.  To milk it needs several joined-up factors rehearsing.  Firstly, Aylott losing focus, his eyes no longer looking at anything tangible.  Secondly, Cooper staring at Aylott (us watching someone watching someone).  Thirdly, silence and timing.  Often we’re scared of real pauses in our fight for words and cues.  But they’re our most potent tool in the right places.  “Don’t leave me Aylott” should move the stoniest of hearts.

The other area which always needs work is the building and exploitation of mantra and rote. These are the little securities all intimate couples create between them as a protection against the outside world, a secret code.  “Oh much the same, mustn’t grumble, What would you say to a whisky?, Hello whisky, The Escape Committee”, need to be rehearsed away from the script as little exchanges, until they take on a special significance for the audience, so that they almost want to join in.

Turning my attention to Wilson now. An exemplary performance from Alice London.  She never let her professionalism as a nurse drop.  And it was her dealing with the sexual banter which made her so believable.  She never allowed it to slip into farce, but handled her patient just as a good nurse would, with compassion and care, but never patronising.  We know she cared, because she broke down over a patient’s treatment, and that scene with Cooper was particularly touching.

Our other member of staff, Mrs Baker, was similarly great fun. In some ways, Sue Hicks had the most difficult part – this happens sometimes with the smaller parts.  It’s because she had to indulge at times in what I call counterpoint acting – that is, actions not related to the words.  Her raison d’etre was to clean the room, but her words were the banter with Cooper, who is merciless.  Many actors find this difficult, because you have to look as though all your concentration is on the job in hand, while at the same time delivering repartee.  Such scenes need a lot of work.  Let us first consider ‘the business’.  The only way to do this convincingly is to choreograph it in real time.  How much cleaning is there, what am I going to clean, how long must it take?  The problem with anything less than that is that the audience doesn’t really believe you’re cleaning – especially if you go over the same little bit several times or, at the other end of the spectrum, you don’t do it properly.  The second factor is that you have to decide when to break off from your cleaning and when not to.  In the real world, most of Mrs Baker’s dialogue would be spoken ‘over her shoulder’ while she was cleaning, rather than stopping and turning on every reply.  The Mrs Bakers of this world are unstoppable in their brisk, or brusque, efficiency, and only break off occasionally when they really want to make a point.  Sue’s performance was attractive, entertaining and funny.  I simply try to show where we can get more.

And so we come to the daughter and her husband. A very fine blending of the irritated, the obnoxious, the indifference, the guilt and the hang-ups, from Ruth Aylward and Robert Hall.  Robert managed the impression of really not wanting to be there, coupled with a patronising attitude, superbly well.  Between him and the Director, his slightly jittery movements were never overdone, but we knew his metaphorical eye was on the exit.  Julia is a more subtle part, and although the pair of them are a foil for Cooper, with the father and daughter there is also much pathos.  It all comes out later in the play, “I wanted to please you but I never got close, I never felt that you needed me”, and that rambling tension between father and daughter with roots so deep they’ll never be expunged.  Yet there was an element of the confessional about it, and a certain degree of closure, and I thought the pathos was handled very well indeed.

Full marks to wardrobe, make-up, hair and prompting which, in the finest tradition of theatre, were all unnoticeable and seamless.

And a final, final note for all who act in comedy. Please remember to pause while the audience is laughing and not bring your next line in until the laughter starts to die of its own accord.

John Drewry, October 2016


The 39 Steps | Auditions

Auditions for The 39 Steps have been announced. See

Auditions are taking place on 10th, 11th, 14th October at Theatre 62.  Show dates: 20-25 February 2017.

Based on the book and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps is a splendid mix of comedy, adventure, mystery and thriller. Richard Hannay is a bored London gentleman whose life suddenly becomes infinitely more interesting when a woman is murdered in his apartment. Who is she? Why did she take refuge with him? And what are the mysterious 39 Steps?

Framed for her murder, Hannay flees London for Scotland on a mission to find out the answers to these and other questions. Along the way he comes across an assortment of unusual and mysterious characters and is reluctantly accompanied by prim Pamela, who inadvertently finds herself handcuffed to Hannay. Will they save Britain from a den of devious spies?

A small cast plays countless characters in this wonderfully inventive and gripping comedy about an ordinary man on an extraordinarily entertaining.