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…!

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Some of the cast in rehearsal:

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Cast

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

Here are the people who make it all happen:

DIRECTOR                              Nikki Packham
STAGE MANAGER:               Sandie Campbell
ASM:                                         Christine Lever
STAGE DIRECTOR:              John Heather
SET DESIGNER:                    Alan Matthews
PROPS:                                     Maggie Matthews
LIGHTING DESIGNER:       Jon Lewis
SOUND DESIGNER:             Ian James

Reviews below.

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 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.

 

 

 

Cast:

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

Reviews below.

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

 

Ladies Day | 27th June – 2nd July 2016

Ladies Day posterLadies’ Day by Amanda Whittington, directed by Howard James

Work, love and life are one hard slog – in this highly entertaining play – for the fish-filleting foursome of ladies.

Their luck changes when Linda finds ticket to Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot – in York. Out go the hairnets and overalls as the girls do themselves up and head for the races. As the day unfolds, the champagne flows, secrets spill out and their horses keep winning. By the last race, the girls are on course for a life-changing win.

 

 

 

Cast:
Pearl                                          Pauline Wathen
Jan                                             Christine Lever
Shelley                                       Katherine Whalley
Linda                                          Cynthia Hearing
Joe, Fred, Barry                       Pieter Swinge
Jim, Patrick, Kevin                 Robert Hall

Ladies' Day cast - Theatre 62

Group ShotPauline & KatherineGroup CheerChristine & Cynthia Cheer

LADIES DAY – review

Howard James’s production of Amanda Whittington’s Ladies’ Day was slickly directed and engagingly performed.

There are only a handful of basic plots, this being the one about working class people escaping their mundane lives for a day on the spree, flirting with sophisticated society on a twenty-four hour journey of self-discovery. The excellent use of thrust staging and backscreen projections enabled the scenes to flow nicely, assisted by a near invisible team of well-drilled stagehands. At the emotional climax of the play, the director allowed racecourse backdrop to dissolve before our eyes. This was quite magical and seriously disturbed the tear ducts.

No one was being carried in this production; each cast member was on top of his or her role, switching effortlessly from life-affirming bravura to introspection. Nicely modulated direction allowed the gentler moments to come through unforced, in contrast to the overall briskness. The two men showed impressive versatility, both taking on three contrasting roles and their quick changes were amazing. The play generally moved cleanly and colourfully, scenes and characters never outstaying their welcome and, like Oliver, leaving us wanting more.

Sometimes the actors tended to ‘act out front’ and forget their responsibility to the audience either side of them. Top marks, though, to everyone for excellent pacing and northern accents – and one good Irish! Maybe it was the air-conditioning or the quick-moving dialogue that sometimes encouraged actors to pick up each other’s pitch and tone, leading to moments of inaudibility and a tendency for voices to chase each other upwards, thus interfering with diction and vocal colour. The problem vanished, however, when the characters moved into duologues, especially when released from the Fish Plant – set upstage and placing the actors behind the barrier of the working area, and in a straight line.

Pearl: As the older woman on the verge of retirement juggling a husband and a mislaid lover, Pauline Whalley got every ounce from her character. Pauline can make you laugh with her one moment and, on the turn of a sixpence, cry. Her Pearl was a truly three-dimensional and sympathetic character.

Jan:  Christine Lever is fast becoming our local Marcia Warren – i.e. a very dependable character actor. Here she had the task of bringing out the various strands of Jan’s, somewhat under-written character, including her frustrated feelings for Joe as well as having to become completely sozzled – which she did very well.

Shelley: If Jan seems under-written, Shelley initially appears OTT. Katherine Whalley used her own physical plusses to good use as the wannabe X Factor star, who will settle for providing a rich and/or influential man girlfriend experience and earn sufficient cash to settle her debts. However, underneath the raucousness and bluster is a needier soul struggling to get out. A sassy and generous performance.

Linda:  Cynthia Hearing’s Tony Christie-obsessed Linda was quite enchanting! The youngest member of the group of women, Linda is obviously in desperate need of meeting Mr Right, if nothing else to get away from her horrendous mother. Her scene with Patrick was one of the two emotionally most touching of the evening: an actor of range and charm.

Joe/Fred/Barry: I don’t know when I was so moved at Theatre 62 as by Pieter Swinge’s beautifully under-played scene as Barry’s ghost with Pauline Whalley (equally affecting). The moment we realised what had happened was theatre at its best by any standard. Nicely contrasting cameos from Pieter as Joe and Fred also – but it is Barry I’ll remember.

Jim/Patrick/Kev: Three assured performances here from Robert Hall. If I would have liked ‘Jim’ to, maybe, have been a tad more foxy and assertive, he was very effective as the endearing jockey, Patrick. As mentioned above, his big scene with Linda was a highlight of the evening. Good drunk scene as well.

This was obviously very much a team effort where individual roles merged seamlessly into the overall story in a well-oiled production. Congratulations to Maggie Mathews for coordinating it all so well as Stage Manager.

Jon Lewis’ projections told us exactly where we were at any given time without taking up any space. His interval montage was also a triumph. The effective minimalistic stage furniture evoked exactly the required look and feel. Excellent props from Ann Herbert too. Diana Quinn’s costumes were perfect, and the transformation from fish factory operatives in hygienic plastic and white rubber wellies to glamorous race-goers wearing fancy hats was very well realised. Ian James’ sound design also supported the production well.

It all ‘accumulated’ into a special evening of which Theatre 62 can be very proud.

Raymond Langford Jones

 

Collaboration | 25th – 30th April 2016

Collaboration PosterCollaboration by Ronald Harwood, directed by Alice London.

This production is Theatre 62’s entry in the 2016 Bromley Theatre Guild Full Length Play Festival.

It’s 1931 and composer Richard Strauss and novelist Stefan Zweig embark on a fruitful and invigorating partnership.

But Zweig is Jewish and the Nazis are on the march, destroying the artistic culture he values so much. Strauss, meanwhile, struggles to accommodate it, but for what reason?

Is it possible to keep artistic aspiration and political action separate? This powerful play considers the fine line between naivety and realism, collaboration and betrayal.

“Brilliant – and devastating. They’re the only words that do justice to the experience of watching Ronald Harwood’s…play” (Daily Telegraph)

Ronald Harwood’s other stage works include The Dresser, Quartet, The Handyman. Screenplays include The Pianist, The Browning Version, Oliver Twist

Collaboration by Ronald HarwoodCast:

Strauss        Ian Evans
Pauline       Janet Edden
Zweig          Andrew Herbert
Lotte           Ruth Aylward
Hinkel        Mark Storey
Adolph       Tony Skeggs

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We’ll Always Have Paris | 22nd – 27th February 2016

We'll Alway Have ParisWe’ll Always Have Paris by Jill Hyem

Directed by Nikki Wilkinson

Three women of a ‘certain age’ gravitate to Paris. There’s Nancy, a retired headmistress determined to throw off the shackles; Anna, recently widowed – and free – after years of nursing a sick husband; and Raquel, a divorcee in search of eternal youth and a new toy boy.

A feel-good play with laughter and tears, the promise of romance, friendship and anger, and the advantages and disadvantages of growing old. We’ll Always Have Paris is certainly a play that will leave audiences charmed, amused, view of Paris - We'll Always Have Paris - Feb 2016thoughtful – and smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cast: 
Nancy                                        Sue Smith
Anna                                          Lynne Rushby
Raquel                                       Pauline Wathen
Madam Boussiron                  Sue Bailey
Charlot                                      Howard James

Production Photos (click to enlarge):

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A Christmas Carol | 7th – 12th December 2015

Christmas Carol 2015By Charles Dickens, adapted by John Mortimer. Directed by Patricia Melluish

Scrooge has the darkest heart in London; a miser with a love for nothing except money.

He is feared and despised until one Christmas Eve. Scrooge receives three spectral visitors, encounters the bleakest terror and the richest delight. He learns, at last, the true meaning of Christmas.

A tale of redemption, with a mix of laughter, thrills and chills along the way.

More photos below

A Christmas Carol - cast & crew

 

Christmas Carol: review by Peter Steptoe

“I had not seen this adaption by John Mortimer before and was not aware if the various speakers replacing a narrator were his idea or that of the director Patricia Melluish. I also wondered if there had been sufficient rehearsal time or perhaps difficulty with a large cast’s regular attendance, but on the night I saw it there seemed to be a slightly shaky start. This soon settled however and I did enjoy this ‘in the round’ performance. This sort of choral speaking with voices coming from differing parts of the auditorium is not easy and a prompt response and clear enunciation is necessary to overcome any defect in the acoustics.

Dicken’s tale of redemption is well known and it is difficult for a critic not to make comparisons with other performances he has witnessed. The central character of Ebenezer Scrooge, what a glorious name, was played here by John Heather. He kept the play together remarkably well, though perhaps his mean period might have benefitted by more underplaying. On the other hand his redemptive period was magnificent and I cannot commend it highly enough.

Geoff Dillon had the difficult part of Bob Cratchit, but he persuaded me that he was a kindly, decent, honourable employee, and family man; indeed the whole family came alive and at Mrs Cratchit’s (Sue Hicks) righteous indignation against the toast ‘to the founder of the feast’, I felt like cheering. The whole family was real including a very small Tiny Tim (Zuzette Paulson).

There were many good moments and one of these was the breaking of the engagement between the young Scrooge (Chris Sharriock) and Belle (Charlotte Storey). Also the scene where the sale of Scrooge’s belongings in Old Joe’s (Dennis Packham) Pawn Shop took place with Mrs Dilber (Sandie Campbell) and the Charwoman (Jean Golder).

John Bayes as Mr Fezziwigg gave light to the spirit of Christmas and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to come played by Jeremy Clark, Robert Chambers, and Nikki Wilkinson, respectively were all excellent. The first spoke naturally, the second as if in an echoing chamber and the last spoke not at all, but had the advantage of being very tall and frightening.

Fred as Scrooge’s good natured nephew was played by Stephen Whalley, his wife by Rachel Cormican, Topper the bachelor by Paul Newton and Miss Rose by Charlotte Storey. And in the Blind Man’s Bluff scene they managed to make it look spontaneous.

The vertical bed of Scrooge was brilliant and enabled us to see his reactions as if we were above it with a bird’s eye view, but the door panel sliding back to reveal the face of Jacob Marley (Bernard Harris) was perhaps a little too clearly lit though still effective. He did very well however, with the sepulchral voice and the chains he forged in life.

The ensemble playing with the different characters doubling up carried the story along efficiently and the audience went home content that goodness had prevailed.”

 

A Christmas Carol: review by Hugh Leadon

“I always say to students, ‘It’s easier to critique a play that is badly done than one that is well done’ So this production of A Christmas Carol has left me with a really difficult task. Even more so, as I had no idea that I was going to be asked to say a few words about the production until I was about to take my seat.

Let me then say from the outset, that I thoroughly enjoyed the performance from the opening moment when the carol singers came on stage to Tiny Tim’s closing line, ‘God Bless everyone’ .

The ensemble work was extremely well done and that it owed its success to the director there can be no doubt. The cast were comfortable performing in Theatre in The Round and moved easily around the stage changing the shape of the visual image as smoothly as a child working a kaleidoscope. [Well that’s dating me]. Too often actors in Theatre in The Round become rooted to the spot and forget that they need to present themselves to the audience in differing aspects. Not so you guys. Even the curtain call was well choreographed to ensure that every member of the audience was catered for.

The director’s vision of staging this production In the Round was a masterpiece of direction. By breaking the fourth wall, the audience was drawn into the play from the outset and on many occasions felt so comfortably a part of the performance that they clapped along with the actors at the dance and strained at the leash to join in with the Carol singing.

Likewise, the audience felt they were an integral part of the street scenes as well as the more intimate Scrooge’s nephew’s family Christmas games and the Cratchet’s Christmas Dinner.

In addition, we felt that we too were on the same journey as Scrooge as he wandered the ether with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, and in so doing we may also have questioned our own charitable approach to the Christmas Season with so many homeless people in Britain and particularly in the Capital.

Narration in a play is always difficult to pull off without it seeming to be an ‘add on’ extraneous to the production. However, the narrative technique of the ensemble ‘in the wings’ as it were, scattered around the auditorium created a stereo or quadraphonic effect. In addition, the concept of the actors narrating in the third person as they appeared on stage before slipping easily into dialogue was thoroughly effective and successful.

It is difficult to fault any of the technical support that both enhanced and augmented the performances in the most skilful and subtle of ways.

Particularly effective was the use of the echo to differentiate between the naturalism of Scrooge’s voice and the supernatural utterings of Marley and the three ghosts, well, two of them, anyway.

In addition sound effects used to enhance scenes were used most effectively. Too often sound engineers get carried away with a good sound effect, often drowning out the poor actor. Not so in this production. Extra voices chattering in the background in the street scenes were subtle and non pervasive, allowing the audience both to hear the dialogue while further adding to the feeling that they too were part of the scene.

In contrast, the more pointed and highlighted effects such as the opening and closing of the shutters were timely and effectually executed. The dramatic entrance of Marley’s Ghost and, indeed the appearances of the three other Ghosts introduced and maintained elements of suspense throughout the show..

Music was incorporated well, whether established compositions or especially composed atmospheric backdrops to the action

The combination of music, sound effects and the effective and appropriate dramatic lighting cues, further emphasised the work of the technical crew.

Indeed, the lighting design was commendable. The gobo of Marley’s coffin and the dappled effects used later on in the production were extremely effective as was the highlighting of Scrooge with the three ghosts and especially with the ghost of Christmas Past. Who could not applaud the candle lights of the headwear of this spectre? And I am sure that I shall be haunted by the piercing red eyes of the ghost of Christmas to Come for many a moon.

Kudos to Jon Lewis and Ian James for their combined team work.

The set design was just a joy. I really thrilled to the minimalist sets from the simple Cratchit dinner table with some realistic props of goose and a saucepan of mashed potatoes and a steamed Christmas pudding to the mimed glasses for the Christmas toast through to the street cart and scrooges’ bed. Incidentally, I wondered how many of the audience were aware that this design was first introduced in the West End production of The Canterbury Tales in the early 70’s and has been emulated   by set designers since. What a tribute. So effective, too were the simple high desks of Scrooge and Cratchit and the period school desk.

But what really made the minimalist use of furniture was the effortless and unobtrusive way that the cast brought on and took off the furnishings and / or props. Bringing on the sacks and gathering them up later, for example by Chris Sharrock was unobtrusively slick as was the introduction and removal of the chaise longue.

Finally, who could forget the dramatic and unexpected trap door in Scrooges front door, revealing our first glimpse of Marley’s ghost? Nor can one forget the Brechtian epic theatre use of puppets skilfully representing The Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge flying through the air as well as the rather disturbing puppets of the children concealed beneath the robe of Christmas Present. Again Kudos to all the technical staff, from Andrew Heather and John Heather [is there no end to this man’s versatility?] and Alan Matthews as well as to Frances Denne, Properties and James Quinn and Chloe Belgrave Technical Operators not to overlook Jackie Dowse for the enchanting, yet at times, somewhat disturbing puppets.

One of the most important contributions to the production was the excellent, period costumes, courtesy of Margaret Uzzell, Joan Martin, Val Polydorou, and Diana Quinn. With so many contemporary costumes and costume changes one can only congratulate the Costume Department and Dressers. Especially well done were the costumes of Marley and his shackles and the three ghosts, each superbly individual [ though as I have said I especially liked the candlelit head gear of The Ghost of Christmas past, the Exotic wreath of The Ghost of Christmas Present and the eyes of The Ghost of Christmas to Come] while all the cast wore authentic period costumes appropriate to their class and status. Mention, too, must be made of the make-up worn by Marley’s Ghost, Ghost of Christmas Past and the bony finger of the Ghost of Christmas to come. Alice London, Christine Lever, Jean Golder and Penny Vetterlein deserve a mention in despatches for their important contribution to the performance.

It is hard to single out any performances when the ensemble work was generally of a high standard. However, one has to pay tribute to the taxing role of Scrooge, played so confidently and sympathetically by John Heather. His journey from the early no-nonsense Scrooge morphing into the magnanimous child-like character was well executed.

Other roles that deserve mention are those of Bob Cratchit played sensitively by Geoff Dillon. The two portly men, Dennis Packman and John Bayes whose double act in their early and later scene with Scrooge provided a contrast by which to measure early Scrooge and transformed Scrooge. Indeed, these two actors contributed to the ensemble work throughout, as well as playing other characters such as Old Joe and The Headmaster [Dennis Packman] and Mr Fezziwig [ John Bayes]. Bernard Harriss chillingly introduced us to the supernatural, as Marley’s ghost, which mantle was taken up by Jeremy Clark as The ghost of Christmas Past and further augmented by Nikki Wilkinson as The Ghost of Christmas to Come. Robert Chambers, as The Ghost of Christmas Present was a good, strong contrasting no-nonsense foil to the afore-mentioned spirits. All four actors used the stage well and appeared to be comfortable doing so.

One was aware of a strong sense of support from the ensemble that played their roles truthfully in the crowd scenes and as members of various families. For example Stephen Walley as Fred, Paul Newton as Topper, and Sue Hicks as Mrs Cratchit deserve mention for their strong contributions. . Noel Coward once remarked, ‘There are no small parts, there are only small actors’. Not so here. These actors rose to the occasion making every part meaningful and believable.

There were also some nice cameo roles, with Sandie Campbell playing the cackling toothless hag Mrs Dilber and Jean Golder as the Charwoman bringing a sense of black humour to the production.

It was pleasing to see that the high standard of acting was maintained by the younger generation of actors. Rachel Cormican played many different roles with conviction especially as Miss Fezziwig and Fed’s wife, for example. Chris Sharrock was confident in the roles of Teenage Scrooge, The Young Scrooge and Peter and displayed a strong stage presence, showing great potential, while Charlotte Storey displayed immense skills and sincerity in all of her roles as Miss Fezziwig 2, Young Belle/ Elizabeth and Martha, displaying a veracity in her performances that can come only from a careful study of Stanislavski and his system.

The youngest members of the cast brought a freshness and innocent enthusiasm to their roles. Thevanuyaa Raventhuran, Ellie Ann Scase and Zuzette Poulson (also Natasha Bailey, Nicky Molloy-Golding, Zanette Poulson, Subanuyaa Raventhuran) just broadened the brush strokes on what was already a well depicted canvass. Particularly refreshing were the knock down ginger scene at Scrooge’s front door, the boy being sent off to fetch the poulterer and Tiny Tim’s sustained and believable disability as well as his moving rendition of the carol at the Cratchit’s Christmas Dinner.

If I may borrow from a modern teaching technique, I have so far dwelt on the What Went Well aspect of the production, but with your indulgence, I should like to just add a few thoughts of what could be better If…….

While the pace was good for majority of the production, with all actors picking up cues well, there were a few rare occasions where it flagged a bit. Fortunately, due to the episodic nature of the play these moments were soon rectified by the energy and enthusiasm of the ensemble work.

Sometimes, too, I felt [ though I have to say I was overruled by my companions here] that some of the younger cast members, while executing their roles well, were, on occasion, inclined to television performances and I should have preferred them to be a little more demonstrative in their delivery considering this was a live stage performance. It can be too easy to think that in acting in the round one does not need to project one’s voice. Obviously one would not project as strongly as acting on a proscenium Arch stage, but one does need to project just a little bit more than on a film or television set with sensitive camera mikes or a boom mike being employed. As I said this is only my opinion not endorsed by the other members of the party who came with me.

The only scene that I would question as not working well was the near impossible scene where Scrooge changes out of his night attire into his day clothes. There was a hiatus here which I felt could, perhaps, have been covered by a lively street scene or some more carol singing?

To conclude, I always think that the acid test of a successful performance is audience reaction. I happened to be seated directly opposite a youngster whom I noticed sat wide-eyed and riveted to the action throughout. There can be no greater affirmation of a successful show than that.

I congratulate the whole team involved in this production of A Christmas Carolfrom the Director, Patricia Melluish for an inspired theatrical vision, ably supported by the Assistant Director, Jenny Jones, the Stage Manager, Liane Marchant, and ASM Gilly Swinge , not to mention the two unsung heroes: prompts Audrey Knighton and Nina Jones, the cast, again, and Technical crew once more, with sincere apologies if I have omitted to mention any outstanding technical moments or individual performances but as I mentioned before, with such a high standard of ensemble and team work , it is not always possible to single out all of these moments or performances.”

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Boeing Boeing | 28th September – 3rd October 2015

Boeing Boeing 2015By Marc Camoletti, translated by Beverley Cross.

Directed by Paul Marshall

This is a 1960s French farce. Lothario Bernard has three fiancées – Gloria, Gabriella and Gretchen – each beautiful airline hostesses with frequent “layovers”.

He keeps “one up, one down and one pending” until unexpected schedule changes bring all three to Paris and his apartment at the same time. The inevitable chaos ensues.

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Cast:
Bernard                                                  Mark Storey
Robert                                                    Stuart Scott
Gloria                                                      Samantha Elgar
Gabriella                                                Laura Gamble
Gretchen                                                Alice London
Bertha                                                     Janet Edden

Backstage:

Set Designer                                          Alan Matthews

Stage Directors                                     John Heather, Alan Matthews
Set Construction                                   Alan Matthews, Andrew Heather, T62 Members
Set Décor                                                Adrian Pope
Lighting Design                                    Andrew Herbert
Sound Designer                                    Ian James
Stage Managers                                    Sally Guttridge, Maggie Matthews
ASM & crew                                          Alan Matthews, Nikki Wilkinson
Air Hostess uniforms                          Valerie Polydorou, Margaret Uzzell, Diana Quinn, Joan Martin
Props                                                       Ann Herbert
Prompt                                                   Sandie Campbell, Janet Clark
Make-up/hair                                        Penny Vetterlein, Christine Lever
Choreographer                                      Hollie Campbell
Technical programming/support     Ian Jeames, Jon Lewis
Technical operator                               James Quinn

House Manager                                    John Heather
Refreshments                                        Ann Herbert
Raffle                                                      Liane Marchant
Box Office                                               Nina James
Poster/programme design                  Graham Copeland
Programme                                            John Guttridge

Boeing-Boeing set

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Boeing Boeing set-in-progressBoeing-Boeing rehearsal Sept-15Boeing Boeing set, seen from the stage

Boeing-Boeing cast in rehearsalto use 2WP_20150728_023

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Critique provided by Arthur Rochester:

“In this critique I propose to focus on what I see as the many strengths of the performance, which can be built upon for the future, as well as making any constructive comments which I feel may be helpful for consideration.

My basic criterion for evaluation of any production is the extent to which it met both the audience’s need for entertainment and the playwright’s intentions (so far as we can judge them). And let me say straight away that in my view this performance achieved both of those aims to a very marked degree. To see how that outcome was achieved it may be helpful to begin by examining the challenges to be faced when tackling this play.

Some years ago, when I adjudicated a farce by Ray Cooney, generally acknowledged as the leading British exponent of the genre, I looked up what he had to say on the subject. His principal comment was one which I found very interesting (and which you may well have heard before): that farce is more akin to tragedy than it is to comedy.

In a classic farce, such as this, characters are normal people out of their depth, in an escalating predicament which is beyond their control. Therefore everything which happens is a tragedy for someone. The action is propelled by panic and the characters’ efforts to save the situation progressively lead to additional complications, causing them to behave more and more bizarrely.

Although this means there is little room for subtlety, there is nevertheless a need for the audience to identify with the characters. Their response should be one of recognition that they might be in the same situation themselves, coupled with relief that they are not. The challenge for the actors is to present relatively one-dimensional characters convincingly as real people, rather than as stereotypes, and to convince the audience that their bizarre behaviour is, (perhaps only just), believable.

Characterisation must therefore be truthful and recognisable. The most common pitfall in acting farce is to try too hard to be funny and become unrealistically absurd. Also, the situations in which the characters find themselves may stretch audience credulity if thought about for too long, which means that one of the key performance requirements of farce is the maintenance of pace.

GoDA’s adjudication ‘descriptors’ have proved a useful structure for evaluation, so I will deal in turn with stage presentation, direction, acting and overall dramatic achievement.

Firstly the set, for almost any farce, presents a major challenge, if only because of the inescapable necessity for a multitude of doors. Alan Matthews’ design seemed to me not simply to meet that challenge, but to turn it to a positive advantage. With no attempt at realism – architecturally it made no sense at all – he provided a symmetrically stylized background ideally suited to the action.

Adrian Pope’s decor, including the colourful abstract paintings, was attractive to the eye and although it offered no specific reference to period and place – 1960’s Paris – it certainly created no contrary impression. The carpet was incidentally nicely co-ordinated and a considerable cut above the standard more usually seen.

Furnishings were wisely kept to a minimum, creating an admirably large acting space for the considerable amount of physical ‘business’ but a slightly larger table might have more comfortably accommodated its contents and added a little more ‘lived-in’ effect.

Ann Herbert’s props were appropriate, although the colour-coded photographs which were the focus of a practical ‘running gag’ could perhaps have been a little larger and I wondered whether a telephone could have been found which was more demonstrably French and 1960’s.

Lighting was suitably bright throughout, although there did appear to be slight variations in certain parts of the stage, and the use of the video of arriving and departing aircraft, together with realistic sound, was an inventive and highly impressive feature.

Costumes were well-chosen for the characters and the period, especially of course the uniforms, which I suspect might have been made for the production by the four ladies credited in the programme. Hairstyles and make-up were also appropriate. All these elements and the interaction of various design skills combined to create a standard of stage presentation which I thought underpinned the performance very effectively.

Farce also presents a directorial challenge, due to its formulaic nature, but Paul Marshall seemed to me to have a good understanding of the genre and a degree of creativity within the confines of the text. The cast’s ensemble playing was well developed and grouping and movement, especially in the frenetic passages in the later scenes, were well-planned and showed a good understanding of stage dynamics. The essential pacing of the action was relentlessly secure and sustained.

Acting in farce needs precision, dexterity and stamina. The delivery of the dialogue requires expert pacing, pausing and pointing. And, almost above all, it calls for generosity of spirit. Farce demands a huge degree of teamwork. In my view this cast, individually and as an ensemble, succeeded admirably in achieving that, with originality, flair and a good command of movement and vocal skills.

The three stewardesses were all attractive and energetically sexy, as they should have been. They clearly were intended to represent national (as opposed to character) stereotypes and I felt this could with advantage have been given a little more emphasis.

Samantha Elgar gave American Gloria a believable degree of independence and female power with an accent which was convincing if occasionally inconsistent. I felt she could have allowed herself a stronger (say, specifically New York) flavour without damaging the naturalness of her performance.

Alice London’s German Gretchen could also have had a slightly more pronounced accent to emphasize the teutonic, dominating personality which she successfully projected.

Laura Gamble gave Italian Gabriella an accent which to my ear sounded sufficiently authentic and a well-developed personality, displaying a considerable range of acting skills.

And Janet Sharrock, with an impeccable French accent, nicely contrasted the character of Bertha, the black-clad, chronically dissatisfied domestic, bringing out her ironically philosophical nature in a solid characterisation.

Mark Storey gave Bernard the urbane charm which the character demanded and amply demonstrated his vanity and self-satisfaction with his lifestyle before its disintegration. His accelerating descent into near apoplexy was handled with dexterity.

Finally, Stuart Scott took full advantage of the plum part of Robert, the rural visitor. Initially self-conscious and tentative, he created a convincing portrait of innocence corrupted by experience. The physicality of his performance was remarkable, making clumsiness somehow graceful. This was a beautifully controlled and highly successful characterisation.

The entire cast interacted most effectively, creating an ensemble displaying a high level of mutual trust and support. The amorous encounters were depicted realistically with no holding back and the choreography of the extended curtain call was excellently planned and executed. Although it is no more than should be expected, it is nevertheless worth mentioning that – on the opening night – there was universal security in the delivery of a quite demanding text.

Audience reaction is not always a reliable measure of dramatic achievement, but on this occasion the warmth and duration of the applause were ample evidence that the audience had been greatly entertained by a production of which everyone involved may be justly proud.”

 

Honour | 29th June – 4th July 2015

HonourHonour, by Joanna Murray-Smith. Directed by John Oakenfull

George and Honor have been happily married for 32 years. She is a successful writer, he is a revered columnist.  They have a perfect understanding of each other. Well, that is until a young female journalist assigned to “profile” George seeks to undermine that understanding.

The fallout leads to some dramatic consequences.

 

Cast:
Honor                                                     Jan Greenhough
George                                                    Ian Evans
Claudia                                                   Becca Carr
Sophie                                                    Christabel Wickert

Backstage:
Lighting Design                                    Andrew Herbert
Sound Designer                                    Ian James
Stage Manager                                      Sandie Campbell
ASM & props                                         Janet Clark
Prompt                                                   Beryl Neal, Nina James
Make-up/hair                                        Penny Vetterlein
Costumes                                               The cast
Show programming                             Jon Lewis
Technical operator James Quinn

House Manager                                    John Heather
Refreshments                                       Heather London
Raffle                                                      Sandie Campbell, Janet Clark
Box Office                                              Margaret Uzzell
Poster/programme design                 Graham Copeland
Programme                                           John Guttridge

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Some of the cast in rehearsal:

Honour in rehearsal

Honour in rehearsal

 

 

 

 

 

HONOUR – reviewed by Peter Steptoe:

This play must be o.k., I thought, as it had received several awards but my heart sank when I found it was to be played in traverse with only two chairs as props. I am addicted to the well made play and not good with acres of chat. The plot was hardly original, it was about a late middle aged man falling for a thirty year old predatory woman, leaving his wife, much to her annoyance and also to that of their daughter. All this was to go on for nearly two hours on a hot summer’s evening would require endurance.

And yet, somehow I got hooked, despite the obligatory swear words which always gets a few nervous laughs; perhaps there was a germ of truth lurking in the verbiage; perhaps the tedium of much speech was relieved by the eighteen scene changes, including one where the two chairs were reduced to one.

Despite all this, I became engrossed with the goings on and ceased to observe the audience sitting opposite. The acting was excellent, reactions splendid, facial expressions conveying the right emotions. The star, and what a great part it was, the wronged wife Honor, beautifully played by Jan Greenhough. I wanted to shake George for being so stupid as to leave her, so Ian Evans must have been playing him correctly, but he had a sort of whinging voice that I didn’t think we journalists had. Claudia, the predatory woman was brutally played by young Becca Carr and made me feel helpless in not being able to warn George of his folly. Christabel Wickert had the difficult task of playing the only child and her anger in the scene with Claudia was entirely natural. The subsequent one where she became uncertain was I think a fault of the writing rather than the acting.

Director John Oakenfull handled his actors well and the moves seemed natural to both the dialogue and the emotions displayed. I particularly liked the lighting fades and increase on the actors when communing with themselves.

I do feel that in some instances the costumes were unsuitable. Honor is described in the play script as an elegant woman of sixty and not until the last scene at the university Graduation did she look elegant. Claudia’s tight fitting dress and costumes were not the best means of showing her credentials. George’s attire seemed entirely orthodox and Sophie was the usual scruffy student.

Peter Steptoe

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.

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Cast:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backstage:
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 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

 

Stepping Out | 23rd – 28th February 2015

Stepping Out 2015By Richard Harris.  Directed by Ray Harris.

Theatre 62’s production was a sell-out. Tickets were snapped up over a week before opening night.

Synopsis: Mavis is an ex-professional dance teacher who leads an evening class in tap dancing in a dingy church hall. Her classes are attended by seven women: there’s timid Dorothy, snobby Vera, shrewd Maxine, bubbly Rose, plain Lynne, cheerful Sylvia and do-gooder Andy; not forgetting frosty pianist Mrs Fraser. Oh, and Geoffrey, the lone man.

We find out about the ups and downs of their lives and loves. Despite being of very mixed ability, it’s thanks to Mavis’s teaching efforts that they enter a local charity dance festival. But will their performance be worthy of a chorus line?

Cast
Mavis                               Samantha Elgar
Sylvia                               Frances Denne
Andie                               Christine Lever
Rose                                 Myrna Delicata
Dorothy                           Nicola Wilkinson
Geoffrey                           Howard James
Mrs Frazer                       Sue Appleyard
Vera                                  Lynne Rushby
Maxine                             Pauline Wathen
Lynne                               Louise Gauntlet

Backstage:
Stage Director                                       John Heather
Set Design                                              Adrian Pope
Set Construction                                   John Heather & T62 Members
Set Décor                                                Adrian Pope, Pieter Swinge
Lighting Design                                    Andrew Herbert
Sound Designer                                    Henry Terry
Stage Manager                                      Sally Guttridge
ASMs                                                       Maggie & Alan Matthews
Pianist                                                    Eric Johnstone
Props                                                       The cast and SMs
Prompt                                                   Rosemary Harris
Make-up/hair                                        Penny Vetterlein
Classes costumes                                  The cast
Dancing costumes                                Margaret Uzzell, Joan Martin, Hazel Hall, Diana Quinn, Valerie Polydorou
Technical programming/support     Jon Lewis, Ian James
Technical rigging                                  T62 members

House Manager                                     John Heather
Refreshments                                         Heather London
Raffle                                                        Liane Marchant
Box Office                                                Nina James
Poster/programme design                   Graham Copeland
Programme                                             John Guttridge

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Stepping Out - in rehearsal

use...use..Stepping Out February 2015