Association of Community Theatre

Show Reviews November 2017


by Peter Quilter

Altrincham L.T


Reading director Michael’s notes in your ever laudable programme, whetted my appetite for what I was about to see this evening.  I wasn’t aware of the play or, for that matter, the author, but Michael’s reasons for setting it in the Sixties did hit home.  I go back that far at least and footlights, off stage battles, fond good-byes with the final embrace, stage make-up which always began with Leichner No 5 and No 9 and finished with a red dot in the corner of each eye, and computerised sound and lighting had never been heard of.  Now we are revolutionised in so many ways but old habits die hard, and memories do linger in this game of ours, so thank you Michael, for bringing some back and, while we are at it, having enjoyed your play so much, you were spot on with the timing of it.


   Lydia Martin, a well known actress, has come to the last night of a run of Chekov’s “Cherry Orchard” and has decided to say good-bye to the theatre, (sounds so much better than ‘retire’ because it does leave a door open) and move to Switzerland with her wealthy lover, Charles, played by David Garner.  It is a story full of memories of a long career, reminiscences, people, “am I making the right decision,” “what will life be like without theatre?”  I suppose many of us in life have had a similar sort of decision to make because perhaps not all of us are ready to make that decision.  What will life be like after?  I know that I found early retirement extremely hard and for Lydia too it was early retirement.  Then again, I suppose for actors it is somewhat different as they spend their lives pretending to be someone else, so what price reality when it comes, and more difficult for Lydia when Paul, her ex-husband, turns up and is still as ardent as ever.  The scene on the floor, rolling about on the floral tributes, was quite memorable to say the least, and beautifully acted by both of them.


   The set was something of a masterpiece with the stage divided into two locations.  Roughly, two thirds of it,  was the star’s dressing-room and the corridor leading to it from the rest of the theatre.  Full of what we would expect to be included – table and mirror for make-up, costume area, seats, etc., covered with flowers for the star, overflowing on to the floor, plus the door which had plenty of use, throughout.  Phone, drinks, a board containing cards, greetings etc and framed posters on the wall completed the decor.  The SR third of the stage was a fascinating area. Small table and chairs facing a curtained area, which at certain times of the play actually became the stage.  When the curtains were opened we saw an audience looking at us from US.  Three actors, Lydia, Paul and Charles, backs to us, all acting in front of an audience – quite incredible with the lighting.  Apparently, during the interval at one of last season’s plays, photographs had been taken of the audience from the stage and then enlarged and displayed as audience watching the play, Without wishing to gild the lilies, I have to say it would have its place among the most incredible effects seen on an amateur stage.  Very well done indeed.


   Lydia was played by Jane Newman and, as the play was really all about her  and the relationships that influenced her life in so many ways in theatre and away from it, she had a vast part to learn,  She dealt with that supremely well, enabling her to show the high and lows of acting at such a high level, but also all one has to go through coping “with the slings and arrows”, the vicissitudes in her life, the joy and the acclaim, the effects that many people have had on her  and of course, the dark days.  Now it was all going to end and what would that be like?  We weren’t just watching an actress at work here – one could well believe we were privileged to be witness into a life in its journey through love, passion, regret, anger, disappointment, bitterness, humour and self-examination.  Timing is particularly important in an actor’s armoury.  It’s a gift and can’t be taught – it is naturally felt and  there  were examples from time to time within tonight’s cast.  There was one supreme moment late on in the play when Jane had to answer “Yes” or “No” and the answer affected vitally Nicole, Paul and Charles.  I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Jane’s answer – a supreme little moment.  Jane – well done – a most difficult role and memorably played.


   Paul, Lydia’s former husband was played by Malcolm Cooper and he kept the story bubbling along whenever he was on.  He wanted a new beginning with Lydia and he produced many reasons for his enduring zeal, one which nearly did the trick, (already mentioned).  Imagine having to go on for your last performance minutes after that.  The sun seemed to shine whenever he was on stage and there was a naturalness in all he did.  He uses the stage so well and his influence brought much to embellish the story.


   Barbara Steel played Katherine, Lydia’s dresser and she was the very epitome of what we feel dressers who have been working with stars, are all like.  Always there in the dressing-room, ready to see and act upon stars little whims.  She played the power behind Lydia’s throne perfectly.  Her standards were high, she didn’t suffer fools gladly and we sensed the pride she had in her star, and, although she never really said so, her feelings for her.  What to do after Lydia had gone – the expected down to earth answer.  Well played.


   Julie Broadbent was Margaret, whose job it was to come and go from stage management, keep people aware of time, progress, instructions etc.  A very typical performance; one who we could all trust and on whom we could all depend.  Very impressive in the shouting match and super change of demeanour thereafter, showing just how much she had been offended.  Well done.


   Nicole, Lydia’s daughter, was played by Charlie Welsh.  She had come to be around on Mum’s last performance.  Does not always agree with Mum, but, in a lovely played scene – Lydia on the couch and Nicole curled up at her feet, we really see the ideal moment between mother and daughter.  It said everything about what could be said about feelings between mother and her grown up daughter.


   Harriet, Lydia’s agent, was Katherine Fennell, who comes to Lydia’s final performance with flattery and a bottle of brandy.  They had obviously been close over the years, but when Lydia also begins to flatter, Harriet gets upset and bemoans her own life – “you were a marvel, spectacular and all I did was hang about back stage like an old sofa”.  Incredible change when the play The Cherry Orchard is finally over and she forgets her speech, and then nobody there to listen, culminating in her tipsiness and furious row with Lydia.  Katherine’s performance laid bare her character’s soul and was extremely moving.


   Charles, the old actor Lydia has chosen to live with in Switzerland, was in the experienced hands of David Garner.  He was what we all feel old character actors of vast experience are like – eloquent, polite, courteous, gentlemanly and always there.  They’ve been around a long time and everyone and every play can depend upon them.  David was all that and just a little bit more.  There was gentle humour in the role with his stooping walk and need for fresh air.  Switzerland with Lydia – will it last?  Debatable when one remembers Paul’s rolling in the flowers with her and her wonderful curtain speech to the audience.


   To-night we were in the hands of seven actors who together forsook the realm of fiction and showed us an evening of a real life occasion when hearts and souls were on view.  Michael Russell had inspired his actors to work together as a team to show that “we are such stuff as dreams are made on”.  A fascinating story played on a fascinating set.  Congratulations, Michael, and all involved on or off stage.


Thank you as ever for your welcome and hospitality.  Happy play making.