Association of Community Theatre

Show Reviews - June  2017


by Eric Scott

Burnley Garrick


Finishing a season of plays that have often engaged audiences to the heart of their funny bones, sometimes blended with the darkest of themes and insights,  The Burnley Garrick takes a well-deserved bow with ‘Extended Relations’ by Eric Scott.


Living in Brisbane, Australia, Scott is a prolific writer having penned children’s musicals, youth plays, adult fiction, youth and children’s fiction. He also reviews theatre and is a broadcaster on the Spectrum arts programme. He knows his audiences well.


This particular production was directed by Neil Tranmer and is a wonderful reflection of determination and skill, having had only ten rehearsals and, making his debut as director for The Garrick, Neil demonstrated what can be accomplished with a dedicated cast and production team. It was an astounding achievement, particularly when you consider that there are few quiet, still moments during the play.


The plot is a simple one, set on three days during one week in the home life of Hillary, David and their son, Jason. In these scenes the audience is introduced to the family dynamic – to the couple’s strong relationship and the love they have for their growing teenage son. I instantly felt a rapport with both the characters and the writing – no exaggeration, no pontification, just a relaxed and natural warmth that seeped into the auditorium. The humour was both gentle and overt: the dialogue (and there was a great deal) was continuously witty and naturalistic. I found myself amused to be relating to and empathising with Hillary (played by Sophie Greenwood), the character at the heart of this comedy who is trying to identify where her roots lie through searching for her birth parents.  Her home life entails being married to the apparently congenial comedian, David (Gary Leonard) and being mother to 15 year old Jason (Leighton Hunt). As a family, they were utterly convincing.


In fact, every actor on stage gave to their role a fully rounded characterisation, breathing the comedy into each part through gesture and delivery. Described as a farcical comedy, the farce element lies in the skill of its writer; through witty dialogue and the timing, well-meant deception and on-stage collision of characters that has been wonderfully scripted, and played out to perfection by the cast.

Hillary draws a chuckle from any woman living with a husband who revels in teasing, and who has a dry, cutting wit, which, while now amusing Hillary only slightly, infuriates Hillary’s adoptive mother, Margaret (Angela Foulds). Margaret’s mounting alcohol consumption was a joy to watch, as were the faces of those observing her decline into inebriation. It is a humour that needs to be observed closely for it is threaded  through the dialogue, and also through the expressions of the whole cast’s faces as comedy becomes farcical and confusions collide. I think that this production reflects more than many, the success of appropriate facial expression: apart from Hillary, who valiantly attempts to maintain a steady calm exterior throughout, all characters are tremendously funny visually, and the success of this play is largely due to the cast’s skill in maintaining this. All three grandparents, Margaret, Delia (Lynne Atkinson) and Antonio (David Kendrick) charm young and old audience members alike. With references to their past shenanigans (Delia and Antonio’s shared past resulted in the birth of Hillary) they struggle to remain composed as their memories fail them, then again, when recollections of their youthful infatuation and passion for each other are restored. Margaret is, however, the funniest of all: Angela produced a hilarious, outraged, adoptive mother to Hillary, unable to cope with David’s relentless goading, her irritation then fury as she descended into a drunken heap was a joy to watch.


Jason (Leighton Hunt) was equally engaging, with his addiction to internet chatting and gaming. New to The Garrick (and how lovely it is to see new young faces on this stage) he was well cast as a young teenager whose chief interests lay in on-line friendships and his PlayStation; his mood swings and desire to sample adult drinking habits - which he did, thanks to his father’s impish dips in responsibility and much to his mother’s disapproval - were delivered naturally. Once again I could recognise this character easily, as could any parent of a growing son in today’s world of internet reverie.


The staging for this production was efficient and attractive: simple black drapes as a backdrop and for exits (they always work so well in interiors scenes where stiff board flats can fail if unsteady) cleverly transformed by hanging pictures, a small flat with a particularly effective window, and some steps that were supposedly leading to upstairs. This worked very well. Occasional pieces of furniture completed the set and I applaud its designer, Martin Chadwick, and set constructors, Trevor Riley, David Climpson and Ian Wilson for the simplicity and effectiveness. Noreen Lobo’s artistic skills had played their part too, the decorative window added a flash of colour to the black drapes, brightening the set as beautifully as Hillary’s dresses.


Wardrobe (Madeline Masters, Anne Dunlop and Frances Singleton) were kept busy with Hillary having at least four or five changes during the play, and their choices were striking. Lighting and sound (Richard I ‘Anson and Marcus Whittaker) flowed without issue, and the stage manager (Kevin Kay) must have been kept busy with the many entrances and exits. On the night I attended, not a whisper was heard from the prompt (Dorothy Spencer).


The Garrick always produce an informative programme, and while it has to be purchased (unlike with some societies) it is always a useful reference, giving points of contact for people experiencing similar difficulties and frustrations to those of  characters on stage. This production’s programme also provided five pages of fascinating details about various wines, their origins and their characteristics, information that was both a good read and a witty inclusion given Margaret’s over indulgence in the play.


I touched on the magic of this season for The Garrick earlier: the choices were, for me, particularly inspiring. Several of the plays have touched our hearts and provoked much thought and reflection, yet they have also tickled our chuckle reflexes in a way that serves to heighten the poignancy, finding laughter in the darkest, saddest of places. The themes explored, such as mental disintegration, grief in bereavement, solitude and loss, have been done so through some wonderfully written plays and some particularly beautiful performances.