Association of Community Theatre

Show Reviews 2017



Manchester Athenaeum D.S.


How quickly time goes by the older one gets, or seems to.  It doesn’t seem twelve months ago that we were enjoying that interesting evening with Dylan Thomas, and now here we are again, preparing to enjoy the company’s 18th annual “For one night only” production.  Much of the Athenaeum’s  work truly comes under the heading of community theatre and to-night again is no exception, as the programme tells us the evening is presented by “members and friends” and includes a buffet supper.

At one time the evening would have been described as a miscellany but that is a word rarely used nowadays, but a mixture it certainly was, splendidly illustrating and illuminating the varied talents of those involved.  Music was by the Roger Browne Trio, which is just part of a larger Jazz group, very much sought after over a very wide area.  Roger, as well as artistic director of the company, is a jazz pianist of the highest accomplishment – his wizardry at the keyboard being all the more amazing when one realises he is playing by ear.  Having a background of George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Stan Kenton et al myself, there is ample justification for my adulation.  Roger’s trio comprised also Allan on Double bass and Chris on drums, both quality, highly proficient musicians also, so those of us in the audience with modern jazz in their souls had an evening to remember.

The music from Roger’s trio were “jazz interpretations on a theatrical theme” and shared the first half with comedy offerings from this talented company.  The interpretations were their own and we appreciated the quality and shear ability of George Gershwin’s “Lady be Good” and “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess; their own interpretation of Andre Previn’s interpretation of hits from “My Fair Lady”, two note improvisations, and finally “First you say you will” and “When the Saints go Marching in”.  All numbers had solos from Alan and Chris and I appreciated the way Roger saluted their efforts with a free hand while continuing to play with the other, thus signalling his appreciation and prompting our applause – took me back to many jazz concerts visited in the old days.

Carol brought smiles to our faces with Joyce Grenfell’s famous Nursery Class teacher and Sue’s stage experience was used to maximum effect by her readings of the poetry cats, McAvity and Skimbleshanks, from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S.Elliot.  Colin’s “Letter to Claire Rayner” gave ample scope for his natural sense of original humour as did David’s uniquely delivered story of “The Loman Family Picnic”, and Jane’s interesting and perfectly timed “Three Minutes”.  Elizabeth jogged all our memories with her lovely, gentle version of the “Tennessee Waltz” and Alan showed his versatility is not just confined to jazz by his amusingly infectious tribute to Ron Moody’s Fagin by “Reviewing the Situation” from Oliver.  How’s that for an entertaining , adventurous first half, originally and ambitiously put together for our appreciation, using the considerable talents of company members.

After a sumptuous buffet supper with wine, we were more than ready for the One Act Play “Background Artiste” by Stephen Smith, which followed.  Set in the office of  a Theatrical Agent, sometime during the winter of 2000 A D it gave us a somewhat exaggerated, very humorous version of what life is like when one has to book actors or whatever, and the way-out characters one comes across while doing it each day  Two cluttered desks, one with client’s chair, three other chairs for waiting clients, comprised the necessary furniture, plus magazines, A to Z’s, directories and a couple of telephones of multiple use.

Tom Liggett played Alfred, the agent, who preferred to be known as Alfredo for purposes of “class”, kept up a constant stream of chat on the telephone to numerous unbelievable clients providing us with some idea of an agent’s improbable business.  Apart from frequent visits to the toilet, some more successful than others, he issued instructions, advice, negotiated and endeavoured to run his business with a stream of stories and reminiscences which kept us laughing throughout..  His assistant Jeremy, played by Colin Titley, was according to the book, actually Jessics, but for whatever company reason, had changed sex.  This was a master-stroke because Colin retained all female dialogue and characteristics and was quite hilarious – his affronted dignity, grievances, complaints and mannerisms adding a new dimension to life in this office.  Sue Maher and David Garner played Enid and Walter, permanent fixtures in the office, and used their experience and considerable acting skills to maximise all the comedy in their dialogue eventually revealing the real reason for their daily attendance.  Jane Parker was Mary who really actually wanted to work in the theatre in some way.  She didn’t know what she had lt herself in for, but was so real as she put up with being kept waiting;  forced to choose which type of unwanted coffee forced on her; put up with implausible advice;  try to make sense of numerous Enid and Walter anecdotes and yet still retain dignity, ambition, enthusiasm and bring some reality to the office.  All this she showed most convincingly and, as an agent, I would have found her a part immediately without an audition.  Well played by all the cast and to Roger who directed the play so ingeniously and drew such clever performances from his cast.  He was responsible also for Stage Management, Sound and Lights.  Is there anything beyond him?  If I thought it would help I’d suggest him for the Brexit negotiations.

Congratulations to all involved in any way in this quite incredible evening – real Community theatre in every sense of the word.

Thank you as ever for your warm welcome and hospitality.