Association of Community Theatre

Show Reviews - June  2017


by Harold Brighouse



I approached your presentation with pleasurable anticipation because having spent my whole life until marriage, as a Salfordian, and having directed the play and also been in it, at various times, it was like visiting an old friend.  It took place in history well before my time, but my grandmother and grandfather would have remembered the time and what life was like in the working class then.  Family life was different and so were relationships in the streets of terraced houses and back yards of Salford, the working class ally of Cottonopolis Manchester.  There were two ever presents in the lives of most of the inhabitants of the cobbled streets – either the church or the pub, - in our play “The Moonrakers”.  As your programme explains the story is full of real grit and much humour and the Life of Salford folk, their social connections and customs which laid the foundations of life as we know it to-day, although vastly changed.


The story revolves around the shoe shop of Henry Hobson, his three daughters, Maggie, Alice and Vicky, his two skilled workers, Willie and Tubby, and various other acquaintances who all fill smaller but nevertheless important roles.  Henry, having reached retirement age, now spends increasingly longer times in “The Moonrakers” and leaves his daughters, particularly Maggie, to run his business for him, whilst still attempting to rule them and their lives despotically after their mother’s death, even though with their growing maturity their thoughts and interests are becoming centred elsewhere.  When Maggie decides she will marry Willie Mossop, the boot-hand, the balloon goes up “proper” and leads to all sorts of trials and tribulations, situations, changes, argument and drastic re-appraisals causing vast life-style amendments to be made, all told with emotion, no little drama and no end of uproarious fun leading to a happy ending for all, but perhaps with some reservations from Henry.


Your set was imaginatively conceived and expertly built, using every inch of your available, somewhat diminutive size, particularly when the action takes place in three separate locations – the shop, Maggie and Willie’s shop and confined living place in Oldfield Road and finally, the living-room behind the Hobson shop in Chapel Street.  In addition, there was much toing and froing through the Shop door in and out of Chapel Street, so black cloths were strategically and effectively used.


The shop was well represented with impressive counter, two seater couch and easy chair, two artistic display areas of shelves and of a table, filled with examples of the excellent standard of different types of footwear made in the establishment.  In addition to the shops door, there were entrances SL and SR.


I thought the shop windows were super with the clever name of the business, the back of which we could see through the shop enabling passers by to read it from the correct side and the splendid array of old Salford on the windows facing into the room – a splendid innovative idea.

After the wedding, furniture from Act 1 cleverly disguised to furnish Maggie and Willie’s place – door to bedroom and steps USC to front door, and then in the next scene a free standing door in its frame CS marked the doorway from the shop into the living-room –shop visible behind it and DS was the room itself.  A most ingenious and well thought out setting for the play – not easy to imagine and create. So well done,  indeed.


To change the settings from scene to scene required actions from back stage and time, which it efficiently received but I couldn’t really understand why it was accomplished with the auditorium each time left in complete darkness.  Audiences I feel are accustomed to the lights coming on between scenes, unless changes are instantaneous – it gives them a chance to natter about what they have just seen etc.  As it was, almost total silence was achieved, in which the noises of the scene change became all too obvious because of audience silences.


Colin Magenty played Henry Hobson, father of three daughters and proud proprietor of a somewhat up-market shoe making business and shop in Chapel Street, Salford, now run by Maggie and her younger sisters, who also have to look after him since their mother’s death.  He is full of bluster, rules, orders, demands and complaints about their “uppishness”. Every day is a battle about most things, for instance, meal times, and Colin made us soon aware of his rules and regulations, and that he is now beginning to lose control without realising or accepting it.  As well as playing a character like Henry, an actor must attack it and that is what he did in full measure with both barrels.  Even when he began to lose major issues, he showed pride and dignity, and there was something deeply moving about his demeanour and acceptance of defeat after battling so hard against family, their marriages, court case, solicitors, doctor and friend.  Occasionally, pace was a little uneven, as if contemplating the next line, but quickly reassuringly maintained.  Well played.


Suzanne Kinghorn was Maggie, the elder daughter, and the power behind the throne.  There were occasions when I felt she could have come across a shade more forcefully, but considering all the difficult situations in which she was placed, Suzanne’s characterisation was a complete representation of Maggie.  Steadfast, loyal, reassuring, motivated, considerate, talented and resolute.  She was the brains behind the business and she didn’t miss a trick in showing us all these qualities.  Not rated by her father in the marriage stakes, she typified love, devotion and pride in her chosen and re-made Willie.  “Everything I’ve seen I’ve liked.  You’re my man, Willie Mossop”.  So much of this happy ending was down to Maggie, and all our Maggie was due to Suzanne.  Well done.


Willie Mossop was played by Ian Taylor and the transformation from ordinary, simple, illiterate boot hand to successful, skilled, business man, one step away from a place in St. Ann’s Square, was patiently, fondly and gradually put before us by Ian so that I felt it was actually happening in PADOS House to-night.  Such a difficult part to play convincingly because of the magnitude of the life changes inherent in the story, different experiences on most pages and the genuine gentle humour of the character itself.  Ian was convincing in all he did and he showed the world as a place which became a source of never-ending wonderment to him, from permission to kiss the sister’s cheeks, to being asked to make decisions on important matters.  The courage yet misgiving felt when knocking on the bedroom door, knowing Maggie was inside waiting, was worth the ticket money on its own and didn’t need words.  A sublime moment among many.  Well played.


Marion Rowbottom and Justine Boardman were sisters, Alice and Vicky, and lit up the stage by their presence and place in the story.  Beautifully costumed and dressed in period, like all the actors, it being a feature of the story.  They showed their characters and inner feelings with studied detail and their developing love stories alongside their believable burgeoning maturity was a pleasure to follow.  It was interesting to see how they emerged from under the yoke and found happiness.  Both actresses added much to the production and gave entertaining characterisations full of dedication and feelings.


Bob Hopkinson played Jim Heeler, Henry’s mate and drinking companion.  Full of worldly wisdom and the desire to help, Bob filled his role with good nature and advice which came from the heart, sense, companionship and, in his unique way, care for his pal.  A gentle, understanding performance, who it would please me no end to have the odd beer with.


Jason Dunk brought all his experience to bear in playing Dr MacFarlane, the local Scottish doctor, brought in to administer to Henry after his fall through a grating on his way home from the Moonrackers.  With a Scottish accent genuine and realistic enough to place Jason as a son of the true Highlander, he used his considerable acting prowess to get Henry to take his medication but without success.


Rob Livesey was Albert Prosser, honourable solicitor, unintentional buyer of a pair of handsome patent leather boots and eventual husband of Alice.  He was a very imposing and effective legal saviour of Henry, and so in character that I felt he was at least destined for the High Court or at least, Law and Order on Channel 10.


Other smaller parts, still vital to the story, were in the very capable and talented hands of Chris Livesey as Mrs Hepworth – a delightful upper class lady who could recognise an expert shoe maker when she saw one and wanted his creations exclusively;  Simon Fletcher was Tubby Wadlow, Willie’s workmate who beguiled us with yet another dialect, this time well blessed with the blarney;  Roxanne Burns was Ada Figgins, Willie’s erstwhile girl friend and her Mum’s lodger;  Kevin Burke was Fred Beenstock, who became Vicky’s intended, and such a dependable ally when crisis struck. They say there are no small parts in theatre – well. It’s true.  Each of these good people gave their all to compliment the production and the story being told on stage and gave much added strength to the performance.


John Flay, the Director, masterminded the whole project and thus created a memorable end to PADOS’s season.  It is regrettably easy for some directors to try to be different to the detriment of the play, but John was inventive and still true to the play’s script and ethos, and essentially its period.  As a couple of examples, let me mention the incredible scene of the wedding guests clustered behind the door, eavesdropping and constantly changing positions of comfort as they listened, and the cast’s Victorian photograph poses in the final line ups.  Not too sure about Henry’s bursting in with “uppishness” but, on the other hand, I suppose he deserved to be allowed a show of spirit considering all he’d had to put up with.  Hearts and souls were on view on your stage to-night and the depth involved was remarkable.


Enjoy your summer break.  For some “it will be of too short a lease” before you have “to strut and fret your hour upon the stage again”.  Never mind – just remember “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”.


Many thanks for your friendly welcome and hospitality.  Happy play making.