Association of Community Theatre
Show Reviews 2017
BLACKADDER GOES FORTH
by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton
Worsley Intimate Theatre
A brave and recently topical choice, this one, because you had chosen the First World War episodes – topical because of the anniversary and brave because of the widespread popularity of the much loved T V series. When a Company presents something so universally well known involving characterisations initially associated with and created by the performances of household names, one begs comparison. While there is scope and desire for individuality with characters like Prof. Higgins, Fagin or Jean Valjean, there is much less so with material specifically written for the skills and vagaries of particular “stars”. Companies open themselves to comparison, so let me say at the outset that in your production, your cast did the Company and themselves proud, by producing characterisations that were recognisable by voice and mannerisms, yet were essentially so individual in performance that the play scored on all fronts. Your director, Sally, obviously set the parameters for this, and both she and her cast deserve credit for the way the whole project turned out, paying due respect to their illustrious predecessors, whilst at the same time giving their local audience an enjoyable, fun filled yet thought provoking experience.
You had chosen three episodes from the series – “Major Star”, “Corporal Punishment” and “Goodbyee”, each separated by an interval, during which, back stage were able to perform their work. With each new production, you give ample proof of how you are coming to terms with your different surroundings. The width of your stage enabled you, this time, to set at least three different locations for your audience to be greeted by – one of them used more than once for prison and another time for Field Marshal Haig’s office. Most of the centre of your stage was given over to the dug-out inhabited mainly by Capt. Blackadder, Lt. George and Pvt. Baldrick. It was realistically conceived with beds and props necessary to ensure that life was being lived in such bleak surroundings, I liked the way every actor entering or leaving the place, ducked his head at roughly the same spot, giving realism to the idea they were entering or leaving some sort of trench. SL was General Melchett’s HQ - more palatial (possibly an acquired French Chateau or such) and SR the multipurpose location. Between audience and set were some lines of sandbags stretching across the stage and the whole effect given off by this intricately designed scenery was of being there. Allied to this, the cast’s performances were such that we didn’t feel as if we were watching actors at work, but, as if by some quirk of fate we were somehow on the Somme, observing moments of realism, with the accent on finely drawn humour throughout, but underpinned by history. One could hardly reconcile life in the trenches during the First World War as being fertile ground for humour, yet so brilliantly written is the script and so closely created are the bizarre, preposterous characters and their impossible antics that belief in real life was suspended both on and off stage.
This story is of the latest and possibly last member of the Blackadder dynasty – now a Captain in the British Army – and of his thwarted attempts to escape from the trenches. We watched them all with glee – Lt. George purporting to be Georgina; Bob, the General’s driver of indeterminate sex, who only fooled the actors, certainly not the audience; Baldrick’s Charlie Chaplin imitation; General Melchett’s desire for a relationship with Georgina and George’s version of what really happened; Blackadder’s attempts to avoid the firing squad; the General’s Aide de Camp whose surname was Darling; and all the rest. What challenges for the cast, what fun for the audience and, I suspect, the cast as well. Pace was not allowed to drop, but I did wonder whether all the frequent blackouts were totally necessary. Were there no possibilities where characters could have been seen re-locating to their next scene if it was successive, using the proper “doors” etc, of course. It just struck me that there seemed to be continual blackouts after some very short scenes. You’d obviously been aware and decided it wouldn’t have worked, so put it down to my one permitted carp.
David Griffiths played Captain Edmund Blackadder, rarely off stage. He pitched across his lines with venom, spite, sarcasm and, when required to, with incredulity. On the odd occasion I thought I could hear Rowan Atkinson but rarely; and David made the part very much his own. He is to be admired for taking a part specially written for an actor with very individual characteristics, well known to millions, and making it very much his own. This was a genuinely original performance and refreshing because of it. He extracted the most he could out of of this extraordinary character and put up with all “the slings and arrows” thrown at him, with impunity and equanimity. He faced a fearsome task and yet was equal to all that the character required of him. Well played!
Andy Chase was Baldrick, the slow-witted, ever helpful gopher of Blackadder – the butt of his acid-tongued put downs. Here again we saw an actor stamping his own individuality on a role. So good natured and always there when wanted, extremely dependable, but totally useless to the outcome of Blackadder’s schemes. His attempts at out of date cross dressing and Charlie Chaplin were quite hilarious and he brought his own characteristics to his role.
Roger Norman played General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett and blustered, bluffed, dominated and thundered his way across the story. It was good to see him again in a sizeable role and he took it by the scruff of its neck. Inefficient, slow on the uptake, easily fooled yet totally Oxbridge and Sandhurst. These descriptions are, I suppose, inherent in the script, but all and many more besides, were found by Roger and all became synchronised and prevalent in his Commanding Officer. The comment about “heroes led by asses” was descriptive of Melchett and Roger used it so well. His use of the “darling” as a double entendre when talking to Kevin Darling was hilarious and his pursuit of George(-ina) was priceless.
Captain Kevin Darling was played by Simon Griffiths. Hee was Melchett’s Aide de Camp and gave a very sincere performance. Dependable, full of truth and efficiency, he made the absolute “most” out of all his dialogue, and his reasons for why he shouldn’t be forced to go “over the top” were so sincerely put as to be utterly acceptable. A totally convincing performance which added strength to the production. Well done.
Nicholas Eccles took on the role of Leiut. George Colthurst St. Barleigh – gentle, respectful and obedient. So many different facets to this role, which was probably the busiest of them all. Nick attacked them all with fierce enthusiasm and positive joy so we were able to believe in him whether sashaying about as Georgina or telling of his “amorous” experiences with the General. Funny and entertaining in all he did, he was probably the most “Gung ho” of them all, so that the way he felt on the front line and the way he described his true feelings, made us all stop and realise he was speaking for them all.
Bob, Melchett’s driver was played by Esme Mather. Masculine in appearance, but the fact that we realised but the cast didn’t just added to the fun. She was very disciplined in her role which, of course, was essential but I got the impression that Esme added a slight, whimsicality which, of course, gave us the suggestion that Bob was enjoying the situation. Cleverly done – pity we couldn’t have seen more of “him”.
Richard Griffiths played dual roles of Sergeant Jones, the leader of the firing squad and Field Marshall Haig, the Commander in Chief. Both are relatively minor roles but totally different in approach and presentation. As well as his considerable gifts as an experienced actor, Richard possesses one of the most natural laughs to grace the amateur stage. He’s not laughing because the script demands it but because he feels the natural mirth in the line and the situation. Therefore so do we and in this case, so must have Blackadder in his relationship with approaching execution, which he was spared, thank goodness.
Dominic Harris, Mark Thornley, Joe Madden and Chris Charleston played various Army roles and added strength to the production by their involvement. Stage Management – in the devoted hands of Sarah Thorpe and Sarah Kirk, ensured the far from easy production ran smoothly and Sound and Lighting, by Trudy Kaye, added drama and depth.
Sally Griffiths master-minded the whole project and brought all component parts together to work as a co-ordinated whole – no mean feat. She drew from her cast, versatility and characterisations in keeping with their individual skills and her caring production and ideas gave her audiences an evening which will live in the memory. The final scene when our heroes finally went into action was very moving. They took aim at the audience, dropped their rifles behind the sandbags, then picked up poppy petals which they scattered symbolically around the place where they died, and we felt we knew exactly what their final thoughts were without a word being said. Congratulations to all connected in any way.
I can offer no more fitting tribute than to leave you in Wilfred Owens’ hands with some lines from his “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.
“What passing bells for those who die as cattle,
Only the monstrous anger of the guns...............
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds”.
Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori.
Thank you as ever for your warm welcome.