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HATS Theatre Group

tn-hats-famLet me compliment you first on your programme. It is the first thing the audience see before the curtains open so I thought I would comment on it first. How cleverly and artistically designed it was. If you opened it one way – you could read all about HATS, the people involved in the production and see the cast, photographs and the roles they were playing. Open it the other way you could read all about Farndale and their cast members and the roles they were playing. Two for the price of one and you could easily fill in the time waiting for the production to start by enjoying the picture of the Farndale production on stage and still not spot everything on it. Well done David Bramwell – there could have been a place for it at the Royal Academy.

There are approximately thirty-two character roles in this play, acted by approximately nine actors. I say approximately because various people, such as prompts, directors, winners of cake and home-made jam raffles etc., do appear on stage from time to time, causing further mayhem and adding to the overall fun. Therefore, in a review such as this, it is impossible to mention each actor or for that matter, their role by name. That's for an adjudicator. Heaven help him/her! However, I genuinely feel that every actor (character) on your stage supported, enhanced and strengthened your production by their skill, enthusiasm, capacity for hard work, unselfish team playing and sheer energy. They believed in everything they were doing, did their best to make sure we did and hoped that we would believe it too, and to accept that none of the thing's that went wrong – actually everything – was their fault. In other words, what did go wrong was completely out of their control, when in actual fact only about half of it was. What was down to them was the pretence that they didn't know their lines, were in the wrong place at the right time,were in the right place at the wrong time, were not able to hear the prompt,could hear the prompt but you were being given the wrong line, you were given the wrong prop or it was the right prop but it didn't work etc. etc. etc. Add to all this, the things that were not under your control anyway such as lighting and sound effects, other actors, were conspiring against you and you have some idea of what this play is about. How on earth your merry band of players coped with all this is known only to themselves, but cope they did and they gave their audience an evening of rollicking, sustained fun and entertainment.

Acting ability is, of course, tantamount to all I have so far written about and there was plenty of that basic skill on show in this play. It could be said that the pressure was off your cast because they were playing actors who were playing roles they were not good enough to play. I don't subscribe to that idea, because it is not easy when one has talent to pretend one hasn't because one's natural gifts get in the way and anyway timing, pausing, facial expression, movement etc. all still have to come into play. Things we find natural at home become fiendishly difficult on stage, sometimes,. The performances of your actors in this play pretending to be poor actors having to deal with everything going wrong was quite masterly, I thought. It could have been embarrassing but it was just the opposite – very believable, great fun for the audience and of obvious real fun and enjoyment to the cast.

Congratulations to Doreen Cockshott on her direction of this difficult play. Having been involved in a couple of the Farndale series myself in the past, I know they present problems for the director. Situations and comedy business is suggested and, indeed, is inherent in the script but needs to be moulded and added to with ideas from the director and indeed, by contributions from actors themselves. I am sure Doreen had capitalised on that and I can well imagine rehearsals being great fun. All the basics were there and she produced from her cast characterisations that were both funny and real, and, best of all, they went on all night – in the interval even and after the play was supposed to be over with the adjudications.

I have already paid tribute to the cast for their endeavours and their supremely important and multifarious contributions to the production. I do have to mention specifically though some individual characterisations because their roles were mainly individual ones and also vital to the play.

Barbara Williamson played Mrs Reece, who welcomed us on behalf of Farndale and was on and off throughout, keeping us up to date with company activities, organising the raffle, trying to ameliorate the disastrous problems going on throughout, dealing with an outrageously gay adjudicator – in other words trying courageously but vainly to gloss over the looming disaster and keep everything afloat. If that wasn't enough to be expected of an obviously experienced actress, she also played Lady Macduff and the doctor. Well played in your marathon. I believed every word of it !!

Garry Blair played George Peach, the gay adjudicator – shades of Larry Grayson. Not an easy role to play because it can be overdone. when it becomes embarrassing. For most of the time, Garry had it under control, only occasionally O.T.T. - mainly with the mincing walk which tended to be overdone. Otherwise, it was all there – the doleful look, the toss of the head, the powdering of the nose, the stressed way of speaking and the delivery of his adjudication afterwards was spot on and very funny. His outfit for the gay ball he was going to was just perfect – as though he had been measured for it – Kate Moss eat your heart out.

Finally, in all this chaos, there has to be one character who has to come across as a serious, competent actress – there must be a story behind how this elite actress became involved in the disaster that was Farndale. Maybe she had been drummed out of drama school for some undisclosed indiscretion. Whatever – oh how she tried to uphold the Muse of Drama and bring the wonder of the Bard's magnificent lines to the Farndale stage. Unfortunately, after trying so hard to immortalise Macbeth (she really did speak the lines well), Linda Irish too had to slowly but vindictively admit defeat. Well done indeed. Seriously – I rather think I would like to see Linda in the same part in a real, all female production of the Scottish play.

Finally, well done to Chris Silke, playing Henry. He didn't know till five minutes before kick off that he was in the play at all.

Well done to all involved in the production, whether on stage or off, whether mentioned by name or not. You provided a great nights entertainment in a far from easy adventure.