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H.A.T.S. Theatre Group

It is always exciting to be at  the first night of any play but when it is also the first play of the new season, it always seems to be just that little bit more special.  When the curtains opened we were in the living –room of a Victorian cliff-top house with an overall red feel to it.  I felt this gave your set the right ambience because red can be a very atmospheric, dramatic colour.  I had never come across this play before – I remember the author, Brian Clemens, from the famous, popular “Avengers” series and that tenuous snippet, plus the play’s title and a vague feeling that there was something dramatic ahead, seemed to be confirmed by the first sight of your set.  Well done – you had certainly put us in the mood.

French windows with a cliff view US and a door USR.  Arched opening to the rest of the house USL with a fireplace SL.  A fair amount of action went on throughout, round this all totally hidden from me and I suspect many sitting on the extreme R of the auditorium, by a large black curtained area – lights? or whatever – obviously necessary or it wouldn’t have been there.  I should have changed sides at the interval – my fault, but I’m only mentioning it because it was large and somewhat obtrusive.  Important much used desk and door SR, and various other tables, chairs etc scattered about, including small dining table US.  Portraits of foregone VIP above the desk – artistically done – all in all an obviously homely much used setting – ideal for a place for this story.
The story revolves around Emma Cranwell who has been missing for three years, believed to have been in hospital or a home in Ireland and has been suffering from total amnesia.  She has returned to her parents Max and Laura, and is slowly beginning to remember things and put her life back together again.  Obviously, all is not above board – Max is evasive and secretive – his wife obviously knows more than she is letting on and is in fear of something;  who is Hardy, the ostensible butler and why does he seem inordinately obsessed with the desk and trying to get his hands on the locked contents?;  what is the motive in his strange relationship towards Penny, the maid?;  and what is it about the portrait that unsettles Emma and why has she the morbid fear of knives?  As if all these ingredients weren’t  enough to be going on with Livago turns up late in the story and he really complicates matters and brings a frightening complication to the story.  There are many strands to the plot, each designed to whet your dramatic appetite.  Although this is only my second season of enjoying your work, I feel that this particular play represents a departure from what I have seen before and has represented a brave challenge for you.  Full marks for your spirit of adventure.  We can’t stand still in this game and, apart from due regard to our active on and off stage members and their preferences and targets, we have a duty to both give pleasure and extend the horizons of our audiences, because they are one reason for our existence – a very important one, which must be considered.  Full marks for rising to the challenge.

Unfortunately, Lindsey Andrews was indisposed and, at short notice, Anita Partridge, read in the part of Laura.  All companies tread this tight-rope – I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often when one considers the stress and demands we all go through playing our part, but usually a “brave and skilled heart” is found to “fill the breach” – in your case, Anita Partridge stepped in and did a wonderful job.  Her skill and devotion made it look easy – I’m sure it wasn’t for her or for her fellow actors either, but after a few moments the adjustment was accepted and her experience and ability made us unaware, so cleverly did she combine her unobtrusive use of the book and her memory.  Well done!

Sarah Eckersley played Emma – beautifully dressed she lit up the stage with her smiling face and burgeoning joy of life as she tries to put the past behind her.  Not a straightforward part, this one, because there are so many strands to her character.  I’ve mentioned joy but there were darker unexplained threads such as the portrait, the fear of knives and the frustrating inability to throw any light on the past and find links to the present,  giving her a sense of belonging and an accepted place in things.  She wove all these strands into the enigma that was Emma and was convincing in all she did, the lovable, affectionate attitude towards Max and Laura; the unconfined pleasure she derived from her birthday presents; and yet, the fear and terror always simmering away out of sight yet liable to burst out from time to time.  She coped well with all these vicissitudes in her life and gave a thoroughly thought provoking performance.

Frank Oates was Max, the father, and he gave a clever, experienced characterisation – experienced because he used his acting skills to deal most effectively with all the sudden changes foisted upon him by things beginning to go wrong with his master plan and clever because he kept his audience guessing to the last possible moment.  We knew he was devious, but had literally no idea of the game he was playing.  He seemed to be all things to everyone and it was really only his sudden anger late on and his problem caused by Livago’s arrival that made us realise the double game he was playing and the danger Emma was in.  Well done!

Linda Grierson-Irish played Penny the maid and gave a totally convincing performance in an unusually demanding role for a maid.  She was integrally important to the plot of the play and involved in many of the issues inherent  in this ingeniously written play..  Full of animation in her movement and light and shade in her delivery of lines, everything required of her seemed so typical,  whether lighting the fire, setting the table, serving coffee, dealing with Hardy’s advances or  telling her contribution to the story.  I had almost to remind myself I was watching an actress at work and not the maid in a large house in Victorian times.  Well played.
James Eckersley took the part of Hardy, the butler I suppose you would call him.  He was acting like a butler, but didn’t really look like one.  What butler would wear his apron and cleaning sleeves when seeing to his serving duties or waiting orders and instructions from his master or for that matter address his master in such a way, and what was his inordinate interest in the contents of the desk all about?What was behind his strange advances towards Penny?  James played all the facets of Hardy to the manner born.  He played him with charm, mystery, resolution and purpose.  We couldn’t really warm to him, but there was something that made us feel secure and glad he was around.  The denouement was clean and quickly achieved and all became clear.  It takes an actor on the top of his game to metaphorically ask all these questions and still keep us wondering.  Well done!
Adam Wright was Livago who didn’t appear until the second act but once on, there was no mystery or wondering to be done about him.  Apparently he was once Emma’s husband, and the devilish plot was soon laid before us forcing Max and Laura to hastily change their nefarious schemes.  Smiling, flowery, sinister, creepy and unctuous Adam gave his character full value for money and seemed to enjoy what he was doing and saying.  He tells the story of how he married Emma, how she can’t be Max and Laura’s daughter and how she tried to murder him.  The smile on his face was the smile of an assassin and his wrath had to be seen to be believed.

Congratulations to Christine Clayson on her direction of a difficult piece of theatre.  You were careful not to spill over into melodrama and drew from your cast performances which made every character interesting, believable and thought provoking.  In rehearsal you had allowed them to develop their roles incorporating their ideas, individuality and particular skill.  Each showed interesting characteristics and we were treated to the telling of a fascinating story which kept us involved right to the end.  Well done.

Well done to all involved both on and off stage – you gave your audience an interesting thought provoking evening.  One personal carp – I wasn’t too sure about the background music – it is a dramatic play and old music hall songs didn’t seem to suit as well as say some mood music unless, that is, you were playing the piece for laughs and I didn’t think you were.  Performances were too realistic  for that.

Thank you for your warm welcome