Dramatic Societies
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by Alistair Foot & Anthony Marriott


hats-nspwbI feel this production was a brave one on your part to tackle for no other reason than the involved nature of the set. Seven entrances with kitchen and living room onstage would present problems for companies with much larger stages than yours which is also restricted in the wings. You managed it very realistically with no apparent inconvenience to cast who never seemed to get in anybody’s way even when the pace became frantic after the interval. Their knowledge of the geography was faultless and the strict training regimes which they must have undergone in rehearsal at speed proved perfection can be achieved in certain areas.

Furniture was kept to the required minimum and was strategically placed for its necessary use. You had to accommodate ten actors, including a delivery person and as the deliveries got progressively bigger as the story unfolded and the whole pace of the action became breakneck, you coped well with everything required of the story from a setting point of view, without appearing to be cramped in any way. Well done!

The story, like all good farces, is almost impossible to describe logically to anybody who hasn’t seen it. The play starts unremarkably with a young couple, recently married, who are living in a Bank apartment., the husband being the assistant Manager of the Bank Branch. His wife has followed up an advertisement by a Scandinavian import company, whose products she has in some way misinterpreted. Thinking she would be able to sell their glassware and thus make a second income, the whole project was thrown into utter confusion when first pictures, then videos and finally books; all of a pornographic nature, begin to arrive. The getting rid of these incriminating – if found- articles proves to be no easy matter, in fact, the plans to do just that, though appearing to be the obvious simple thing to do, create the most enormous problems, particularly the books, of which there seem to be hundreds. Various eccentric characters like mother-in-law, a fellow bank employee, the bank manager himself, a police superintendent, an insomniac bank inspector from Hounslow, and finally two extremely obliging, accommodating young women who seem to be the next step after the books, become involved in the story much to the delight of the audience, who seemed somewhat subdued at first while all the subsequent machinations were being set-up – natural, of course, because our appetites have to be whetted, for what always has to follow in farces. In your case what followed was approaching riot.

In farce, team playing is the order of the day. There is always a hero or heroine around whom a certain problematic situation arises and who have to absorb much of the action required to solve the original problem. However they can’t do it on their own and need other characters to help. These others are either willing or desperately against becoming involved, but who all become involved through either no fault of their own or because they are naturally incompetent, so fate or luck never shines upon them. Therefore, casts have to play as a team – with, against, for, to, off, in spite of, each other to achieve eventual success. There is no place for an individual because, apart from all the physical antics you have to get up to with each other and the ridiculous situations in which you find yourself, your dialogue sets up, reinforces and makes others’ laugh lines. Sometimes just a look or a facial expression does the necessary. Farce is arguably the most difficult form of theatre because of all that complication. Apologies for the lecture – only included because I thought your team playing was an object lesson to us all and was one of the reasons for your audience’s delight.

James Eckersley and Debbie Dickerson played Peter and Frances Hunter, the newly weds, with the problem. Most of the situations which arose involved them, and the plans, ideas, suggestions, orders, instructions to solve them, came from them. They both believed in their roles implicitly and pushed the pace along with spot on timing which gave to the story a plausibility which was easy for us to relate to. The familiarity with which they raced about the set made it easy to accept they lived there and they coped with all thrown at them with a joyous abandon. James’ reading out the double- entendre video titles (Dick Turpin rides again and again and again) was a verbal comic highlight of the night and Debbie’s face, never still, acting and reacting even when only listening – a lesson for all farceurs. They even managed to find time for the odd cuddle. Well played both.

Lindsay Andrews played Eleanor, Peter’s mother, come there to stay the night. We were watching an experienced actress at work. Never once out of character, her poise and delivery spoke volumes as the upper class mother-in-law, she thought she was. Easy for daughters-in-law to raise eyebrows at, when she had left the room, but easy to like because she meant so well. The unfortunate destructions of the successive bunches of flowers she kept replacing was part of the fun and showed her generosity of spirit, and the sublime, impassive way she remained unaware of the chaos surrounding her was well maintained.

Chris Silke was Brian Runnicles, Peter’s bank colleague. I wonder if, when he accepted the part, he knew just what he was letting himself in for. Just about every misfortune the authors could introduce into this preposterous story, had to be negotiated by Chris. He participated and was up to his neck in most of them. He coped and dealt with them all with an abandon and a vast good nature which made one wonder where all the energy and the obvious sense of humour came from. He deserved the rest he was able to steal momentarily when in a drunken stupor towards the end. Also, his build helped when virtually undressed in a tiny ballet frill. Well played.

Roger Clayson was Mr Bromhead, the Bank Manager. Full of dignity and “board-room” importance, he maintained his aloof candour and business disposition, even when strange things began to happen. After his proper and strait-laced evening out with Eleanor, he became doomed to spend the night. Never out of character, there was belief and truth in his characteristic approach – a role necessary in all farce

Alan Wright was Arnold Needham, the Bank Inspector from Hounslow who had difficulty sleeping unless he took his pills. One can predict what is going to happen when he has to stay the night. His regular interruptions on stage for replacement bulb, glass of water etc necessitated various stages of deshabille including pyjamas until finally, when Susan and Barbara had got to work on him, underpants only. Fortunately, he found a convenient frame to lean against, back to audience, before he momentarily lost those. Another joyous entering into the spirit of the role.

The small part of Police Superintendent Paul was played by Roy Eckersley. He added a further pressure to the plot by introducing a police presence and was convincing in his role in his smart uniform, though I did wonder if his trousers were the same material as the jacket.

Karen Newman and Jeanette Thornley were Susan and Barbara, the fourth delivery presumably from the Art Company. We soon realised why they had been sent and their expertise almost worked, particularly with two male characters. Eventually they solved the disposal of the books problem by stealing the van.

Linda Grierson-Irish was the courier.

Direction was in the capable hands of Lara Daintree. So much to organise, so many twists and turns, so much physical knock-about comedy to train actors to do expertly, so much dialogue to pace realistically. Rehearsals must have been full of fun and very hard work. Your ideas were original and interesting and you welded together a team who believed in and got so much obvious joy from what they were doing – evidence of which you must have felt in your audiences’ appreciation.

A couple of small carps. When working without house curtains, ends of scenes and the end of the play have to be tightly disciplined and plotted in close unison with your lighting department. They should happen in as close to black as is possible while still ensuring there is safety in cast exits, unless exits are actually made to be part of the action in full light – not always possible. On no account should audience be able to see actors dancing off in time to the music playing, nor should they be allowed to throw their caps in the air and catch them on their way off., no matter how thrilled they are with their performance. Final line-ups also should be disciplined – actors should be told how many bows to take and that is inviolate. Some bowing twice and then turning to go off while the others bow again looks sloppy. Just a carp. As my review says I thoroughly enjoyed your production.

Thank you for your hospitality and warm welcome as ever.