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HATS Theatre Group

The Flying Doctor

Adapted from Moliere.

John Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his stage name of Moliere, began acting when he was 21 years old.  He had been in Paris in 1622 and began writing comedies in the late 1650’s.  Eventually he became known as one of the greatest masters of comedy play writing in Western Literature.  This play was one of his earliest and in it, he played the part of Sganarelle, a servant who becomes involved in a whole series of comedy situations which include quick changes of dress and identity, and many farcical developments.  There are some fifteen scenes in the play and much comedy business to be negotiated before a satisfactory conclusion is reached.  The plot revolves around Gorgibus, a wealthy citizen, who wishes his daughter, Lucile,  to marry a rich, much older man.  This, of course, does not go down well with his daughter who has fallen in love with a handsome, young man, Valere and therefore, measures must be taken so that everyone will live happily ever after.  Valeres servant, Sganarelle is prevailed upon to pretend to be a doctor, who will find some medical reason for the nuptials not to take place.  Monetary considerations will, of course, come into the equation and all appears to be falling into place nicely when complications start to arise, and our servant hero finds himself having to be both doctor and his brother consecutively and almost immediately, in the next room behind an ingeniously constructed door but visible through a window.

Your set was minimalistic with a free standing window framework CS with a cleverly designed door which opened differently allowing more space for the multi-character actor to change behind it out of the sight of the audience before he had to appear at the window and chat to cast members as somebody else.  Well achieved I thought.  There were entrances/exits SL and SR, but unfortunately the SR doorway was highly lit behind so we were well aware of action around and through it, if only constantly appearing and disappearing shadows.

Another interesting feature of your interpretation was the fact that only Sganarelle was played by a male actor.  The other six characters in the play, three of whom were male, were all played by actresses, which must have been an interesting experience for at least the three of them.

As with all farce, pace, timing and utter belief in all the characters activities, is of paramount importance and I have to say that there were occasions when pace did drag somewhat.  Having said that the stories were told interestingly, the plots and plans were laid ingeniously, audience interest was maintained and situations set up convincingly – all these factors are essentials when it comes to playing farce.  Also, the actresses playing male parts did, I feel, cope remarkebly well with the different approaches, movement, body language, attack and reaction required.

Linda Grierson Irish played Sabine, Lucile’s cousin and the small part as a Lawyer.  She used her experience and skill to good effect as she was the brains behind the deception and was convincing in what she had to do.  Lindsey Andrews, as Valere, Debbie Dickerson as Gros-Rene (wonderful beard) and Lara Daintree as Gorgibus, coped well with their “cross gender” parts, while Maria Holloway, as Lucile, the young daughter who was the heroine of the story, injected a breath of fresh air into the old story.  James Eckersley , as Sganarelle, was kept busy throughout with sudden character changes,, deceptions and other pressures required in playing farce and throughout kept a cheerful equanimity and well-timed change of identity as frequently required in his constantly changing roles – well played.


The Real Inspector Hound

by Tom Stoppard

This hilarious story of the uninvolved theatre critics, Moon and Birdboot, sent to review a production of a country house murder mystery “who dunnit” and by chance became involved  in the action causing a series of events that parallel the play they are watching, was, some years ago, a veritable “must” for amateur theatre companies, perhaps not so much nowadays.  Your company was quite brave and adventurous to couple it up with the Moliere for an evening’s entertainment – demanding but I think rewarding.  Your set was well constructed – super red-panelled walls, glass doors to a garden, fire place, chaise longue, doors SL and R, chairs, drinks table, ,radio/record player, pictures etc.

The “play”  is set in a theatre – play within a play – and takes place in Muldoon Manor – a lavish house among “desolate marshes and treacherous swamps” near a cliff.  It can be  compared to one of Agatha Christies well-known “closed” settings where no one can leave once they have entered, therefore the murderer must be one of them. (cf “and there were None”) – a personal coincidence here as I happen to be directing that one at the moment elsewhere.  The title is apparently a direct reference to the ending of “The Mousetrap” which guards the secrecy of the twist at the ending – a mixture of farce, satire and parody leading to absurdism.  The plot of the play is too complicated and devious to go into in a mere review and anyway would spoil the pleasure and machinations inherent in the script for any audience seeing it for the first time.  Newsweek described the author, Tom Stoppard as “the master comedian of ideas in the English Language.”

In previous productions of this play which I have seen,  the critics, Moon and Birdboot, have always been SL and SR each therefore looking at the action and talking cross stage to each other.  Your directors had them both SR sitting side by side and this seemed to create a closer bond between them even though they weren’t direct observers.  Their discussions about theatre techniques, plots, their backgrounds, experiences etc whilst waiting for the play to start, or while it was proceeding, seemed more apposite and interesting somehow, particularly as neither noticed the dead body, partially hidden, that was on the stage from the opening and ignored by all until later in the play.

 When Moon feels he has to answer the telephone ringing onstage, which has emptied of cast, only to find out it is Birdboot’s wife, he becomes involved in and accepted by plot and characters and a new, frightening aspect is introduced.  How many times do we, in real life, become involved in situations, through no fault of our own, that we can’t get out of and which become serious, worrying, dangerous even?  From now on, cast become different characters or the same ones as originally introduced with different identifications, stories, backgrounds or histories – a challenge for actors and particularly for your directors, Garry and Roy who had to steer a way through this minefield so that everyone on stage could provide this fascinating version that you obviously did and all of us watching could be entertained and thrilled as we obviously were.

The critics Moon and Birdboot, were played by Colin Baker and Adam Wright, respectively and what an incredible pair they turned out to be.  With masses of dialogue to learn, they invented two characters who were believable, knowledgeable and playing at the top of their game, particularly when required to make dramatic personality change which took them into the situation being played out on the stage.  Well played – they added much strength to the production.  Jeanette Thornley was Mrs Drudge – “the woman who does”.  She played the role with sensitivity and a deal of truism befitting her name.  Whether answering the phone – minutely dusting, furthering the story, explaining the action, facilitating card games or just being there, she was so endearing even.  Debbie Dickerson was Felicity Cunningham, friend of Cynthia, young, beautiful and innocent, was sweet and charming but seeks ruthless revenge.  A super stylised performance and great stage presence, as had Lindsey Andrews who played Cynthia Muldoon, widow of Lord Albert Muldoon who disappeared ten years ago.  Both Debbie and Lindsey’s tennis strokes were dramatic in the extreme and would have graced the Wimbledon Ladies semi-final any season, but might not have bothered Serena Williams too much in the final.   A commanding characterisation from Lindsey – definitely one to have on your side at cards.  Lara Daintree further enhanced her growing reputation of the convincing playing of male parts for the second time in one evening by playing Inspector Hound, or was she?  Well done – a thoroughly entertaining performance.  James Eckersley was Simon Gascoyne – erstwhile lover of Felicity and Cynthia and he played his “heroic” role with supreme presence and charm.  Chris Silke was Major Muldoon, Lord Muldoon’s crippled half-brother, recently back from Canada – or was he?  Full marks for driving skill piloting that wheel chair round the stage.  Chris gave us a performance that was both dynamic and full of menace.

Well done – Garry and Roy – for such a successful and entertaining evening which you both masterminded – only word to use when one considers the difficulties.  You drew from your casts believable performances full of essential timing and pace, which they obviously enjoyed , so did your audience.

Happy playmaking.