Association of Community Theatre


by Gareth Armstrong

Altrincham Little Theatre


This has been one of the most difficult things I have found to write. As a number of you know, the opening night of this play was quite tragic. During the interval, one of the actors- David Garner, became ill and passed away in hospital the following day.


I, like many of you, had shared the stage with David during “The Music Man” for Stockport Operatic Society in 2008. I am very saddened at this time and offer my condolences to David’s immediate family, and also to his wider am-dram family and friends.


I have deliberated for quite some time about whether I should write something. And. if I did. how would I start? I looked again at the programme and found myself reading the words of the director. Michael Russell, that this play “… reflects the reality of shared lives, memories and the positive things that come with being more mature…”. This resonated with me and so my decision was made to write about act one. The collective cast had, after all, shared a significant amount of time in each other’s company during rehearsals.


This play, written in 2015 by Gareth Armstrong, is a collection of reminiscences shared at a memorial service attended by the former colleagues of a deceased stage performer. This is a five-handed comedy which the director himself notes how lucky he was to work with such an experienced cast and crew.


Act one centres around the coming together of five of the deceased associates. They meet, to discuss the organisation of the memorial service and to share their recollections. This meeting takes place in a typical church storage room adorned with mismatched emergency chairs, boxes, and tat left over from various jumble sales. There was a nice added touch, whether intentional or not, of colour from pieces of Christmas tinsel to break up the bleakness of the room. Nothing else detracted from the conversations that took place between the characters.


David Reynolds, created the feeling of calmness and serenity throughout as the obliging Rev. Tom Halladyne. While Cressida Brent - Christine Perry – a one-time actress who had become a stage manager for 40 years, tried valiantly to keep all the other characters focused on the discussion of the forthcoming memorial service. She joined in the reminiscences, and gave an air of exasperation when others were too unkind.


Barbara Steel was into full flow as the scatty actress, Zoe Seymour, who was a theatrical actress in the West End and also off-Broadway, but was now a star in a radio soap, and was referred to as a national treasure with an MBE. Her entrance onto stage was powerful. She was dressed in a brilliant blue outfit, and some of her first lines were shocking, but had that laugh-out-loud quality to them.


From the start John Westbrook established his character of  the aging, gay lothario, Barry Dumont, who had a much younger, rich partner. Here was a character who seemed to be very forgiving and enjoyed life.


David Garner, on the other hand, was more condemning of their shared times with the deceased. You got the sense that his character – Donald Sowerby and the deceased Douglas were in competition for the same roles and that there was a degree of rancour about the way they had all been treated. It is a testament to David’s professionalism that, if he was feeling unwell during the first half, he didn’t show it, and stayed in character and moved the dialogue on.


This was a play that moved at a reflective speed, establishing the characters and the recollections of the deceased. There was a sense that dark secrets were to be revealed but the dialogue was light, and recollections given were pretty mundane and not outrageously shocking. The humorous one-liners and put-me-downs were delivered with clarity and timing by the cast.


As the week went by, I wondered about how all who shared the stage that evening would be feeling? In conclusion, I went back to the words of Michael Russell in the programme when he said,  “… during our breaks in rehearsal (we – the cast) discussed plays gone by, which yielded a wealth of stories, a mountain of gossip and an almost indecent amount of laughter. All those elements are part of celebrating life, and theatre should be a celebration of life …” and this was comforting.


I am sure that in the past weeks, months and future years, David Garner will be spoken about, the parts he played, the fun he had on stage and his love of theatre. David, will be “Fondly Remembered”.