Association of Community Theatre


by Michael Cooney

Dukinfield A.O.D.S.


It is always an interesting experience to visit a company whose work I had never seen before.  Your reputation in musical theatre is legendary. The fact you have restarted your dramatic side after many years, made the visit doubly interesting.  Your welcome was so whole hearted by so many people that by the end of the evening I felt that I’d been visiting home.  Thank you for that – it is what community theatre is all about.  I was well acquainted with the work of the author’s father, Ray, having played in, and directed, a number of his farces and, indeed, seen him perform more than once, in the once famous Whitehall farces of Brian Rix fame.  I was prepared, therefore, for what the evening ahead was to bring, by being involved recently in a Play-Reading week-end, during which a hilarious farce written by them both was read.


There was a functional set consisting of a living room, somewhat sparsely furnished, but as it turned out very adequately, because much business and charging about had to go on.  There were four doors, two upstage, one SL (kitchen) and one SR (front door).  We could see the beginning of a flight of stairs USL and curtained windows USR.  Leather couch, window seat, chair, small table, pictures completed the furnishings which all looked eminently at home, leaving ample room for frequent ons and offs, and all the shenanigans which were about to follow.


I felt the play was a little slow to start with but this is the case with most farces.  The plot has to be explained so the audience can anticipate the fun to follow. Therefore, it is important to make the story as interesting and vividly told as possible.  Pace has to grow and it. As the story developed, it positively raced along, so that by the time the large cast (10) arrived and had slotted into their part in the story, the necessary frantic pace had been achieved.  Reactions have to be quick and cleverly timed.  Characters have to be shown as thinking on their feet and as each erroneous situation gets the perpetrators into more hot water, cast has to accept and reason everything out to make sense of the totally improbable situation. I got the feeling that I wasn’t watching actors at work, but that somehow, I had been permitted to be witnessing a group of real people, involved in the most unfortunate situations, which caused them to adopt ludicrous attempts to solve the mess they were in through no fault of their own.


Farces require team spirit of a high degree where you not only have to characterise your own part believably, you have to play with, to, for or against fellow cast members.  You have to set up situations, reinforce their laughs and react constantly and continuously.  I think your cast, completely at ease with itself and thoroughly enjoying what is was doing.  This communicated with your audience as you must have realised by the reception you received during the curtain calls which were so well deserved.


The character Eric has been defrauding the D.S.S. for some considerable time, and, as the number of false funerals and non-existent lodgers grows, he is determined to become honest and make amends.  As he tries to justify events and wipe the slate clean, the time is ripe for comedy and your cast whole heartedly entered into the spirit of the situation, and much unselfish team playing went on, this being the key to such plays as this one.  Laugh lines are set-up, attention is drawn to what is going on by uninvolved reaction, and faces are never blank.  I didn’t see one blank face all night.


Andrew Cochrane played Eric Swan, the defaulter, and he was rarely off stage, if ever.  Everything revolved through, around and about him, and he had to negotiate with, reassure or persuade, and integrate with, just about every other character.  He tackled this mighty role with enthusiasm, gusto and a high degree of skill, never seeming to pause for breath.  Whatever position he found himself in he seemed immediately and unerringly to reinstate and reinvent himself.  He deserved the biggest laugh of the night, which he received when he buried his nose in Mrs Cowper’s breasts, thinking she was Norman, who he had been inveigled into donning drag.  He was a very believable and personable Eric and the audience loved his machinations, a tribute to the actor when one considers the almost daily reports in the newspapers of real contemporary cheats.  His partnership with Paul Whitworth who played Norman Bassett, was a masterpiece of casting with two actors, completely in tune with each other, enhancing the story they were telling.


Paula-Jayne Power was Linda, Eric’s wife, who was totally unaware of Eric’s fiddling.  A commanding figure on stage, she was a good feed for Eric, asking the crucial questions and with a lovely dead pan face as she tried to make sense of his answers.  With a sergeant-major of a voice when angry, she beautifully enunciated her way through the story.  No doubt who wore the trousers there.


As already mentioned Paul Whitworth was Norman, the only bona-fide lodger and he soon entered into the spirit of things, although was clearly not happy with the role Eric destined him to play.  However, the fun took over and he was soon enmeshed in and contributing to his own version of the deception, albeit unwillingly, even to the extreme of having to don drag.  He is a big lad, so this metamorphosis just added to the audience’s fun.  His dance with Eric probably wouldn’t have got either of them to the second round of “Strictly Come Dancing”, but it all added to the fun.  Well played.


Stuart Harris-Heffer was Uncle George and obviously relished his role in spite of spending much of his time pretending to be dead on the couch, or in the window seat, or upside down, half in or out of the bag prior to the coffin.  Not easy to lie for some considerable time in view of the audience pretending not to breathe.  His reactions to having the kitchen door continually banged in his face while hiding behind it, was worth the admission price alone.

Mr Jenkins, from the D.S.S, was played by John Mercer.  There was plenty of the professional manner about his business-like approach as he tried to make sense of Eric’s explanations.  As the play developed he came into his own, became sharp and incisive and coped with every improbable situation thrown at him. His long complicated explanation of events was well achieved and his new hair-style. plus shoulder pads, both of soap suds from the “insane washing machine” was hilarious.


Katy Cullen was Sally Chessington, who had come about memorials, gave a thoroughly entertaining performance. Her use of light and shade in her dialogue was exemplary.  She got the absolute best out of the author’s script – the double meaning she contrived out of “humping him upstairs” was brilliant too.


Ken Jones was Mr Forbright, he undertaker, and he maintained a commendable dignity throughout.  A great advertisement for his profession, the amount of comedy business he had to go through, and put up with, trying to sort out the supposed corpse, with respect, was well achieved.

Kerry Buckley played Mrs Cowper, the boss from the D.S.S. She injected much fun into the proceedings and, by the time she made her appearance, we were considering how this incredible mix-up could ever be explained to everybody’s satisfaction.  Her participation was joyous and she had a great stage presence.


Heather Lees played Brenda Dixon, Norman’s intended.  They say there aren’t any small parts in theatre. and in a way that is true.  They are there because they figure in the story. and the strength of any group is reflected in the actors playing such roles.  You were well served by Heather who positively lit up the stage towards the end, and when she finally recognised Norman. In his drag, the smile which lit up her face certainly expressed how we felt about the whole production.


Direction was in the hands of John Dewsnap and he had obviously instilled in his cast the importance of pace, not just in the delivery of lines but in entrances, exits and all associated business.  They were unbelievably playing as a team, bearing in mind all that description means.  John had a challenge on his hands with this play and he masterminded it with his direction; skill in arranging set pieces; schooling his cast with their characters and bringing control and discipline into their performances, all of which showed individuality as well as team spirit.  They obviously enjoyed their work and so did we.  Well done.


P.S.  I am informed that this play was the dramatic baptism of John Mercer, Katy Cullen and Kerry Buckley.  Unbelievable but well played indeed.  Your future is in good hands.


Congratulations to everybody involved both on and off stage.  Thank you for your welcome and hospitality.  Happy play making.