Association of Community Theatre


by Derek Webb




If last season’s introduction to Agatha Crusty was anything to go by, I was looking forward to meeting her for the second time and enjoying again being witness to another of her adventures. As ever, David’s welcome was warm and heartfelt, and it was gratifying to see your theatre filling up – a testament to your friendly relationship with your audience and the way you mutually regard and treat each other – a true example of community theatre.


When the curtains opened, we saw a comfortably decorated room with expensively looking furniture. There was a substantial bar in the USR corner and the wall was given a squared padded look. Furniture included couches, and bar stools, table and chair SR, and doors SR, USC and SL (to front door).In Scene 1, the entire cast have entered for the dinner-party. It comprised eleven actors and throughout the scene while they were all on, there wasn’t one example of masking. Allowing for the furniture and the size of the stage, this was a superb piece of positioning and setting by your director Doreen Cockshott, and full marks for awareness and movement of your cast.


The setting is the Robertson’s large, isolated Victorian house and the occasion is a celebratory dinner to be played out as a murder mystery game involving the hosts and all the guests. There are seven scenes in the play – three in Act One and four in Act Two. Normally, in farces, and I suppose this play would loosely fall into that category, starts can be somewhat slow while the plot is explained so the audience can anticipate the fun to follow. Not so in yours which started with enviable pace and kept it up throughout. The guests arrived in couples and when all were assembled, they were given instructions about the murder game they were about to play and the characters they had to pretend to be. Theoretically then, they were in the same boat as the audience and it was to be a surprise as the story starts to unfold.


Another interesting factor inherent in this play is the fact that your actors are actually playing two parts – themselves and the characters allotted to them in the murder game – not necessarily the same. I know actors are playing different characters than themselves whenever they go on stage, but, in this play, as the murders begin to take place, reality takes over when they are faced with real dead bodies and role play now gets mixed up with real life. A big responsibility here for your director too, as she must work closely with her cast as individuals and then, as the pressure and pace increases, be there in collective support with ideas as her actors fluctuate in their roles.


Plays like this one require team spirit and this was obvious in tonight’s performance when your cast, so believable as who they were in the programme, had to play with, to, for or against fellow cast members. Reaction has to be constant and continuous and your actors appeared to be completely enjoying what they were doing. Well done, Doreen! Plays like this one are not easy to direct or to be in. They make demands on all who are involved and your audience obviously enjoyed your efforts as you must have realised by the reception they gave you.


As the couples arrive for their celebratory week-end they are welcomed by their hosts, Caroline and Geoffrey Robertson, played by Lindsay Andrews and Garry Blair. First to arrive were the Braithwaites played by Sarah and James Eckersley, quickly followed by the McArthurs, in the hands of Debbie Dickerson and Adam Wright. Tanya and Duncan Crocker played by Lara Daintree and Chris Silke were the next couple to appear, and finally Frank Oates and Anita Partridge as the Charltons, her drunken scene was an object lesson for all stage drunks.


They were all given their drinks and there’s plenty of chatter and laughter and settling in, when the final guest arrives and she is actually the guest of honour, Agatha Crusty, played by Barbara Williamson.


Geoffrey explains that there is 20 years of business to celebrate and as Agatha has a new book out, they have decided to make the occasion more memorable still by using it as a home mystery and inviting Agatha to solve it. This goes down well as the promise of a new experience, full of fun and excitement appears. Geoffrey sets the scene, gives them instructions and hands out scripts with their new characters.


Caroline is indignant when she finds out that she is the first to die, but as she will be in and out of the kitchen preparing food, drinks etc throughout, maybe it’s for the best. All get some sort of rudimentary costume (ie policeman’s helmet etc), start getting into their roles, cracking jokes, making bantering remarks and we’re off.


It’s always problematic with plays like this one for reviewers to decide how much detail to go into. As the reviews are published in a magazine one has no control over the number of readers who will read them, or eventually see a future production of the play and maximum enjoyment would be somewhat blighted by knowing what happened in detail. I’ve already set the scene and introduced those involved, so let me just further add.


Your production to-night was acted by a team. I know it comprised eleven individuals who all contributed their individual skills, but, as well as showing us characteristic differences in each interpretation regarding speech, movement, reaction, fear, concern for what was going to happen next, humour and story-telling ability, they were essentially working as a team who extracted as much as they possibly could from their interpretation. The action literally and vitally whizzed along. Pace never dragged and I didn’t see one blank face all evening. Listening within the story is sometimes as important as speech and it is difficult to pretend you are hearing something for the first time when you have been rehearsing for six weeks. I didn’t think I was watching actors at work to-night. I seem to have somehow got involved in a real life situation taking place in St Hugh of Lincoln’s Parish Hall to-night. I am happy to mention Garry who had a monster of a part to deal with and various physical moments; and Barbara for dealing with Agatha Christie’s favourite way of solution with the denouement at the end e.g. Miss Marple, Poirot; - so clearly.


David’s “Man in Black” disembodied voice added much dramatic feeling to the story as in Agatha Christies “And Then There Were None”.


Congratulations to all involved both on and off stage in this production. It’s good to see joy in the final curtain call. Well done, Doreen, for masterminding the production and to the cast for their realism and whole-hearted involvement.


It would seem that this play was your final production of the season, so, enjoy your summer break. For some it will be “too short a lease, before you have to strut and fret your hour upon the stage again”. Never mind – just remember, “we are such stuff as dreams are made on”.


Happy Playmaking. Thanks as ever for your welcome and hospitality.