Association of Community Theatre


By Dave Freeman

Directed by Ian Darke

Manchester Athenaeum


There is always an “added something” as one sets off to see a play for the first time, and so it was again this time.  I had heard of it but hadn’t actually ever seen it, but it was published as a farcical comedy – and it was.


Friday night with no work tomorrow, and when the curtains opened we were greeted with a superb set, so the “something” was as justified as ever.


The overall colour scheme was turquoise and white with a dramatic black couch.  There were doors U and D.S.R., entrance and exit doors U.S.C. and a door to the rest of the house S.L. In front of the fireplace U.S.L. was a large fancy-dressed figure with an advertising card round its neck.  There were set necessities, pictures, etc., but there was an overall feeling of a room very well created and presented, and not overburdened with furniture.  As the story unfolded we could see what a good move this was when all the business began to happen.  There was ample space for the cast to deal with it.


Roland Dickerby runs a health farm with his wide, Julie.  The enterprise has been bought with the proceeds of a hefty insurance pay-out on the demise of Julie’s first husband, Sidney.  Life isn’t proving easy for Roland, and today Fate has something extra special in store for him. Sidney has decided to resurrect himself and turn up in disguise, just as Vanessa, the wife of Roland’s ex-boss at Kindly Mutual, check in for a health-giving visit.  Olivia, his mother-in-law, arrives to keep an eye on him, as he is constantly harassed by portly guests who are maniacally in search of carbohydrates of the sweet variety, despite the menu provided.  It soon becomes obvious that the cast have a fast, furious, frantic story to tell us as we settle down to do just that.


It was a play containing many “ons and offs” – actors seem to be continually coming from or going to somewhere, and if their means of exit or entrances were through the front door, the large U.S. window have us an approaching, or similarly, disappearing view of them.  I thought the cast reacted so well to this.  Their appearance and departures did not start as they came through the door.  They were required to commence acting or continuing to act while they were crossing across the window.  They did this very originally, so well done. I can’t say I’ve been so aware of this, in a play with similar requirements, before.


What is essential with a play such as this, mis that the pace must never be allowed to slip at any time.  Full marks to Ian who never allowed it to happen, ever.  Actors must never be thought to be acting, and yours didn’t. The lines were not easy, piling on top of each other the way they did, and yet not once did I feel the cast was repeating lines that had had to be learnt.  Always purposeful and natural, they looked totally at ease when wandering about, discussing urgent matters, hoisting the dummy up the chimney, searching the room for food or otherwise trying to solve the situation they were in or devising a plan to deal with it.


There were seven people in the cast and each individual was a character and we were given an array of way-out characterisations which must have tested, not only their skill, but also their belief as well, and out of it all came the “believable Chris ” story of a reincarnated body; a man who never was; a body up the chimney; a very strange drinking fountain; a guest constantly in search of food who finally doubles up as a lively corpse on a stretcher; a battle-axe of a mother-in-law; a tatty Titania and a drowning camel.  What more could one ask?


Chris Sturmey played Roland Dickerby, who was trying to run a health-giving country spa and health farm, whilst dealing with the sudden appearance of his wife’s first husband from the grave, and attendant insurance problems.  His natural flair shone through as he kept the pace racing whenever he was trying to deal with all his problems.  The flow of the characterisation was frantic and the way he dealt with his problems was a joy to listen to.  It was a difficult part and with myriad changes that were all dealt with reassuringly convincing.


Sidney, the returning husband, was played by Arthur Hulse with abandon and considerable persuasive power.  How unfortunate that he was dealing with vocal problems when the role called for bravura, gusto and explanatory gymnastics.  He was rarely off stage, with much to do and say.  He deserves much praise for his spirited performance.  A gold medal for bravery and loyalty to the cause.  I hope his voice problem didn’t last long.


Jane Parker played Julie, Roland’s wife, and she gave a most entertaining performance as exactly the right partner to have in life, and also in business when problems arise.  Experience in all she did, she was very much at home on stage and there was an enviable ease and confidence in all she did. She was a vision in green later on in the play.


David Cramer was Hooper, constantly in search of substantial food.  His antics as he searched every nook and cranny were quite hilarious, and his reactions at finding what he thought was “the golden hoard” behind the cupboard door, was worth the ticket price itself. The revelation of himself as the body on the stretcher under the sheet was well engineered and his sly, covert glances at the audience as he moved about, brought us all into the action and were positively memorable.


Ann Robinson was Olivia de Vere, the fearsome mother-in-law and yet, through her experience and talent, there was something about her characterisation that made her extremely likeable to the audience.  Thee was no prevaricating about her, she was a power behind a throne that needed her.  Every word was crystal clear and she certainly took no prisoners. We all realised that all would be sorted out in the end simply because she was involved.


Vanessa, the wife of Roland’s ex-boss, was in the experienced hands of Sue Maher, who was the creative brain behind the super setting.  She played the situation to the full, and got the absolute most possible out of the giggling gin scene with Ann. She extracted much humour out of her character and gave us an enjoyable cameo role.


Maria Valentine was Sgt. Campbell who, with Arthur Hulse, were guest players for the company.  She brought considerable strength to the telling of this convoluted story, and proved, yet again, the assertion that there are no unimportant characters in theatre.


Congratulations to Ian Darke for a most entertaining production.  He marshalled a team of experiences, talented actors into giving a detailed, entertaining production.  Much thought and preparation had gone into his direction, and he took the most improbable situation and turned it into a believable and joyous occasion.  I guess his rehearsals were great fun and I also guess he had worked his cast hard.  The certainly rewarded him and their audience with an enjoyable evening.  I would have liked there to have been more to enjoy it.


Enjoy your holiday.  “Summer has but short a lease”, and in the end, it will be your turn to “strut and fret your time upon the stage again.”  Happy playmaking.


Thank you, as ever, for your warm welcome and hospitality.