ACT Reviews 2022-2023 Season

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OUR DAY OUT by Willy Russell Directed by Kevin Kay Burnley Garrick Theatre Group This was my first experience of both Willy Russell's “Our Day Out”, and of visiting the Burnley Youth Theatre – I am pleased to know that I will be visiting the Theatre again soon and, based on this production, I certainly hope that I will have the opportunity to watch “Our Day Out” again. Arriving at the theatre, there was a lovely, excited atmosphere among the audience members and everyone I spoke to from the theatre was warm, friendly and welcoming – thank you. I also thought the welcome to the audience by Vice President, Martin Chadwick was a lovely touch. The production opened with an informative projection sequence giving the economic and societal background to the play. From the reactions of the audience poignant parallels could certainly be drawn between then and now, immediately bringing the audience into the perspective of the young people who are central to the story. This play has a large cast, and frequently throughout the production there were many actors on stage together. This was handled skilfully by both the director and the cast themselves. The cast members, without detracting from the main action, were consistently acting and responding at all times even when they were not the focus of the scene. The cast also handled the transitions seamlessly between "straight" dialogue, Russell's poetic rhymes, and the songs. This kept it fresh for the audience and maintained my focus throughout, rather than it feeling jarring which I imagine it could if done less effectively. Rachel Bailey, as Carol, provided the first solo and gave us a taste of the beautiful and moving song she presented at the climax of the show, “Want to Stay”. Rachel won the audience's hearts from that first solo which meant that by the end of the production everyone was moved by

her situation and courage. This was a wonderful performance, Rachel, and it will remain with me. Charis Deighton as Linda was responsible for many of the funniest moments of the production, and we could also feel her longing for "Sir". Charis's rendition of "I'm In Love with Sir" was another highlight for me. It was both sweet and funny and used the rhyming offered by the Liverpool accent to great effect. Charis was ably accompanied by Kayleigh Hindle as Jackie, and although Jackie did not have as many "solo" moments as Linda, Kayleigh fully embodied the character and provided a fantastic presence for Charis to act against. The rest of the cast embodied their roles equally as successfully. Beth Whittaker never failed to make me smile, Rachel Kay was every inch the "know-it-all" in stance as well as words. The "bored girls", Sian Maymond and Jess Whittaker were very relatable and made me laugh out loud every time they gave us one of Russell's rhymes so flawlessly, and Liam Husband, Gary Leonard and Leighton Hunt as "the lads" were fantastic. I especially enjoyed Liam and Gary's manipulation of the elephant puppet: (in fact the animal "reveal" at the end of Act 1 was also a particular highlight of the whole production for me – so funny, unexpected and well portrayed) and also Leighton's scene with Mr Briggs talking about his early introduction to cigarettes which was funny and sad at the same time. The Teachers, David Cross, as Mr Briggs, Marina Butterworth, as Mrs Kay, Liz Wood, as Susan, and Simon Bailey, as Colin, provided a perfect counterpoint to the children. Mrs Kay was desperate to give the children an experience they would always treasure. Colin and Susan were more interested in each other than their charges, and the jaded, long-suffering Mr Briggs, David Cross, had the biggest character development to

portray. He managed the transition from grumpy to caring to funloving back to grumpy very naturally. Dave Pilkington, as the Bus Driver with the heart of gold, Angela Foulds, as the hilariously peering lollipop lady and swindled sweet seller, and Eleanor Jolley as the equally frustrated head teacher and zookeeper each individually provided some wonderfully comedic moments. The direction and overall artistic vision were generally excellent, which is no small feat for such a big cast and production with so many changes of pace. The only points I noticed that might have needed a bit more focus were the embarking and disembarking from the bus – some cast members mimed climbing the steps and others just walked, and there was also one point where it felt like maybe there was too much activity on the stage – this was during the bus driver's song. The accompanying dance was enjoyable (although perhaps dance moves more in keeping with the 70s would have enhanced it even further) but it made it difficult to hear the lyrics of the song which, when they could be heard, were very entertaining. Maybe some additional microphones so the singing was louder during this number would have overcome this problem. Speaking of sound, lights, and projection, I really enjoyed the projection and thought it always set the scene appropriately (especially the "blast from the past" image of a Little Chef !). The lighting was always perfect – at no point could I not see all the action. Sound effects were generally effective, although there was a very odd effect during the castle visit that I just couldn't identify! I loved the set idea: it was very impressive how crates could be used so effectively to create so many different locations, and the cast seamlessly moved them at no point detracting from the scenes. My only suggestion would be to have the prompt's/

stage manager's light (visible stage left between the side curtains) out of the view of the audience, as this was very distracting during Carol and Mr Briggs' cliff top scene, and which slightly detracted from the emotion and poignancy. All the costumes were very appropriate to both the characters and the time period – such a large cast cannot have been easy to dress so the wardrobe team is to be applauded. As the production ended with the beautiful ensemble number, I could feel myself welling up a little, which doesn't happen very often! I know from speaking to other audience members that they were equally moved. This was a very fitting end to a wonderful production given by a brilliant team. Thank you to everyone involved for such an enjoyable evening.

DAISY PULLS IT OFF by Denise Deegan Director: Pauline Nevell St Joseph’s Players Denise Deegan’s “Daisy Pulls It Off ” is a spoof on Angela Brazil’s jolly – hockey sticks novels of schoolgirl boarding school adventures and is set in the 1920s. This play had success in the West End in the ‘80s and since then there have been other parodies like Patrick Barlow’s “The 39 Steps”. In comparison “Daisy” is a little too wordy giving a challenge to deliver and hold the audience. The convincing set was the oak panelled assembly hall of Grangewood School with framed portraits of members of the former school’s owners. The many scenes were zoned by lighting, with stage furniture giving location. All the setting, and striking of the scenes, were undertaken by the school girls. Costumes of school uniform gymslips added to the spiffing fun of the piece. Lighting was a little basic at times meaning that some dramatic moments were lost. However it did aid the overall atmosphere. Direction and staging fluidly took the audience through the exploits of goody-two-shoes, Daisy Meredith. The younger members of the cast making up the ensemble have to be praised, and a special mention for Annabelle Whitter, as Winnie Irving. Annabelle’s characterisation and delivery was jolly – utter! The story evolves round two sets of friends and a search for hidden treasure. There are inter-dorm fights, a mountain rescue, and a hockey match: a very silly plot of twenty’s British girlhood but completely charming. Slightly mature principal school girls energised and delivered an entertaining evening’s romp. On the train journey to Grangewood School for the new term we meet most of the characters. There are two male cast members; Mr Scoblowski, the Russian music master, and Mr Thompson, the gardener. Colin Magenty, as Thompson, who was Daisy’s long-lost father, took the

focus as he delivered the convoluted happy ending. Head girl, Gail Beaumont, played by Donna Wood, gave lively support helping Daisy to pull it off. The first of the double acts, Clare Nash, delivered a feisty Sybil Burlington, Daisy’s snobbish tormentor, with whom you would not share your tuck box. Her side kick is bespectacled Monica Smithers. Comedy actress Barbara Mayer’s slightly over-the-top delivery extracted all the comedy with scrummy effect. The central double act is self-confessed madcap, Trixie Martin of the upper fourth and little miss perfect Daisy. Kitti Dixon, as Trixie, was a true chum to Daisy giving a lot of light and shade to the character. Daisy is not an easy part to play; she has to keep the audience on her side. Daisy, the scholarship state school pupil, is brainy and excels in music and sports. Framed as a cheat she helps win the hockey county finals and with Trixie finds the treasure. Seasoned actress Margaret Hall’s portrayal of Daisy captured all the many facets of the character, This production re-established the play group and returned them into their regular venue after the Covid exile. This they did with style and their audience showed its appreciation.

EDUCATING RITA by Willy Russell Director Rachel Perrin Knutsford Little Theatre Willy Russell’s much-loved play opens the season for Knutsford Little Theatre. The audience was presented with a box set, with a door up stage right and window up stage left: Set dressings of hung pictures, bookcases, books: the furniture consisting of chairs, a filing cabinet and desk. This is the world of the old soak of an “Eng Lit” tutor Frank. It was maybe just a little too tidy as it didn’t reflect the heavy drinking and boredom of life of its inhabitant. Costumes have to make such a strong statement and complement the character. Rita’s wardrobe captured the essence of the character. However maybe some hair changes would have added to Rita’s metamorphic transition. Frank looked every inch the corduroyed tutor. I think he needed to be a little more unkempt looking to fit into the lifestyle he has slipped into. Then we could see the change in Frank as Rita changes; his outlook which gives him a new found purpose. Rita is the Scouse hairdresser determined to better herself through enrolling as an Open University student. Cheryl Chamberlain filled the stage as Rita from the comic first explosive entrance to the ‘hair cut, Sir?’ finale. Paul Baston as Frank captured his alcoholic self-pity. The actors built a chemistry that had sharp edges and a gentle charm. The dynamics between them worked well as Rita got educated and Frank got drunk. The comedy began to shine through as the characters begin to peel away their own separate lives. Frank giving up on his ambitions to be a poet, and Rita not wanting to become a stereotypical housewife. Together they inspired each other. Frank’s contempt for academic snobbery, and Rita challenging his prejudices, brought out a burst of affection. Cheryl and Paul gave Rita and Frank a truth that lifted the words giving depth to their characters relationships. This came apparent when Rita

resisted any romance with Frank to become her own liberated woman keeping to her original goal. Paul delivered all of Frank’s negatives; he also found the pathos of the role leaving the audience sympathising with him. Chamberlain and Baston successfully created an entertaining telling of a story of two of the most unlikely people who became friends and of their influences on each other.

AN EVENING WITH GARY LINEKER by Arthur Smith & Chris England Director: Simon Darlington APeel Drama Club For this play we travelled back to 1990 when England verses Germany were in the semifinals of the world-cup. This event happens when Bill and Monica are on holiday in Majorca. a holiday in an attempt to revive their marriage. Set in the hotel room, with insets for balcony and bar, the scenes all worked well. The set dressings completed the visual image. Lighting was a little basic: the monologues needed spotting to separate them from the narrative. Costumes were a little more now than the 90’s but gave the characters clear definitions. Casting was very good and the camaraderie between each member was strong and this spilt over into their performances. This gave all the characterisations that extra lift. This was teamwork at its best! It is pre match time and football fanatic husband, Bill, is getting ready for the game with friends who are calling to participate in the football match frenzy. First to knock at the door is Ian, Bill’s school friend, and Tourist rep, Birgitta. Bill is in publishing and Ian is a former colleague and old school friend. Ian is a geek and gets on the nerves of those around him. Harvey Millard’s on-stage antics as the football hating Ian had many comic moments. Sex on two legs, Birgitta, is not the Barbara Windsor “Carry On” stereotype - she is equal to the men. Stacy Dawber brought Birgitta alive and her German accent never got between the actress and the dialogue. The unexpected guest is Dan, also in publishing and author of the book, “Train Spotter”. He loves flighty young women and is hopeful for romance with Birgitta. One of his conquests is Monica, Bill’s wife. Mark Lyth successfully played Dan displaying a clear understanding of the

character. Host of this televised world–cup party is Bill. His wife sums him up saying,“The only thing men care about is football”. John Essex characterised Bill who is the linchpin of the unfolding, all-important football match, and the various relationships. John is a competent actor: he effortlessly brought out all the comedy of the script. Monica, who wants some excitement in her humdrum life, fantasies about Gary Lineker. She says about her marriage that she has had “eight not unhappy years of marriage”. Played by Lisa Barlow, who is a versatile actress, she found the core of the character. Lisa never disappoints; she puts so much detail into her characters. From the “kick off ” this play still delivers and the cast can be pleased they scored a winning goal.

CALENDAR GIRLS by Gary Barlow & Tim Firth Directed by Michael McCaw The Drama Dept. Stockport Plaza As I reflected on this musical production in the days following, I thought about the definition of the term emotional – “having intense feelings…that are openly displayed”. I further thought about art in its many forms and concluded that that is what anyone strives for when taking part in painting, music, drama or any genre – to make the watcher, listener and audience feel something. This production certainly embraced this meaning; from the opening bars of the National Anthem played by the band and a sombre audience standing in quite reflection and singing the altered version, inserting new pronouns. Seeing projected interviews and reading personal accounts in the programme of the impact that various forms of cancer have had on people known or otherwise and on those close relatives and friends that supported them through the fight. This led into the musical itself when emotions started to surface. I am not ashamed to document that during the evening, tears did indeed well up and I am certain that I was not the only person in the auditorium to experience this as I empathised with those on stage taking us through the story. It has been over 20 years since the story of a Yorkshire branch of the WI produced a nude calendar to raise money. Since then it’s been turned into a popular film, a stage play, and now has a lease of life as a musical. The writing of the script evokes thoughts of seaside postcards and British humour, with tongue in cheek asides to relieve tensions or lighten the mood. Here, I think the writers, production team and actors cleverly achieved giving the subject matter the gravitas that it requires but balancing it with the scripted dialogue, songs and delivery so that it kept the production light, heart-warming and enjoyable.

There are numerous laugh out loud moments, especially those between Sarah Thewlis as Chris, who delivered dialogue with pace and timing, and Ali Foy as Cora. The later, along with the company, had me giggling with the song “Who wants a Silent Night”, maybe I will use this rendition when Christmas arrives. Katie Perkins as Jenny and Deni Griffiths as Danny were a hoot as they portrayed the flirty teenagers with their coming of age banter. Daniel Eccles as Tommo also had humorous dialogue that made many think back to their teenage years. Dawn Leigh was engaging as Annie, who becomes the widow. Her expressions of hurt, lost love were gentle and not overly dramatic. This conveyed the hurt and grief that she felt more effectively and touched many in the audience. This musical uses the themes of friendship, community, support and empathy to tell not only the main story but those of individuals as they battle with their own hang-ups as to why they cannot possibly pose for a nude calendar. The calendar photo shoot was super, with well-placed props (a shout out to Matt Bridle and Susan McClure here) and great facial expressions that were also projected on the back wall for all to see. This really did have the audience laughing. We saw characters such as Jessie (Shirley Harrison) and Ruth (Julie Proffit) tear away their reticence of rejection and backlash from the community they live in. The sight of Denise Carter (Tea) and Eleanor Wales (Coffee) will be an image that will stay with me for a long time! Even Vikki Bullar (Marie) the formidable leader of the WI band finally saw the humour of it all. The supporting cast, especially the male partners; Mike Sammon, Stuart Hall, Paul Allison and Stephen Mallinson helped gel the story line. The set and scenery was quite minimal but this meant that the focus was on the characters’ interaction and storytelling. This musical cannot claim to have the catchiest songs in musical theatre, indeed you leave not really remembering any of them but what it does leave you with is a feeling of comfort and that you have shared a hug with those around you. The production team of Michael McCaw, Paul Lawton, Steve Hilditch

and Tracy Harper, along with every person on and off stage, will and should be proud of this production. During the run there were nightly collections for six charities, many with a connection to cancer, that had been put forward by cast members. A considerable amount was raised for each through raffle and sales of their own Calendar Girls Calendar. I have mine, ready to pin on the wall at the start of 2023, though I might give March and June a miss!

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN Adapted for the stage by Mike Kenny from the novel by E Nesbitt Director Carla Stokes Hyde Little Theatre The audience was greeted to an open stage with a bricked railway tunnel back cut cloth. In front were two station porter trolleys, stage left and right, piled high with suitcases and parcels. They were cleverly used, along with other period props, for each scene. A coal pile and signals on the proscenium arch completed the visual imagery. All this coupled with the company’s excellent presentation of authentic costumes (The Boyz Costume Hire) hair and make-up transported the audience back to Edwardian England. The lighting and sound plots were integral to the story telling to underpin the drama.Themusic from the original York RailwayMuseumproduction, covering every emotion was wonderful, not unlike a film score. My one and only gripe is that the speakers were in front of the stage allowing the music to come between the actor and the dialogue; I have to mention this because the spoken word was so well delivered. For my generation there were certain books you read, one being Edith Nesbit’s “The Railway Children”. This imaginative stage adaptation by Mike Kenny is faithful to the original. It fluidly moved from story to thrilling action giving an emotional and magical theatrical experience for all ages. Directed with precision the production was full of life and energy. The attention to detail was so important to its success. To recreate the adventures of the Mr and Mrs Waterbury and their children a strong cast was assembled. The ensemble and support roles engaged the audience creating the world of Roberta, Peter and Phillis, “The Railway Children”. There was multi playing of roles, Richard Hall played their father wrongly accused of spying, a worker and board member of the railway. Richard played each character notably differently. There were many cameo roles played with equal conviction, Anna Evans, as Mrs Viney, Millie Chatterton, as the

maid, to name but a few. The younger members of the company also made an impression. Two characters that changed the future of those living at Three Chimneys Cottage are Mr Perks and “The Old Gentleman” (Cavan Slate). Matthew Hutchinson was Albert Perks, station porter and friend of the children. He was totally in tune with the character. Mrs Waterbury, “Mother”, is a talented poetess; she has to be played by an actress with truth and integrity. Alison Bowers did just that showing the inner strength of the character coping with her newly enforced life. Her three children, whose world had been turned upside down, now have to live prudently in the rural countryside. Rosie Harkins, as Phillis, played her role with conviction alongside Cameron Kennedy, as Peter, who was bold in his adventures a leader and spokesperson. Cameron and Rosie’s handling of the stopping of the train and the getting of the paper trail runner Jim (Thomas Chatterton) out of the tunnel displayed their acting skills.

The story really belongs to Roberta, nicknamed Bobbie, played by Emily Stannage. This accomplished actress moved easily from dialogue to addressing the narrative to the audience. Emily captured the anxieties, exhilarations and the longing for her absent father. There was one important aspect of the play, the train which made a grand entrance to the delight of the audience. It was inspirational to have the train on stage after the curtain call for the audience to have a photo opportunity.