February - 1st March 2014 (In Memory of Martin Patrick)
a warm and thoroughly entertaining welcome from Peter Calver (Festival Chairman),
the Festival launched into the first of 15 productions representing the Southern
Counties and we, (the lucky audience), sat back in the immaculately prepared Barn
Theatre and prepared to be entertained. What follows here are the personal views
of a regular SCDF actor whose opinions - it is hoped - may add something to the
review process of the participating societies.
Bletchingley Players - "Cafe Society" by Ayshe Raif
in a run down East End "Caff" in the early 80's which is due to close shortly,
the Director and team created the aura of such an establishment but could perhaps
have aimed for more decrepitude. Apart from a notice informing of the closure,
the table linen and surroundings seemed somehow too fresh and clean to add credibility.
The cast of three regular customers, ably supported by a somewhat sullen and reluctant
"waitress" soon set the tone for the piece and apart from a slight attack of "festival
nerves" in the opening few minutes, the play proceeded at a pace. The theme of
the play looks at the break up of an intimate group of three old (and somewhat
eccentric) friends, due to circumstances beyond their ability to control. A return
- on several occasions - as to where those of the group who would remain in the
area could meet in the future was explored in some depth (none of these alternatives
sounded in the least alluring incidentally). Although the author clearly signposted
early some of the twists in the plot which were to follow, thereby reducing the
impact of some of the emotions which the cast wanted to portray, this was not
a fault of Director or cast. This was generally a tight and well presented production,
with plenty of material for the audience to grasp and enjoy.
Ash Drama Association - "David Copperfield" Part 1 - by Charles Dickens adapted
by P.M. Thomas
The play follows the early years of David Copperfield from
a boy to a man and transcends the years, whilst embracing the multiplicity of
settings and characters that Dickens so skillfully draws. This adaptation required
the actors to adopt multiple roles and to convince us, (the audience), immediately
of the new identity and characteristics that each role required. Because this
adaptation retained so much content and the festival timing is critical, sometimes
the pace was driven too hard to the detriment of (albeit) familiar Dickensian
dialogue, which was hard to follow in places. In general however, here we saw
an accomplished and confident cast working together unselfishly to promote David
to the forefront (his rightful place after all).
useful multi functional set with some superb visual impact, I particularly liked
the idea of Barkis and the cart, but was disappointed this was set at the back
of the stage not right at the front. All in all, a tremendous undertaking which
almost succeeded in bringing this much loved character to life
Shadows - "Steam Radio" by Peter Higginbotham
Set in a radio studio, a
group of professional actors (some experienced and some perhaps not) are rehearsing
and subsequently performing a parody of a Noel Coward play. The plot follows the
descent into chaos which follows when the Sound Engineer gets stuck in a lift
and the cast and Producer agree that - in true theatrical tradition - " the show
must go on", albeit without him. The "control room" was a set within a set, where
the Director and Sound Engineer acted their socks off during the rehearsal stage
of the production and from where the hapless Director later tried to exert control
over the bickering cast, whilst simultaneously attempting to introduce the sound
effects in the performance phase, for which he had neither ability or training
(or union card), the result being - chaotic farce...! The actors struggled heroically
to maintain the pace towards the close, but tried too hard to force the humour
to rise to the surface. A clever piece, bravely attempted but where perhaps more
attention to the choreography of the closing 15 minutes might have allowed the
audience to join in the fun.
Amateur Dramatic Society - "Don't Blame it on the Boots" by N.J. Warburton
a ghost story set around a pair of boots worn by an actor of renown (since deceased)
whose daughter insists are worn by the actor playing the part of "the ghost" for
a production of Hamlet. The centrepiece of this production are the boots themselves
and the oversize feet (and libido) of the Ghost. Personally, the boots were not
credible, being modern, short and apparently fur-lined rather than long (knee
length) traditional period-costume boots. I also had concerns in some of the intimate
scenes (particularly that with Ophelia) over the age gap between the women and
the male lead. My own view being, that although an amusing piece, the plot was
too obvious and that much more thought was necessary in terms of production and
Shadows - "The Canary Cage" by Diana Raffle
psychological thriller through and through. Set seemingly uninspiringly in a suburban
cellar, the entire audience was in thrall from the outset, a woman, clearly in
some form of deep traumatic distress, occupies the stage and holds our complete
attention until the arrival of her niece and a neighbour. The three women find
themselves locked in the confines of the cellar with little hope of discovery
and none of escape. The play was full of macabre twists, turns and revelations
and played out before an audience almost too afraid to breathe themselves, for
fear of breaking the spell. Three confident performances by three very good actors
who listened and reacted to each other in a completely believable drama. I must
particularly commend the claustrophobic set, which could so easily have been played
on a cluttered stage. This company however chose to construct a practical staircase
leading to a half landing behind the locked door, this contrivance immediately
placed the audience in the 4th wall of a subterranean cellar.
Theatre and Arts Club - "Writes and Wrongs" by Andy Taylor
The front room
of a suburban house is the venue for a regular Writer's Circle meeting. Enter
a new prospective member with a secret which will devastate the group's leader.
Described as a thought provoking comedy, the static nature of the piece, with
the cast seated in a semi circle, did little to excite the eye or imagination,
some moves seemed either contrived or pointless. My overall impression being that
this was a very static and rather wordy play. There were some witty and acerbic
exchanges between the leader and her acolytes especially in the early part of
the production, which added much needed light and shade to the piece. It was however
a competent group performance, with all characters clearly defined and convincingly
Valley Scriptwriters Group - "Satin Doll" by Tony Earnshaw
Set in what
will become a Jazz Themed coffee bar in a city, this piece sets out to explore
the relationship between two people whose lives and loves over a twenty year period
are inextricably entwined. The prospective Jazz venue is his passion and the device
by which he admits he hopes to win her back. The idea though of somehow recreating
their shared past (in which she had sung and he had played), is her worst nightmare,
as she sees that such an idea has no place in the present time or their future.
Intriguingly, it is their past that holds the key in deciding the outcome of this
emotional tussle. The ebb and flow of power between the two actors was quite remarkable
to witness, she worshipped him and he adored her, but could they deal with the
accumulated baggage of those twenty years and somehow make it together? By the
end we were willing them to try and make a go of it, but I for one am not at all
certain that they did. Passion versus love - the jury is still out.............!
Oxted Players - "The Whores Tale" by Archie Wilson
Set in a seedy bedroom,
a prostitute waits for a customer, but this "punter" has dark plans of his own.
A play of shifting power and malevolence, but with a twist at the end, nothing
is what it seems here. The prostitute and her customer negotiate a deal which
sees the man empowered and the woman defenceless, but with consummate skill the
roles are reversed when a second woman appears. Focus and menace was sustained
throughout, the final twist was well timed and choreographed. Altogether a disturbingly
Best Actress - Ghislaine Bowden
Actor - Alan Webber
Best Director - Chris Bassett
Theatre Group - "Talking with Angels" by Neil Duffield
This is a challenging
piece of theatre, tackled head on and fearlessly. This production was set on different
levels which added considerable visual interest. A piece on this scale requires
precise direction and choreography, which for the most part the group achieved,
no shortage of movement here! A strong set of "voices" accompanied Joan, some
silent (Angels), whilst others portrayed the entire population of France, together
with its nobility plus an English army for good measure. Altogether a memorable
depiction by this company, of the short but emphatic life of one of France's greatest
Youth Drama - "Chatroom" by Enda Walsh
Set in cyberspace, "Chatroom" sets
out to explore the difficult world young people occupy without becoming in any
way an "issues play". Five teenagers engage with each other from the safety of
their own rooms, in a space where nothing is "off-limits" many topics are discussed
and examined. There is tremendous humour in the banter of the early exchanges,
enjoyed by the entire audience. Enter teenager number six who soon inserts the
concept of his own suicide into the chatroom for discussion. This is the turning
point of the play, where allegiances are formed which either offer moral support
to the newcomer or alternatively encourage him to "end it all". The opposing factions
pursue their aims relentlessly or remorselessly dependent upon their viewpoint.
The cast drew out every nuance of the script with honesty and integrity and gave
faultless and highly commendable performances throughout. The closing (filmed)
sequence, whilst well executed - jars. This not withstanding, this was an excellent
and thought proving insight into the complex world teenagers inhabit and underscored
for me, the potential dangers unregulated chatrooms present.
Youth Drama - "The Whole Truth" by Ray Jenkins
Set in a school drama studio,
the teacher has set the class of 11/12 year olds an improvisation exercise. The
appointed group leader decides to construct a trial in a Courtroom and the play
explores relationships between the 13 or so principal players as the Court takes
shape, to which Class 7C helpfully provide a further 20 people......! This production
crackled from first to last with exuberant energy, which could so easily have
become chaotic, instead of which we enjoyed a well disciplined and fluid team
of young people eager to give of their best. The play built seamlessly from first
to last and held the imagination of the audience throughout.
Award - Ivo Salway
Theatre Group - "Small Fry" by Neil Duffield
Another large cast production,
(26 actors this time), who set out to entertain with an allegory of the takeover
in 1988 of R.J.R Nabisco (made into the novel "Barbarians at the Gate" - a classic
example of corporate greed). In this production the cast are formed into three
groups; Predators, Scavengers and Small-Fry. The actors are animal-like and their
costumes colour coded to represent their respective groups. The two main groups
thrust and parry back and forth, seeking to gain an advantage over the other.
The moves are highly stylised and ensemble vocal chants are delivered crisply.
This group show us in a simple but effective way what happens when morality is
confronted with unbridled greed. A thoroughly enjoyable tale, crisply directed
and beautifully delivered.
Drama Club - "Obsessed" by Mike Newbold
A new girl arrives at school and
is soon befriended by a senior boy who is protective of her and falls in love
with her, eventually becoming obsessed with the idea of the two running away.
He believes her to be living in a children's home because her mother is ill and
her father abroad, there is however a much darker version of the truth. The girl
is in reality living in care because her father is an abusive drunkard and her
mother a prostitute. The young couple carry on a clandestine affair, meeting in
secret whilst the boy's obsession with her takes over his life. They plan to run
away together but are reported and separated before they can escape. The terrible
truths emerge. A difficult set of subjects, but ones which resonate today in the
light of similar well publicised events, abusive parents, gang violence, peer
pressures, weak and ineffectual Social Workers are all subjects explored in this
piece. A strong cast brought to life the uncertainties experienced by young lives
damaged by domestic circumstances.
Best Young Actress
- Natasha Cooper (Jo)
Theatre Group - "Blood Brothers" by Willy Russell
This play explores the
concept of human development when influenced by external factors. Here, twins
have been separated at birth and we follow their progress from the point of separation,
through the years as their lives keep touching, to the dreadful climax. All facets
of life are explored in some depth as the inevitable jealousy comes to the fore.
The Brothers each gave tremendous performances and managed to hold the characteristics
they first showed as children throughout the play. I particularly liked the team
of narrators who held the action together and provided the continuing links throughout.
Altogether an excellent production.
Best Young Actor(s)
- Jamie Patterson "Mickey" and Sean Wareing "Eddie"
Best Youth Production
Players - "The Trial" by Anthony Booth
play set in almost any modern theatre of warfare where the urban guerrillas are
investigating a suspected traitor in their midst and bring the suspect to a trial
where the verdict is never in doubt, "death". There is a reluctant witness present
to ensure the case is widely reported and lessons learned by the population at
large. There is a prosecutor and an enforcer who will see matters are concluded
effectively and a "grass" who has informed against a young girl who is now terrified
for her life. As the case unfolds, the witness finds the courage to speak out
against the "grass" and the balance of culpability shifts away from the girl.
A modern tale of paramilitary violence and retribution. A strong and competent
cast, who knew how to deliver powerful emotions. Compact and compelling drama.
summary, a very varied week of strong drama, where many companies were pushing
the boundaries and where inevitably some succeeded brilliantly and others perhaps
have to re-think strategies.