Peter Calver (Chairman), Maia Oleson (from sponsors ICB Group),
Mike Tilbury (Adjudicator), Jill Perry (Vice-Patron)
20th - 25th February
Peter Calver (Chairman
of the SCDF) introduced us to our Adjudicator for the week Mike Tilbury,
who was making his first appearance at the Barn as Festival Adjudicator
since 2012. With 13 plays, a mixture of adult and youth we were in for
an entertaining week.
And so to the first
of the plays...:
Monday 20th February
Lights and Bushels - "My Second Best Bed" by Barry Syder
This play is a tour
de force for writer, director and stage manager Barry Syder. He is clearly
passionate about his subject and he combines myth and fact to give an
unusual twist to the relationship between Shakespeare and his family.
The play is historically accurate and the drama is brought to life with
plausibility and skill. The setting is simple as befits a play that
goes on tour. A settle, writing table and chair are the only furniture
and mirror the simplicity of houses in the Elizabethan era. The lighting
is straightforward and the introductory music sets the atmosphere of
Tudor England. The costumes were simple but effective and they enhanced
the portrayal of the four characters. Perhaps Judith's dress could have
been more flamboyant and Ann's not quite so white - a grey shawl may
have toned down the starkness. The curate's and Susanna's costumes were
accurate representations for the characters. Susanna played by Kathryn
Attwood and Judith played by Emily Hale were believable as sisters and
played out the sibling rivalry and banter successfully. They provided
a loving and warm portrayal of family life in the Shakespeare household.
This was particularly noticeable in the anecdotes about their father
and the tenderness displayed towards their mother at the end of the
play. Gill Sutton as Anne had a small but endearing role and conveyed
the bewilderment of dementia very poignantly. Tom Hounsham as the star
struck curate was a convincing foil for the three women. All the actors
were persuasive. They had good voice projection and range but perhaps
there could have been more variety of pace within the dialogue. This
was an interesting and novel play created with warmth and passion. As
an opener for the festival it set the bar high and promises great things
for this new and exciting company.
Kathryn Attwood was nominated by the adjudicator for Best Adult Actress.
Tonbridge - "The Donor" by Branko Ruzic
play gave the audience plenty to think about. It was packed full of
war torn memories and on occasion went into overload. Although well
written and full of historical accuracies, the author Branko Ruzic bombarded
the audience with graphic images of the ethnic cleansing which was such
an unsavoury aspect of the Bosnian war. The raison d'Ítre of the two
characters was a little contrived, which initially distracted from the
intense and moving dialogue. Karen Dix as Anna and Steve Hemsley as
Andrey gave commendable performances and were a perfect foil for each
other. The juxtaposition of characters was highlighted by the black
and white of the costumes which emphasised the starkness of the play.
Perhaps if Anna had worn a hijab the ethnic dimensions would have been
accentuated. The voices of the actors were well matched and clearly
heard but more could have been made by using a variety of pace and pause.
Anna's voice was on occasion too well modulated and lacked acute fear
as she was made to relive her horrendous war time experiences. The exception
to this was when she dramatically demonstrated how she attempted to
abort her child. Andrey retained a certain dignity and pathos when recalling
childhood memories. The direction lacked variety of pace which would
have enhanced the barbaric events so poignantly recounted by the two
actors. The starkness of the set, the fierce lighting and the electric
opening music contributed to the atmosphere. Perhaps more could have
been made of the torch during the black out suggesting torture and search-lights.
The recorded voices emanating from Anna's head added to the tumult being
suffered by the character. As happens so often with festival plays the
content was dark and audience had to concentrate. So much was packed
into a short time frame but the Oast Theatre lived up to their reputation
of producing a very watchable and thought provoking piece of drama.
Karen Dix and Steve Hemsley were both nominated by the adjudicator for
the Best Adult Actor / Actress Award.
Tonbridge - "A Thing of Beauty" by Charles Kray
This play by Charles
Kray takes the form of a forceful philosophical debate in which the
audience is fully involved as the actors take on divergent roles. The
setting is simple, an altar centre stage with a symbolic cross and candles,
a desk and chair for the prioress and a set of 3 chairs to denote a
church pew. The lighting, costumes and opening plainchant music set
the scene for this well constructed and strong narrative. There were
only ever two actors on stage at any one time, which heightened the
ambience of debate. All three actors were strongly portrayed. The prioress
played by Annie Young evolved from being a well meaning mother of the
convent to the anguish of having to denounce and sacrifice one for the
lives of many. This was a moving performance played with dignity and
pathos. Nick Smith as the Colonel was entirely believable. We saw him
first as a bullish Nazi officer but soon realised that he suffered inner
heartache and times of self doubt. He had the sympathy of the audience
as he wrestled with his inner demons. His was a lengthy part on stage
for the whole time but he sustained the role throughout. Elizabeth McCreadie
as Sister Benedicta had real stage presence and acted her part with
poise and assurance. She was a fitting counterbalance to the Nazi Colonel,
the two of them having strong combative dialogue and argument. By its
very nature the play is fairly static. The director kept moves to a
minimum yet the action flowed seamlessly. All three had worked hard
on their characters and created a successful piece of drama.
The adjudicator nominated Nick Smith for Best Adult Actor and Sandra
Barfield for Best Director.
Best Actress - Elizabeth McCreadie (Benedicta)
- "The Right Honourable Lady" by Francis Beckett
It is not often
your reviewer agrees wholeheartedly with the adjudicator but during
the performance mostly every word I wrote down was echoed in his comments!
'The Right Honourable Lady', written by the well known political commentator
Francis Beckett, is a good choice for festivals but it needs to move
at a spanking pace. The delineation of the stage space was good but
could have been enhanced by more precise lighting. The director's ploy
of keeping all actors on stage throughout added an extra dimension to
this creditable production. Although all 5 actors were believable, each
could have put more energy into their roles and finely tuned the character
studies. The journalist Flavia played by Joanna Othwick needed to have
a ruthless streak of determination as she scaled her career ladder.
Lynn Short as the Secretary of State could have made more of her professional
persona, especially when creating the imagined parliamentary speech.
There needed to be more electricity between Nicola and her lover Stephen.
Their relationship was not all together believable. Robbie Rickard as
Stephen played the failed academic competently. His final speech at
the end of the play demonstrated great pathos. Barbara Smith as the
editor Miranda certainly looked the part but she needed to show more
aggression, scheming and ruthlessness. Ian Tucker-Bell played the Chief
Whip, Griff with an understanding of political machinations. This was
an easy play to watch. The author clearly knows his subject and this
authenticity shone through giving the audience well balanced entertainment.
- "White Lies" by Richard James
This is a play where
women of a certain age will recognise themselves. Four alumni reminisce
and bring each other up to date with their lives. The scene is set in
the foyer of a hotel but unfortunately the furniture made it look more
like a private sitting room which initially confused the audience. When
a three piece suite is set in the centre of the stage it inhibits movement
upstage and the coffee table was a further barrier to the action. Fortunately
most of the activity was sedentary and merely involved the actors swapping
seats. Each of the four women established their characters and the differences
between them provided the story line. Denise Wilton as the avaricious
bitchy Bea created a persona which set her apart from the others. Her
costume and jewellery accentuated the difference. Karen Williams portrayed
the homeliness and sensitivity of Ruth who as the disillusioned 'earth
mother' was devoted to her husband and son. Sophia Harding convincingly
understated the lovelorn yet successful playwright Judith. Although
the part of Pam was a smaller role, Elaine Laight quickly established
the easy going ebullient fraudster. The characters of the women were
further enhanced by their costumes which identified their diverse personalities.
Mick Harris had a difficult role as the waiter and needed to use pauses
to highlight his numerous asides. The play relied on words rather than
movement. There needed to be more variety of pace and the use of pauses
to highlight the humour. This would have given the audience the opportunity
to laugh more frequently. Alternate Shadows performed a good ensemble
piece but needed to fine tune the delivery.
- "A Little Box of Oblivion" by Stephen Bean
It is always difficult
to set an outdoor scene on stage but Woldingham Players succeeded very
well with their somewhat seedy municipal park. From the very start they
set a brisk pace with variety of speech, salient pauses and speedy cue
biting. The whole play sparkled with energy. Although it is described
as 'absurd' the characters and situation are both completely believable.
It would have been easy for the actors to become stereotypes but with
great sensitivity and detailed characterisation they produced a slick
and at times ominous piece of theatre. From the outset Rick Morris established
the character of Cool. He had good stage presence and was clearly at
ease in the role. He moved well and used his prop of a newspaper very
effectively. Cool's laid back attitude was a perfect foil for the others'
neurotic behaviour. Sarah Greenwood was convincing as Neuro and grew
into her role as the play progressed. Likewise Doom played by Ziggy
Szafranski was entirely believable as a doom ridden fantasising abattoir
butcher. The amateur detective Dick, acted by David Martin provided
the audience with yet another zany but credible character. The cameo
role of Woman played by Berry Butler demonstrated the anxiety which
set the scene for the rest of the play. Woldingham Players produced
a well rehearsed tight performance with plenty of energy speed and attack.
It was a joy to watch.
Ziggy Szafranski, Sarah Greenwood and the director Pippa Martin were
all nominated for awards.
Best Actor - Rick Morris (Cool)
The Oast Youth
Theatre, Tonbridge - "Stolen Secrets" by Fin Kennedy
This play is composed
of three fables linked by the common theme of secrets. The author Fin
Kennedy originally wrote for a girl's school in Tower Hamlets and he
has caught the ambience of the locality. The script is mainly in verse
and Oast Youth Theatre successfully captured the rhythm and pace of
the narrative. The play is versatile in that it can be performed by
an open number of actors and therefore is popular with school drama
groups. All seven of the actors were clearly identifiable in both speech
and mannerisms. They had researched the characters well, despite this
Kent based company having little in common with the mores of London's
East End. All the roles were entirely believable and acted with a mature
sincerity not often seen in youth theatre. There was clarity of speech
and movement although a wider variety of pace would have enhanced some
of the scenes. The collaborative team spirit prevailed and this sense
of unity lifted the whole production. It is difficult to single out
any of the actors for special mention. All were good at defining their
individual characters. The set was simple with the effects created by
lighting and the use of colourful post-its scattered on the black curtains
to frame the action.
Jason Lower was nominated by the adjudicator for Best Director.
Drama - "The Terrible Fate of Humpty Dumpty" by David Calcutt
A large cast was
involved in this production and thanks to the experienced direction
of Mary Pearson it ran smoothly and cohesively. The perennial theme
of bullying was seen through the eyes of all those involved - the victim,
his family and friends, the police, the school, the head-teacher and
the intimidating gang. All parts were well cast and well prepared so
it is difficult to single out any particular actor for praise. Each
cameo role created its own identity and clearly a lot of intense observation
work had gone into the various character studies. There was a dedication
to detail and a team spirit which highlighted the emotive subject of
bullying and demonstrated its far reaching consequences. The simple
set consisting of a collection of rostra was appropriate and was used
to great effect when Terry, played by Henry Childs, climbed the pylon.
His scream and the lightning flashes were a moment of pure drama. The
rostra were also used successfully for the crowd grouping when the action
was taking place elsewhere. Particularly noticeable was the gang's stillness
when the attention moved to other scenes. Well done. This was a long
play but the cast maintained concentration throughout and gave the audience
a detailed and forceful piece of theatre.
Henry Childs and Seth Atherton were both nominated for the Best Young
Actor award and Grace Richardson and Georgia Archer received nominations
for Best Young Actress.
Friday 24th February
Drama - "The Little Nut Tree" by T B Morris
young players from Heathfield Youth Drama grappled manfully with this
somewhat dated play based on the well known nursery rhyme. Each character
was evident in essence but this juvenile cast needed more rehearsal
and direction to improve their voice projection and general stage craft.
Confidence dipped when prompts were required and the audience could
feel the agony as those on stage waited for the next line to be delivered.
But these young people soldiered on and demonstrated a tenacity which
will ensure they become confident performers in the future. The groupings
on stage were somewhat awkward, often with the players standing in straight
lines and masking other actors. Greater use could have been made of
the whole stage. There needed to be an awareness of the other cast members
and more cohesion as a team. Each individual had obviously worked on
his or her own role but there lacked interplay between the characters.
All too often the actors only really came to life when they were speaking.
The set, props and furniture were somewhat sparse but the costumes gave
a flavour of Spain.
The Young Oxted
Players - "Bully Dancers" by Frank Gibbons
The Young Oxted
Players worked cohesively as a team despite the fact they were acting
two opposing groups. The interplay between the rivals had energy and
the audience could sense the tension between them. These young actors
performed with confidence and were clearly at ease with their peers.
They worked as a troupe, each depending on and reacting to one another.
In so doing they produced a credible and strong piece of drama. Voice
projection and stage presence was assured and well managed. There were
some good cameo performances and the actors created characters with
their own individuality yet managed to demonstrate a group identity
for the rival gangs. It is often difficult for young people to play
adults but Hayley Sasserath and Teddy Stevenson gave sensitive performances
as harassed parents. The girls successfully assumed a variety of persona
and Thomas Muscio was a credible Zac. The simple set provided the necessary
back drop and managed to create the atmosphere of a rather dingy rehearsal
space. The open stage provided enough room for the dance routines and
Zac's escape through the window was cleverly masked.
Group - "Hoodie" by Lindsay Price
This play by Lindsay
Price clearly demonstrates teenage angst and confusion. From the very
outset there was an infectious energy which transported the older members
of the audience back to their younger days of agonising indecision.
The crowd scenes were well orchestrated and presented good visual images.
The simple costumes of dark coloured hoodies provided a good foil for
the imaginative lighting. The tempo of the choral speaking was brisk
and upbeat. Every word could be heard. Projection and articulation came
across very clearly and there was imaginative interpretation of the
script. This production was very tight and controlled, it exuded fast
pace and enthusiasm throughout. The individual cameos were acted with
sincerity and demonstrated strength of character.
Nominations for Best Young Actor were given to Joshua Millar and Evan
Moynihan and Best Young Actress to Carrie Charles, Eloise Smith and
Krista Goodwin. Natasha Palmer was nominated for Best Director.
Best Young Actress - Eloise Smith (Natalie)
Best Stage Presentation
Group - "Everyman" adapted by Carol Ann Duffy
This modern adaptation
by Carol Ann Duffy of a medieval morality play was a brave choice for
Glow Theatre Group. The talented and experienced production team put
together a compact and highly visible show which kept the audience enthralled
throughout. This was a very tight and disciplined production involving
both ensemble work and individual vignettes. It attained a very high
standard of performance. Simple black cube boxes were moved about the
stage to create the different locations. The plastic city and tsunami
scenes were cleverly devised. They were imaginative and very effective.
The acting was controlled and very powerful. The blend of chorus and
actors worked well and the whole company were focused. They all maintained
concentration even when they were not participating in the action. It
was a true team effort. Young Edward Cowlard as Everyman gave continuity
throughout and is to be congratulated on his very long and arduous role.
Tom Gardner as Death provided a sinister element and was a menacing
presence even when he was not speaking.
Charlotte Bridson received a nomination for Best Young Actress. Nominations
for Best Young Actor were Edward Cowlard and Tom Gardner and Matthew
Falconer was awarded Best Young Actor. The play was nominated for Best
Best Young Actor - Matthew Falconer (Knowledge)
Best Youth Production
Martin Patrick Award for Best Director - Jackie Driscoll
ICB FESTIVAL WINNERS AWARD
The Oxted Players
- "The Twelve Pound Look" by J M Barrie
This somewhat dated
play by J M Barrie gave an insight into the social times at the turn
of the century and reflects the growing emancipation of women. The set
and costumes reflected the era and much attention had been paid to detail.
Sir Harry Sims, portrayed by Peter Damesick was an unpleasant chauvinist
and completely self centred. He exuded a bombastic air right from the
opening of the play and became steadily more unlikable throughout which
was exactly right for his character. Catherine Wyncoll as Lady Sims
was dutifully subdued and stately looking in her presentation gown.
She maintained her dignity and eventually showed her true colours and
sparkle in the final lines of the play. Marion Barker as the first wife
cum typist gave a spirited performance of a liberated woman. She was
clearly a match for her ex husband and ran rings round him intellectually.
All three main actors melded their very different characters into a
composite play. However there needed to be more variety of pace, quicker
cue biting and animation.
Reviews by Tricia
Whyte and photos by Mike Sutton