The Barn Theatre,
25 Bluehouse Lane, Oxted, Surrey
RH8 0AA.

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Southern Counties Drama Festival 2012


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The annual Southern Counties Drama Festival once again had a very successful week at the Barn Theatre, Oxted. The result was in the balance until the final evening on Saturday, which yet again made this year's festival a nail biting finish. Sara Watkins from St Paul's Drama Group reviews the week below.

I was fortunate this year to be able to see all the productions at the Southern Counties Festival. In previous years I have been involved as either an actress or director and therefore have often been rehearsing on several of the nights. It was a very new experience to be a member of the audience every night and to feel relaxed and nerve-free! I knew only one of the plays being performed so the week was informative as were the Adjudicator, Mike Tilbury's excellent adjudications.

Tuesday 21st February

Alternate Shadows performed "Jack" by Peter Bridges. This play had been runner up in the Geoffrey Whitworth playwriting competition in 2010. Jack is upset and wants to be alone to seemingly mourn a loved one but he is pestered by "G". The play is open to interpretation. The setting was a graveyard and there were three very realistic tombstones on stage and the lighting and costumes were appropriate. The adjudicator felt that the stage area could have been used more fully by the two main actors as much of the action took place downstage. He said that all movement should have motivation as there was rather too much pacing by one of the actors but I felt that both of their performances were sincere.

Oxted Players performed "Say Something Happened" By Alan Bennett, a play dealing with the intrusion of the State into an elderly couple's lives. The company had a note in the programme to say that "the staging of the production was deliberately minimalistic in order to accentuate the wry humour and poignancy of the script". The adjudicator felt this minimalistic approach worked against the true meaning of the play. The performances by the old man and woman were believable and the social worker was very sincere but the adjudicator felt that the positioning of the furniture made it particularly difficult for the actress playing the social worker as she spent much of the time talking to the backs of the other actors.

Wednesday 22nd February

Sevenoaks Players performed "Why" by Alison Pritchard. This was an original play written by a member of the group. Simon has confessed to the murder of his parents and is on death row but we discover by the end of the play that he is making the ultimate sacrifice by taking the blame for the crime that his brother committed. The play needed to depict two settings - inside a prison on death row and outside the prison walls and this had been achieved quite successfully. Unfortunately there wasn't enough room to have the final execution scene set behind the back tabs and therefore the bed had to be wheeled on which rather spoilt the ending. The performances from the two brothers were in the main successful but the actress playing the Protestor was totally believable. The director had to take over the part of the Padre at short notice and had done remarkably well.

St Paul's Drama Group performed "Elegy for a Lady" by Arthur Miller. A man goes into a shop to buy a gift for his dying mistress and as he talks more to the proprietress she assumes the characteristics of the absent mistress. The play is set in a boutique and the set, costumes and props were carefully coordinated and the effect was stunning and the use of the original music underlined the mood of this piece. The adjudicator had praise for the stage presentation along with the production and acting and this production were Festival Winners. They also won the best Stage Presentation award. The Best Director award went to Sheila Carr, the Best Actor and Actress awards went to Chris Butler and Alison Sheppard and deservedly so.

Thursday 23rd February

Heathfield Drama Club presented "Laundry Girls" by Bill Owen. This was the first of three entries by this group and opened the two evenings from Youth Groups. Laundry Girls, set in a Victorian laundry is a charming play for an all female group and suited this young cast. The setting and costumes immediately suggested a laundry although some of the blouses were rather too modern. There was a buzz of activity on stage which continued throughout the play and never detracted from the main action. The adjudicator commented that the dialogue was sometimes inaudible but he felt that a good attempt had been made at truthful characterisation.

Young Oxted Players
"D.N.A" by Dennis Kelly was the second production of the evening. A group of teenagers do something bad and then panic and cover the whole thing up. The play is fast moving and requires an easily adaptable set to create the different scenes. Using a number of boxes which the cast moved around, the stage picture was frequently changed. The production had plenty of energy and there were excellent performances from all the actors. The adjudicator awarded the Best Young Actress award to Jay White for her very witty performance and The Adjudicator's Award for the production. It should be noted that the director of D.N.A was only 19 years old.

Heathfield Drama Club The second production by this group was "Shakers-Re- Stirred" by John Godber and Jane Thornton. This was the one play of the week that I had seen before. It is set in a cocktail bar and gives us a view of the different characters that frequent this bar through the eyes of the waitresses. It again needs a multi functional set as the play moves swiftly from scene to scene. The adjudicator felt that the positioning of the tables and chairs was rather limiting for the actors (the playwrights in fact suggest just using four stools) and that the production lacked pace and therefore much of the humour was lost. I think that all four girls worked well together but they could have had even more fun.

Friday 24th February

Applause Youth Theatre presented "The Chrysalids" adapted by David Harrower from the novel by John Wyndham. The play is set many years in the future after the ravages of nuclear holocaust, in a society where even the smallest deviation is wrong. This was an extremely ambitious play by a cast which was in the main quite young. The music used was very atmospheric but was too loud which meant that some dialogue was missed and some of the lighting used was inadequate but the adjudicator praised the group for their excellent concentration, team work and the swiftness in which the very young actors moved from scene to scene. I thought the performances, particularly by the younger members of the cast were very impressive.

Heathfield Drama Club presented "Ghostwriter" by N J Warburton. Jeffrey and Belinda are about to finish their new play when the characters come to life in their study. The authors lose control and a "Ghost" writer steps in to help but nothing goes to plan. This production was the third from this group and one can only imagine the planning that was needed to transport not only the children but the vast amount of furniture and costumes required for all of the productions. The study setting for this play was fairly well depicted but the adjudicator felt that the sofa was rather large and together with the table was set too far downstage. The costumes were good but the vicar's dog collar needed some attention. The play was fun and the cast obviously enjoyed themselves and this was reflected by the audience's reaction.

Glow Theatre Group
presented "Sparkleshark" by Philip Ridley which was the last of the Youth entries for the Festival. Fourteen year old Jake, the classroom "geek" is bullied by the other boys and avoided by the girls. He takes refuge on the roof of the school in order to escape and write his stories. Inevitably he eventually is found and the taunting continues but he fights back by telling stories and soon the group of boys and girls become involved by enacting these stories. The adjudicator commented on the realistic stage setting which clearly represented the roof of the school with its aerials against the skyline and the change in level leading to the stairs. He felt that the director made full use of the acting area and that the cast worked well together and he awarded the group the Gatwick Airport Community Trust
Award for the best Youth Production. Matthew Falconer got the Best Young Actors award for his portrayal of Jake, a particularly sensitive performance.

Saturday 25th February

Tonbridge Theatre Arts Club
presented "Cruise Missile" (from Deckchairs 3) by Jean McConnell. This play which takes place on a cruise ship is one of a group of plays written for women. Janet, who is happily married has come away to enjoy a rest and is looking forward to her first cruise. She meets another passenger Goldie who is only too willing to be her guide. The stage setting immediately suggested the deck of a cruise ship but the adjudicator did suggest that a blue wash on the cyclorama would have given a better effect and felt that one of the notices was rather too shabby. He liked the costumes and thought them very appropriate for each lady. Although this play could have been quite static full use had been made of the acting area. The two performances were contrasting with Goldie portrayed as very overbearing (perhaps at times a little too exaggerated) and Janet as the meeker of the two who eventually stands up for herself. The production was given the award for Runners Up.

Applause Plus Production Company presented "Superman" by Abi Morgan and brought the Festival to a close. The play is one of twenty pieces written by a team of playwrights ten years after the September 11th bombings. Abi Morgan's work includes the screen play for "The Iron Lady" and the BBC drama serial "The Hour". "Superman" is set in the offices of a tabloid newspaper and the setting gave a suggestion of this but the adjudicator felt that the desk was not right as it was not modern enough and it should have been set further from the sofa, upstage left which would have meant the actors had more room to move. He liked the music used and the lighting effect at the beginning of the play and during the changes of scenes. The cast had certainly made an attempt to capture the style of the play and there were some credible performances but the sound effects were rather too loud and some of the dialogue was not heard.

I enjoyed my week at the festival. I was very impressed by the Youth Groups. The adjudicator commented on how they weren't afraid to "go for it" and as a result there was some exciting work. The adults could learn much from their energy and lack of inhibition.

Over 100 actors took part in the Festival plus 10 directors and all of them were given very constructive help by Mike Tilbury.