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

Tel: 01959 561811
Email: barntheatre


Southern Counties Drama Festival 2013


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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.

This year's Festival opened somewhat later than planned due to severe delays on the M25 in which the adjudicator, the cast of the second play and much of the audience - including myself - were involved. The evening eventually got started at 8.45pm and fortunately, as there were only two plays, it wasn't too late a night.

Monday 25th February

Sevenoaks Players opened the Festival with their production of "Home Free" by Lanford Wilson. Credit should go to this cast for seemingly not being affected by starting over an hour later than planned. Lawrence and Joanna, a brother and sister have an incestuous relationship and live in one room surrounded by their imaginary friends and toys. Lawrence never leaves the room. The two actors worked well together and the performance was slick. The American accent was more convincing from the woman. The actor's long opening monologue was handled very well and his performance was always sincere. I felt he could have been even more childlike. The woman gave a convincing performance but at times her voice became rather shrill and the adjudicator commented on this. She also suggested that the positioning of the bed could have been more at an angle thus allowing the audience to see certain actions, such as Joanna's hand on her death, more clearly.

The Byfleet Players gave the second production of the evening - "Saving for Dolphins". This was an original play by Wilf Hashimi and it won the "New Writer's Award" at the 2012 Leatherhead Festival. Simon, the main character, played by the playwright, is a loner, probably autistic. He relates his story as he writes his "blog". Immediately the audience is captured by the performance of this actor which was mesmerising and earnt him the Best Actor Award. The production was fairly static with a spotlight on Simon who was sitting downstage centre. The other characters came to the front to re-enact their scenes. This in itself was all that was needed but the performances by the other actors were not as strong, apart from the politician, and at times their dialogue was difficult to hear. The adjudicator commented on this and felt that there was a lack of energy. She liked the simplicity of the staging but felt that the actor playing Mac could have remained in position rather that returning to the back of the stage between his scenes. The only time Simon moved from his chair was during the final moments of the play. The ending was totally unexpected and very shocking and the gunshots chilling.

Tuesday 26th February

Woldingham Players presented "Blind Date" by Frank Marcus, who is better known for his play "The Killing of Sister George". The play is set in the entrance hall to Charing Cross Station where Angie and Brian have agreed to meet following an "arranged" telephone call. Although the play was written in the 1970s the adjudicator commented on the fact that it hadn't dated. She also praised the excellent set. There was a working clock which meant the whole audience could act as timekeepers! The two actors worked well together but I didn't find them totally believable. They were more "caricature" than real people. The situation was funny and perhaps the two actors tried too hard to get the laughs. The actress had some lovely facial expressions which the adjudicator commented on but vocally I felt she was too "over the top". The adjudicator felt that the actor's movement when he entered was rather too exaggerated but the moves in general were well motivated. She especially liked the subtle changes when the two actors were sitting on the seat. The whole production was polished.

The Oxted Players were the second group of the evening and their production was "Moving On" by Richard James. This play takes place on the day Angela is due to move out of the family home following the death of her husband a year before. The stage immediately suggested the final stages of a move but the adjudicator felt that the lack of a fireplace was noticeable as the surround with mantelpiece had been set centre stage. She suggested experimenting with the positioning of the packing boxes to give more variation to the moves and also thought adding some black sacks would have helped. I liked the sincerity of all the actors and found Angela's performance very moving. All the actors needed to project their voices and the adjudicator commented on the fact that the three of them had picked up each other's vocal level. There was one point in the play where Bob puts his arms round Angela to comfort her and then goes to kiss her. I felt the kiss should have been longer and then Angela's reaction and shock would have been more justified.

Sevenoaks Players were the final group pf the evening with "Auto Da Fe" by Tennessee Williams. The set for this production immediately suggested the heat of New Orleans. There was an orange glow on the cyclorama with a flat down stage to represent the old frame house plus a veranda. The adjudicator commented on the railings, saying they should have been more substantial as when the actors leant on them they wobbled but she liked the overall effect of the set. The adjudicator also explained that "Auto Da Fe" was the ceremony for pronouncing judgement by the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition. The punishment was the burning of the heretic. The explanation helped in the understanding of the play and the reason for the shocking ending. Both the mother and son are described as fanatics and both actors in their own way portrayed this. I didn't feel the man's accent was as convincing but he portrayed the strange son well and it was clear he was obsessed with the indecent photograph he had found. The actress, Barbara Smith, playing the mother was excellent. She was awarded Best Actress in the festival and the adjudicator commented on how believable she was as she appeared not to be acting. The ending of the play could have been more shocking and the adjudicator suggested more voices/screaming coming from inside the burning house.

Wednesday 27th February
I was unable to attend on this night. In my place Sheila Carr reports:-

Merstham Amateur Dramatic Society presented "How to Make Your Theatre Pay" by David Henry Wilson. I felt the set could have been enhanced by more "stage items" (flats, a selection of stacked furniture etc) to help set the scene and be better positioned to aid movement and stage business. At time the delivery of the comedy lines was forced rather than natural. I also felt that Rouse's feet movements were very funny the first two, even three times but then needed some variation. The adjudicator described the play as being about fanatics using Roald Dahlesque language. She liked the set and the use of the high ladder, the costumes and the choice of music to set the mood. There were some fun moments with nice pace and good contact with the audience. She felt that the cast didn't use the whole of the stage with the moves mainly being across the front area and would have liked more use of angles and to use the depth and width. She liked the final scene and commented on the teamwork and concentration of the cast and thought the play was a delightful start to the evening.

Alternate Shadows Theatre Group was the second group of the evening with their production of "It's Only a Game", an original play by Owen Beesley. I felt that the use of the cyclorama rather than black curtains would have greatly aided the setting of this play. Obviously out of doors, it would also have helped the actors establishing the cold. I agreed with the adjudicator about using a folding chair and rubbish bins to help levels but maybe a bench or even two could have been used to hold bags and would have saved all the stage business taking place behind the actors. Much more could have been made of watching the ball movement up and down the pitch - a more united cohesion between the actresses watching the match. The monologues could have been lit by a spot to isolate the characters but there was a good contrast between these monologues and the comedy moments. The adjudicator felt that more background sound could have been used throughout the play but felt the noise of the match at the beginning helped set the scene. She felt the monologues had variations in pace and used pause effectively.

Stack 10 were the final group of the evening with "Thomas the Watchmaker" by Caryl Jones, an original play in which the playwright took the part of the mother. The adjudicator thought this was an intriguing play and explained that it moves from present day to the 19th century where parallel life choices were made by Thomas the watchmaker, who died aged 19 years and Philip, a modern university student. The ghost of Thomas persuades Philip that change is not always good. She felt that when and where the scenes are need to be clearly indicated and felt that this was achieved by lighting and the change of furniture. I felt the stage was well used with minimal furniture and props but there needed to be better flow between the scenes and music or some sound during the blackouts to keep up the momentum. The adjudicator commented that you should never leave an audience in the dark as the first blackout was too long. In general she felt the actor's performances were believable but at times needed to be louder.

Thursday 28th February

Hazelwood School presented "Domby-Dom" by Nick Warburton. All the cast were from Year 6 and so were 10 or 11 years old. The curtains opened to show a colourful set comprising brightly coloured boxes with black wooden planks connecting them. The cast wore colourful day clothes. The energy of the children was commendable. Vocally they were excellent and picked up cues well. There was some occasional masking but this wasn't for long as the stage picture was constantly changing. I particularly liked the ending where all the props were cleared away by the children, leaving just the boxes. The adjudicator made it clear that she would be treating the youth groups in exactly the same way as the adults. She did not agree with the comment often given of "weren't they good for kids". She thought that technically this play was very good and that the scene changes done by the children were excellent. There was good pace and she felt that the cast worked as a team and were confident and focused.

Glow Theatre Group gave their first production of the week which was "A Human Right" by Amy Sutton. This was directed by Bethan Frisby who at just 21 was making her directorial debut. The set was simple and the costumes and make-up very imaginative. Each member of the cast was dressed in a variety of bronze costumes and each had a slightly different bronze symbol on their face. The girl playing the writer stood out with a white symbol. Full use of the stage was made with the cast creating different and interesting pictures on the varying levels. The adjudicator thought the movement was very good and particularly liked the mime in the coffee shop and the scene on the bus. The production had a variety of pace and the cast worked very well as a team, were excellent vocally, always picking up their cues. The adjudicator described this production as an "innovative piece of theatre" and awarded it the Runner's Up Award and the Adjudicator's Award to its director Bethan Frisby

Heathfield Youth Drama presented their first of three productions, "Cage Birds" by David Campton. Six women / birds live locked in a room /cage. Each have different characteristics but are content to stay locked in the room. Then The Wild One is introduced and she tries to persuade them to break free but this resulted in her own destruction at their hands. The opening picture was very effective and the costumes very good. The adjudicator commented on these and the props which she thought were appropriate for each character but she felt that the make-up was unnecessary. I felt the position of the door and blocks caused some difficulties for the actors as there was some masking and awkward moves but I felt the girls all created clear characters and their concentration was good. The adjudicator thought there was a variety of pace and good use made of pause. She particularly liked the performance of The Wild One but felt that some of the other characters needed to slow down at times.

Friday 1st March

Heathfield Youth Drama presented "You, Me and Mrs Jones" by Tony Horitz, the first production of the evening. Logistically this presented difficulties as the cast was huge and some of the children quite young, so merely getting them on stage at the right time presented challenges. This was achieved but I felt the production as a whole needed more rehearsals. There were times when the use of the cyclorama with a colour wash could have been used particularly as characters were wearing so much black. I also felt that more use could have been made of the blocks at the back of the stage to give a more interesting picture. There were some quite nice characterisations but in the main the dialogue was rather rushed and at times inaudible. The adjudicator commented on this saying more energy was needed. She suggested that the young actors needed to stand still rather than wandering about and to open up the diagonals more which would have helped with the inevitable masking.

Young Oxted Players presented the second production of the evening which was "The Herd" by Florence O'Mahony. Florence also directed the play. The multi-functional set and costumes were excellent with a black and white theme and it was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into this. The choice of the opening music was just right and created the mood. Unfortunately the level was too loud when the actors were speaking which meant that it was difficult to hear. The lighting was generally good but there were quite a few times when characters were sitting, for quite long periods of time, on the stage left and right and could not be seen. The energy of the actors was tremendous and the adjudicator commented on this. She felt the production was innovative and the physical work excellent. She suggested that more work needed to be done vocally but the cueing was sharp. She also commented on the lighting and sound levels. There were clear characterisations from all the cast and the Best Young Actor Award went to Nick Gilbert for his portrayal of Simon, the school misfit. The final moments of the play were chilling and the adjudicator praised the use of blood which was most realistic.

Heathfield Youth Drama gave their third production of the week and their second of the evening. The play was "In Need of Care" by David E Rowley. This one-act play has been a very popular one at festivals for many years. It provides some good duologues for young actresses particularly. Shirley and Rita have run away from approved school and are hiding in a barn. The adjudicator wasn't sure about the positioning of the straw bales and felt that there were some rather awkward moves. She thought that the play had some nice pacing but felt there was a lack of energy by the actors. I thought the four young actors were quite believable but I had difficulty in hearing some of the dialogue.

Saturday 2nd March

Glow Theatre Group opened the final evening with "The Heights" by Lisa McGee. The play was written for the "New Connections" National Theatre youth theatre scheme in 2009. The play is about Lillie Lee, a loner who is confined to her bedroom by illness. She invents stories by watching life in the streets below her "high rise" flat. There was a very effective opening with a spotlight on Lillie and an excellent choice of opening music. The lighting and music was most effective throughout the play. The stage was used to its capacity and the set represented the flats, bedroom and street below. The adjudicator praised the cast for its teamwork and the director for rising to the challenges the play presented. She felt the whole play was shaped well with the pacing and use of pause. She liked the groupings in the street scenes which were always interesting to look at. She said that it was a fascinating interesting treatment by a committed youth team. I will remember this production. The actors were always heard and their concentration was excellent. I thought the moment where Jacob kisses Lillie Lee was so touching and handled well by the two actors. The gun shot was so well cued and I will remember the sensitive performance from the "girl in white". The play picked up awards for - Best Young Actress to Rebecca Bridson, Best Director to Jackie Driscoll, Best Stage Presentation, Gatwick Airport Community Trust Award - Best Youth Production, and Festival Winners. Prior to the final results I overheard the director saying that she did not mind what happened as she was so pleased that they had received a good adjudication. Well, I should think she is feeling very proud and deservedly so.

Tonbridge Theatre Arts Club presented "Regina Monologues" by Rebecca Russell and Jennifer Wafer and was the final production of the week. It was also the third entry by the director, Sandra Barfield. The play was written in 2005 and gives an account of what would happen if you brought Henry VIII's wives up to date. I enjoyed this production and it was a good choice of play to end the Festival. There were clear characterisations by the actresses and it was obvious which wife they were! The adjudicator stated that the set needed to allow the actors to move around easily and felt that it did but suggested putting the pianist and throne on a rostrum block. She thought there could have been more use of lighting to isolate the different areas. She praised the use of live music and thought there were some nice little touches from the director and felt the movement of the actresses was handled well. She said the play was difficult and was given a good interpretation by an ensemble of excellent actresses.

I enjoyed my week (sorry to have missed Wednesday) at the Southern Counties Drama Festival which is always so well organised. I really do think there should be an award for Stage Presentation for the Award Ceremony. The stage looked splendid. I hope Glow Theatre Group enjoy their experience in the next round at Maidenhead and wish them every success.

Sara Watkins