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,
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.
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
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.
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.
I was unable to attend on this night. In my place Sheila Carr reports:-
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.