Sex Cells - directed by Jo Fosker
"Over the last three years the Phoenix Theatre Company has had, like many other amateur societies, a difficult time. They suffered the pandemic, followed by a problem choosing a play for the very small cast that was left. Then once decided, the venue that they always used refused to let them do the play, so another venue had to be found at short notice. This is not an easy thing to do as most halls are now booked up but finally Phoenix found Sandon Village Hall and were granted two Saturday evenings.
To then try and find a new audience, to get this new venue filled, is no mean feat, so I was delighted to find a totally packed hall when we came to see the show.
Choosing Sex Cells by Anna Logaretti, a really unknown piece, was a bit of a challenge. In addition having to take away all the props/furniture on the first Saturday and then having to put it all back again on the second is a nightmare scenario for any company. The need to source lighting and sound kit for this production, with the additional cost, was another hurdle they had to cross.
"Sex Cells" is a comedy drama, set in a call centre that sells sex toys! We are taken on a roller-coaster of emotions by the five actors in this very funny and poignant play. Lots of humour and pathos in equal measures plus drama of each character adding to the mix.
Angela Gee was excellent as Lily. Sharp tongued and lonely after falling out with her son she then loses her husband who she realises she never ever loved. Angela is a very experienced actor, her projection and clarity of speech was a joy as were her facial expressions. I loved the fact she kept crocheting as she extolled the virtues of the sex products. Well done Angela on a super performance.
Sylvie was played by Angela's real life daughter Vikki Babar. She maintained her French accent throughout and was so good I had to check that she wasn't French. Sylvie was desperate to have a child and had taken the IVF route which had failed. I sometimes found it hard to hear Vikki, especially in the first scenes when they were all behind desks as she often had her head down with her hands on her face and with the accent it was difficult to hear what she said but once standing and getting into her feisty character she delivered well.
Tiffany played by Jenny Jeggo plays a sexy, sassy, twenty nine year old woman who is always looking for love, while not caring a fig for her work. This was Jenny's first role ever on stage and it must have been so hard to not only learn the script but deal with only a two nights on stage coupled with all the additional problems faced by the company. I did feel that she needed more help from the director to learn how to project and give some clarity of speech. Maybe warm ups would have helped all the cast to push the volume at the beginning. That being said, she gave a good characterisation of the role and I'm sure she will go from strength to strength as she learns her stage craft.
Janice played by Becky Smart was the mother of five who never had a moment to herself. Tired and worn down, Becky played the role well and gave a sustained performance.
Mr Causeway, played by the evergreen Syd Smith, is the hapless manager dealing with the four very different ladies who work for him. Tall and with a lilting Irish accent Syd portrayed a man stressed with his job and secretly in love with Lily. The audience were definitely on his side as he tried to woo her and failed until the end when she invited him to be with her on Christmas Day.
The set that Phoenix delivered was excellent. It had the feel of a dingy working office, and
the little details provided everywhere really helped the production. I especially liked the Sales Person of the month with their photos.
Lighting and Sound by Kenton Church, Dave Hancock and Rob Whitfield were good. I really did think the choice of music between each scene was excellent and pertained to what was going on. Costumes were fine but really slowed down each scene as they were constantly changed. Really this was something that should have been sorted out as it really did take too long. At one scene change poor Syd, who had waited a long while to return on was seen waiting in the lights for Vikki's entrance. Just by putting on a cardigan or jacket for each character would have been sufficient to set the scene and quicken the pace, Syd, it was seen, never changed his costume.
This company had so many problems to face that to put on a show and have a full house is credit to all the members who must have been tireless in their intention to put this show on. They are due next to have a murder mystery evening and I'm sure that they will succeed in their endeavours at their new venue.
Well done to Jo Fosker and company, for all your hard work and I do hope the venue lets you have a block booking next time to save all your energies. I look forward to seeing how you progress.