Tales by Moonlight - written and directed by Daniel Curley
"Tales by Moonlight is a double bill exploring our darkest dreams.
Daniel Curley wrote and directed both plays. The second, Miss Polly had a Dolly was a revival.
Domineering mother Angie Gee keeps her "mad, twisted" daughter - a haunting, flawless performance from Josephine Curley - locked in the attic over her "Ovaltine brothel".
Often uncomfortable, the piece was memorable for the sense of menace and madness, and the black wings fluttering round the head of the victim child, who, in a masterly twist, steps into her mother's shoes and Polka dot dress.
Wonderland also used expressionist techniques and music to tell the tale of Lewis Carroll - an epicene Ian Eagleton in a strong physical performance - and his tortured relationship with Alice Liddell, played by Vikki Gordon-Gee, and her parents, the formidable Lorina played by Paulette Harris.
There was madness here too, in the cacophonous kitchen, and a lovely symbolic moment as the house of cards collapsed.
Tricia Childs made the most of the Cheshire Cat, and Liz Curley was a laid back caterpillar and a maniacal cook.
The pace was lively, and I liked the way the dialogue switched seamlessly between Oxford and the looking-glass world of Wonderland.
It was an inspired exploration of innocence and experience which deserved a wider audience."
Michael Gray-Weekly News
"General Thank you for inviting me to see your production. You certainly have set me a task this time! Not only was it a "Home-written" play, and I have to decide whether to adjudicate on the writing or not, but there were also two plays to take into consideration. The plays were presented as one production and, although I will comment on each play individually, I shall consider the whole evening's production when it comes to stage and production awards.
Front of House You managed your usual excellent welcome and your smartly dressed team were readily identifiable. The programme was one of the best I have seen. Although from a design point of view something was lacking, nevertheless it was an excellent read and, what's more, legible! Congratulations.
Props Props were kept to a minimum, but all appeared to be suitable.
Stage Management The show ran slickly as regards starting and the interval. All the cast appeared at the right times and props also appeared to be in the right place at the right time. I was particularly impressed with the wicker basket and the fact that everything was there when required! The lack of extraneous noise with a large cast off stage was very creditable.
"Wonderland" Mr Liddell and Dodgson were attired perfectly.. The indications of the Wonderland characters were very good. I would have said that the Chorus were dressed excellently, but there were one or two variations from the rule - bare arms and varying shirt designs - which just made it less than perfect.
"Polly" I appreciated the philosophy behind Mother's, and subsequently Polly's dress, and the design was just about perfect. The Chorus costuming was impressive.
Sound I liked the choice of music, which was played at just the right volume. On Friday there were one or two occasions when the operator appeared to have twitchy fingers, and again there were some sudden cut-offs! On the whole, though, the sound (in both plays) added to and enhanced the action.
Lighting I think that this production would have warranted hiring in a slightly more sophisticated system, because the success of the plays really depended, in the absence of scenery, on atmosphere.
"Wonderland" I liked the opening. I go on a lot about grabbing the audience from the start, usually by a strong stage presence, energetic acting and pace. However, it can also be achieved by stillness, and this is what you did. Audiences, particularly local ones, are not used to stylised and difficult plays and I was concerned at first that you may lose them and end up with self-conscious laughter. You didn't, and the fact that they sat in attentive silence until some of the more humorous lines cropped up was a credit to you all.
I liked the pace of the play, although I felt that some of the silent sections were too long and broke the flow. I thought that the chorus work was excellent throughout.
The highlight was the "percussion" scene with the Duchess. This got a deserved round of applause and after that the audience relaxed. The Tea Party scene was good - I liked the freezing, particularly of the March Hare and the Hatter.
"Polly" I thought that the direction of this play was excellent. Once again a strong start grabbed the audience from the beginning. A very good cast made the Director's task that much easier. The entrances and business of the Chorus were, again, excellently executed
My other reservation is whether Mother, whilst obviously never having grown out of childhood, should have exhibited just a slightly greater amount of evil, which the child quite rightly did?
The Doctor's murder went well, and I liked the way he waited until masked by to Chorus to adjust his position. I thought Mother's discovery of the murdered Doctor fell rather flat. Mother's death scene, although difficult to stage, just lacked some credibility.
Finally, Polly's transformation went well, but she was not very well masked by the Chorus - a minor pity.
Chorus I am going to include all the cast who took part as chorus. It was a very disciplined, well rehearsed and confident performance by all. I have rarely seen such accomplished ensemble acting by such a large group. Well done to you all.
Finally You will be pleased to know that I left the theatre feeling that I had witnessed an excellent production. You may think this strange after all the previous remarks, but although I may criticise details, it is my overall impression and gut feeling which counts.
This was a bold experiment I congratulate you on taking the gamble and I am pleased that I was able to witness it." ---------------------
Ian Crisp-North West Essex Theatre Guild
"The piece consisted of two one act plays linked by the concept of 'a dream and a nightmare'. Both plays were written by the director. In the first, 'Wonderland' looked at Alice from Lewis Carroll's writings, but from an unexpected angle. Here was Alice looking back, rather than through, and dealt the complex and difficult relationships between Lewis, Alice and Alice's parents. With a cast of over twenty, the concerted movements of the company had been given much time to gain perfection. Whilst the company were on stage for much of the time, they never seemed intrusive to the action, although their presence was never overlooked. How clever! There was a masterful performance by Paulette Harris as Alice's mother and I would add further that all the supporting actors gave good accounts of their roles, some of which were quite demanding. In the second piece, 'Miss Polly Had A Dolly', I expected something of a childish nature, bearing in mind the theme of the first play. No so! This was a short but sinister piece, where the two principal actors, Josephine Curley and Angie Gee undoubtedly helped to make the piece real and almost believable - unfortunately! Again there was a clever use of the company, dressed in black and frighteningly portraying black moths with the lively use of black fans! The evening was one which required extraordinary vision on the part of the director and with that in place, audiences were in for an unusual treat!" ---------------------
Eric Smart-National Operatic and Dramatic Association
"On a cold rainy September evening I was invited to attend the Phoenix Theatre Company's "Tales By Moonlight Production" described as a dream and a nightmare in two one-act plays, which were written and directed by Daniel Curley. Having seen a couple of the plays that the group have put on over the last couple of years, I was looking forward to seeing a piece of new and unpublished work, but was unsure of what to expect as all I was told was that it was a dream and nightmare all in one night.
With no permanent home for the group to perform in, they formed a link with the local church and now have a well equipped and good sized hall and stage to use for the time being.
The plays were "Wonderland' (a dream) and "Miss Polly Had a Dolly" (a nightmare). Wonderland was a play based around the life of a young Lewis Carroll. It was well cast with a lot of new faces joining the group. The cast were, on the whole, very strong and well polished, with special praise going to Katie Farquhar, Lesley Reid and Syd Smith.
The set was very basic and the cast needed to provide a lot of the images and props that were used for the show, an idea that I felt worked extremely well. Jumping from Lewis Carroll's life in to his thoughts and writings of Alice in Wonderland this play was well thought out and written though at some points a little confusing.
The nightmare "Miss Polly had a Dolly" was a very weird and wonderful dark play based around a young girl's life with her evil mother. Polly was played brilliantly by Josephine Curley and stole the whole night for me. For such a short play this play had a lot of twists written into the script and kept you wondering what would happen next.
Even though the first play was not my cup of tea it went down very well with everyone in the packed audience and with this group's 50th anniversary coming up I wait to see what their next performance will bring.
A very well done to all of the, Phoenix Players for both these shows."
Bobby Mather-Curtain Call
For awards received for this play see "Tales by Moonlight"
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