3 One-Act Comedies - directed by Tricia Childs
Three one act plays? That's a bit ambitious I thought. However, having read the scripts kindly supplied, I could see how the evening would be structured, and very much looked forward to it. We were not disappointed!
FRONT OF HOUSE:
Finding our way into the hall itself was a challenge as we were not familiar with the venue. Along with a number of others we confused the dressing room door with the hall entrance -our apologies. A sign and perhaps covering the glass would save future embarrassment!
Front of House within the hall was efficiently organised, as was the raffle and the interval tea and coffee. Our thanks to all those helpers who made this part of the overall theatre experience enjoyable.
The programme was very helpful - clearly identifying necessary information regarding parts, but also giving us an insight into the development of the group, and it was particularly good to see so many young people being given the opportunity to develop their theatre skills.
The choice of ambient music challenged us - it was clearly a piece designed to be listened to, and potentially very interesting, but it was played at a volume that made identification impossible. However the music selected to prepare for commencement of performance was well selected in all cases.
SETTING AND PROPS
Holmes Sweet Holmes - An authentic Victorian interior, with nice sombre touches - brown paintwork, shaped picture frames. One of the pieces of furniture (I think the bookcase) looked too modern, but otherwise the effect was well created. The table length, which suited the requirements of the play admirably, did have the effect of creating a straight line in a good deal of the action, particularly given the sole entrance to the set. A chair on the upstage side would have given Dora an alternative place to sit on occasion and aided the blocking of scenes involving the Inspector/Mrs H.
Jekyll in Hiding-What a transformation: a stage management tour de force!! Some excellent detail here - the bottles and equipment on the laboratory bench were excellent. Again, setting another small laboratory table to the back of the room might have enabled Mrs Poole to be a bit more mobile and given her more capacity to look as if she was genuinely cleaning and tidying papers.
World Premiere - Again, a very quick shift of set in order to create the empty stage necessary for the second half. Good to have two different on stage entrances, which contrasted nicely with the first half, and along with the other devices used by the Director, succeeded in completely shifting the context of the play into another time and place.
All the cast in the Victorian plays managed their props well. In particular, Dora and the Major were confident in her handling of the breakfast setting and Mrs Poole managed the lab bench contents extremely well. The authentic looking newspaper and bent poker were great. To nit-pick however, there were some inconsistencies in the props used. The bowl with clock should have been china or an aluminium bucket - the one used was too shiny and contemporary. The gin bottle too was obviously modern, although we all instantly identified with it, and therefore perhaps it served its purpose! Finally, in my opinion, Val's office chair should have had a broken castor to add verisimilitude to her heroic efforts to move it, and it would have made more sense for Mrs Partridge to be brandishing an umbrella rather than a hockey stick when she comes to challenge the "intruder".
LIGHTING AND SOUND
The lighting state for Holmes Sweet Holmes gave a good general interior wash, in keeping with the Victorian setting. There was however no apparent change of lighting state for the laboratory. An increased gloominess would have added to atmosphere in the early section of the piece, and heightened some of the aspects of Mrs Pool's first long speech. It could have been resolved to a brighter state by having a gas lamp which Mr Poole dealt with on his entrance. [These comments are made without any knowledge of the constraints that might arise from the lighting capacity of the venue.]
For World Premiere, the lighting cues were sharply observed and extremely effective.
Sound played an extremely important part in the first half. Cues were generally well managed. The recording of the violin was excellent - not overdone, but extremely irritating, as it was intended to be. The singing of 0 For the Wings of a Dove, didn't work for me - the dialogue/sound didn't match up, and it was unrealistically untuneful.
The Major and the Inspector's costume jackets were nicely detailed, with small lapels and shirts that were in period. The costumes for Jekyll in Hiding were also good as was Mrs Hudson's. Dora's outfit, although attractive and adding to her 'feyness', was too short for the period, and the handbags used by Dora and Miss X were completely out of period.
For World Premiere, the modern costume nicely reflected the characters in the play for both men and women, and considerable attention to detail had been paid here. Sonia's strident red jacket suited her and added an early vibrancy to the bare stage. Gordon's slung jacket marked the shift in his character, and Val's outfit was excellent, including accessories. Ruth's lovely outfit with headdress would have sufficed on its own without the addition of the shiny arm panels, which on the night we came, were a bit of a distraction to her and the audience.
As a number of the cast 'doubled up', I have dealt with this adjudication by cast name, in order of first appearance, rather than by part for each play.
Geoff Hadley - Geoff has an easy and confident stage presence. His natural good stature gave us the military bearing necessary for the Major. Pace was good, but could perhaps been a little more clipped and RP as the Major in order to add to the period characterisation, and to contrast with the increasingly tipsy Dora. His wry commentary in World Premiere painted the overall picture of the acting company, and he was excellent in his scenes with Val.
Helen Langley - Helen's Dora was highly entertaining. She had nice vocal tone, and managed the spoonerisms of the first play almost effortlessly - we didn't stop laughing at her after the first "slink of weep", and she also managed to achieve and sustain a very believable 'tipsiness' in the first play, without it tipping over into pantomime. This was a very skilled portrayal of Dora, which was nicely contrasted with her assertive and robust characterisation for Mrs Partridge.
Angie Gee - Ruth Truelove was described as Character Lady, and Angie certainly made this part her own. Larger than life, she was in your face and vulnerable all at the same time, showing us that her whole life was an act. There were some lovely touches in movement (climbing the stairs) and shaping of her dialogue - particularly when being coy with Gordon. As Mrs Hudson, I found it hard to set her status - sometimes we had a humble servant, but at others she spoke and acted as an equal.
Becki Smith - It is very difficult to build a believable character with so few lines to work with and maintaining a static position for so long. However, Becki managed to convey a repressed Miss X through her posture and expression
Bob Ryall - Bob created a strutting peacock interpretation for his Inspector Lestrade. He held his accent well, and made good use of all stage space to create some movement in otherwise static/seated scenes.
Chris Wright - Chris's fleeting part was delivered competently, and his good timing as he handled the bent poker meant that we all knew what was going to happen next!
Sarah Wilson - Sarah bought energy and presence to World Premiere from the moment she spoke from the darkened auditorium. As with her role of Mrs Poole she gave a confident performance, with good pace, and achieved an effective contrast between characters by changing her physical approach and pitch. I felt that Mrs Poole was possibly pitched slightly too high in the opening speech, but overall these were two very strong performances.
Syd Smith - Syd played Gordon Truelove with a sense of style and panache with good diction and pace. Perhaps his portrayal could have been even more extreme/stereotyped - there was something almost pantomimic about the lost stage manager/'you wait here' pieces of dialogue, which wasn't sufficiently exploited. However, I felt that he was less comfortable as Mr Poole, and at times there was a lack of pace, and failure to add sufficient light and shade into the dialogue.
Scott Wilson - Scott played the cheeky young delivery boy, and he managed to convey this to us during his performance. He dealt with the quick costume change well, and was an extremely active and athletic monkey. We hoped that he enjoyed this first experience, and that we see him in future productions.
Liam O'Connor - This young man has made an excellent start to his performing career. He adopted the lumbering gait of the gorilla very well, and as the supercilious boater wearing young man his diction was clear, and he adopted engaging gestures whilst managing his props well. A nice characterisation.
Jo Fosker - Although described as a newcomer to the stage, Jo gave a highly entertaining portrayal of the somewhat drippy prompt Val. She demonstrated excellent comic timing, and her handling of the physical aspects of the role (the recalcitrant chair and fainting) was very, very good.
Richard Goodacre - Richard's first entrance as the harassed and harangued Arnold Brisket was good and the audience were sympathetic to the absurdity of the situation that he found himself in. In future productions Richard should work on maintaining volume in the delivery of all of his lines.
Firstly, a big thank you to Tricia for delivering a highly entertaining evening, with two very different styles of play. The three plays presented a host of challenges for the director and for actors alike, and by and large these were met. We were encouraged by introduction of new young people into the group, and undoubtedly they will have benefitted from their involvement in these short plays where development of character is required very quickly.
Our only real concern was the presence of the table/bench in the first two plays. This piece of furniture - clearly necessary for the action of both pieces - dominated the stage, and on occasion resulted in very basic blocking problems, which could have been overcome by simple means, (as suggested elsewhere in this adjudication), in order to provide more natural movement around the stage.
Otherwise well done to you all!"
Dawn King and David King-North Essex Theatre Guild