Curtain Up On Murder - directed by Sarah Wilson
On my first visit to this group, I was interested to get a taste of what they can do. I noted from their photo album on display that they have staged challenging dramas like The Cripple Of Inishman, so they don't lack ambition.
This thriller was very different, but an understandable choice for a drama group: It is a play within a play (or do I mean a play within a play within a play?!) about an amateur drama group rehearsing in an end-of-the-pier theatre. As the evening progresses, the fatality count mounts up alarmingly, but it turns out there's a twist in the tale…
Front of House
For a first-timer, it was hard to know quite where to park and which door to use to enter the auditorium. But I received a friendly welcome from everyone I came across. The refreshments of hot or cold drinks and biscuits/Kitkats were welcome in the interval. No alcohol, of course, being a church venue
The programme was record-breakingly small but told me all I needed to know.
Setting & Props
Usefully for any group, only one set was needed. Here we had a pretty good representation of the slightly chaotic stage of a seaside theatre out of season.
I found the cut-out fairytale horses a bit distracting but, on the whole, the setting it was a convincing mixture of abandoned props and the fictional group's own basic rehearsal furniture. One settee, a chair or two and a couple of small tables fitted the bill, and the props were there on cue, ranging from old curtains to candles, scripts, Moppet's knitting , torch, hip flask and numerous coffee mugs.
Lighting & Sound
The flick-through of lighting options for the rehearsal worked well Later came the challenges of the proverbial "dark and stormy night."
So we had some tempestuous effects, satisfyingly created by Dave Hancock (lighting) and man-of-all-trades Chris Saxton who included Sound is his range of stage jobs.
I noticed that at one point the lights came up more brightly for no reason but mistakes were rare.
Modern-day men's and women's clothing and ladies' make-up - this was just a rehearsal, so it all looked plausible.
Of course, Sylvia was more over-the-top in her clothes and cosmetics, while Moppet was messily Bohemian. Harry's cap and caretaker's coat looked right for the person he - supposedly - was. The ghostly shroud was convincingly spooky.
LINDA: Well done to Sophie Reynolds for returning to the acting stage after years concentrating on dancing. She needs a little more confidence, and a little more thinking about the character and how to bring out her inner disgust at her young husband's chosen companions. But all this will come so Sophie could be one to watch in the future. When she did raise her voice, she made an impact.
GINNY: Sharon Goodwin looked familiar to me, from Writtle CARDS, and I was surprised to learn that she had been brought in at short notice when a cast member dropped out. She seemed sure of her lines and of her character as the nervous newcomer, as if she'd been in the cast all along.
SANDRA: Jo Fosker projected well from the start and had the sort of confidence and focus which helped the pace of any scene in which she appeared. This was a role which had not one twist, but two, and she seemed to enjoy the challenge.
HARRY: John O'Connor could be very good if he would allow himself to BE the character. His Harry needed to project much more (especially to produce grumbles rather than mumbles). He should try not to hide his face from the audience, and - in this case - he could have been to be more annoying at the start and then more menacing, or at least unbalanced, in his vengeance. His final totally different role as the director, also needed just that tad MORE, but it's all just a matter of confidence. If an actor looks unsure or embarrassed the audience will notice you for the wrong reasons
ALEX: I would picture Alex as slightly more of a young smoothie-than a tousle-haired youth Mikey McDonagh even looked a bit too young for Linda, but that's not his fault. Despite his appearance and inexperience, Mikey took hold of the role and played it with conviction. He conducted the relationship with older diva Sylvia without awkwardness and his final relaxing into his "real" character at the end was well done.
SYLVIA: Claire Woodward gave us a suitably bombastic and indeed buxom Sylvia, projecting strongly and inhabiting this rather louche character from the start.
MARTIN: Perhaps slightly older than envisaged, but Syd Smith was a good team member in this intriguingly twisted plot and his heroic scenes were quite touching!
MOPPET: Plenty of sprightly energy from Helen Langley. I could imagine her cast as Miss Marple (and a very good one too). Her long hammy speech in act one was well delivered and amusing.
This is actually an enjoyable little thriller, and I felt that Sarah Wilson just needed a cast which was uniformly strong. A few prompts slowed the pace, too. Some performers gave it their all. one or two were less certain, but I'm sure the latter could be helped in future to lose any sense of self-consciousness and project.
Linda's speech about shallow, actors was delivered from a sitting position slightly upstage which lost some impact. All that was lacking really was more energy (and sometimes volume).
I thought the final twist revealed itself in an enjoyably credible way, with the actors literally relaxing into their second set of personalities and rising to the extra challenge with aplomb!.
Thanks for letting me share a very good-natured, teasing and sociable production."
Liz Mullen-North Essex Theatre Guild