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2022 Productions:-

Sex Cells - directed by Jo Fosker

It is good to see the group making a comeback and in a new venue after all the disruption of the last few years. The play chosen offers a variety of female roles in a rather unusual office setting. A little like 'Steel Magnolias' the surface business chat is interspersed with revelations about relationships and personal dilemmas as a deeper theme emerges. The one male role in the play presents very particular challenges in terms of Mr. Causeway's personality. Trying to represent a working call centre office also presents some tehnical challenges. It will be interesting to see how the group deals with all of this.
Front of House Team and ticket desk
                      Martine Bodimeade & Jo Fosker
                                                                                                          Jo Fosker
Fire & Accidental Control Officers
            Dave Hancock, Jo Fosker & Jenny Jeggo
A friendly welcome greeted the  audience members as they arrived and settled us into  their new venue. There was an eager audience already there and a buzz of anticipation. A selection of refreshments were available and the auditorium is a comfortable space with good sight lines.

Programme Design, Publicity and Box Office
Jo Fosker, Janet Hancock & the Company
The programme had plenty of information about the cast and the journey the group have taken to get to this point.
A lively design pointed up elements of the play and I
liked the images on the page listing the backstage crew. Information about previous productions and how to join the group were very welcoming.
The show has been well attended so the publicity has been successful.

                                                                                          Dave Hancock
The cast photographs in the programme were beautifully clear and I'm sure the production pohotographs will be added to the archive folders which wwere out on display for the audience to peruse.
Production Manager                                                                                      Jo Fosker
It is clear that the group have shown great support and commitment and the role of co-ordinating the many aspects of the show has been a significant responsibility for you. Hopefully as you settle into your new venue this burden will be spread more evenly.

Set design & Construction                                                   
The Company and friends
This play has quite a list of demands for the set and I thought the design on the whole worked very successfully. I loved being able to see into the doorway of Mr. Causeway's office with the general entrance being in the other upstage corner gave a balance to the overall appearance of the set. The call centre feeling was clearly defined by the work stations with the coffee/tea making table behind. Having the toilet downstage left allowed for the action in front of the 'mirror' to be presented directly to the audience.
The one change that would have been helpful would have been to move the desk forward to help with hearing the actors who were mainly upstage.
Set dressing was completely in keeping with the setting, a coatstand, small filing cabinet and chair were all useful additions. The boxes and office notices were thoughtfully done. Very effective.

                                            Dave Hancock, Kenton Church & Rob Whitfield
The lighting for the basement office was bright and warm with a highlighted area for Mr. Causeway's office. There was a really well timed effect of individual effects by spotlighting individuals as calls come in and were responded to, this really helped to establish a busy working atmosphere.
There were also moments of focus for example when Angela has a birthday phone call from her son, by highlighting her our attention was tightly drawn to her while the others sat quietly in the background heightening the emotion of the moment. Well done.

                                                                         Dave Hancock & Kenton Church
There was a great selection of front of house music and a themed selection of music to indicate scene changes. This was very successful and made the audience smile. Plenty of phone cues too which were precisely timed, Very well done.
                                                                             Carol Danaher & the Company
In terms of props the play requires a few items that don't normally appear on such a list but the group did not disappoint! The office setting was well equipped and looked very convincing, the labelled boxes were a nice touch and added authenticity to the setting. Personal props looked carefully chosen to match costume choices, the pasta necklace was particularly good.

                                                                                                          The Cast
Given the time span of the play and to sustain pace clever use of changes of tops and jackets was deployed.
Lily's muted colours and looser dresses gave a sense of someone who went for comfort rather than the latest fashions. Her simple hairstyle and no make-up also reinforced this appearance.
Sylvie's outfits showed a sense of the chic look French women seem to achieve so easily. Her green jacket was very stylish and well matched with her skirts.
Janice's clothes rpresented a more practical style but never losing a sense of femininity with quite natural looking make-up.
Tiffany had a lovely selection of colourful shirts, pink hair and bright make-up highlighting her younger sense of style.
Mr. Causeway's check shirts and grey cardigan gave him a nicely understated appearance wholly in keeping with his character.
Good choices all round.

                                                                                                    Helen Langley
A reassuring presence for the cast Helen was needed a few times but her interventions were very discreet.

                                                                                                               Angela Gee
Very pleasing to see Angela making a return to the stage and coping well with the demands of moving around the set. As the 'lynch pin' of the staff working in the office she brought  a sense of wordly experience and unflappability to the role.
. In the more deeply personal moments of the play such as when she is talking of the loss of her husband in Scene 6  or thinking through her relationship with her son Angela managd to convey a sense of retreating into her own world while sharing her thoughts, this was very poignant.The phone call conversations were handled well, judging when/how long to pause as if waiting for a response takes skill.
There was also a great sense of omedy when Lily and Mr. Causeway are talking at ross purposes and you could almost sense the audience urging them to connect. This was a strong and skilled characterisation. Excellent.

                                                                                                       Vikki Babar
Vikki had the challenge of sustaining a French accent throughout which was successfully done most of the time.
She looked elegant and carried herself with great poise. Her role demanded a constant sense of tension and anxiety alongside outbursts of temper and emotion. We certainly felt she took us on a journey of the highs and lows of her physical and emotional state in her attempts to become a mother. The different reations to her co-workers were clearly expressed and she adopted different tones depending on who she was talking to and what 'mood' she was presenting at that moment.
Vocally Vikki was clear and expressive. There were a couple of prompts needed which was a shame as in one instance it seemed to throw her, but she did recover quickly. She was at her strongest in the final scene when faced with the reality of motherhood and we saw her vulnerability in a different light. We saw a clear transformation of this character, very well done.                                                                         

                                                                                                        Jenny Jeggo
Jenny looked fabulous with her brightly coloured clothes and hair. We enjoyed her sense of romantic naivety (brdering on the irresponsible such as when she is talking about you-know-what) and hearing of all her exploits.
She used her body language very effectively to show her demeanour including the 'hangover' which drew a sympathetic response from the audience. The conversation between Jenny and Mr. Causeway when they are atalking at cross porposes was very funny and Jenny  manged to keep her side of the conversation delivered with a straight face. She has good facial reactions  reflecting her confusion or delight when she ralises what is really being spoken about.
As most of the time Tiffany was upstage we couldn't always hear her, this is partly due to the arrangement of the desk which pushed both her and Janice further away from the audience. A very successful debut, I enjoyed her performance very much.

  Becky Smart
Here was a character that many could empathise with, overworked Mum trying to cope with the family and get to work on time, Her flustered arrival complete with pasta necklace was a lovely moment. She presented a version of motherhood grounded in the reality of putting your children first, sometimes to the neglect of yourself as an individual, her recognition of this in Scene 4 was summed up in her line, 'I'm halfway though a book I started in two thousand and ten...'  and her reaction to the call from the school about Craig, something that resonated with many.
Becky's role also required her to show empathy/sympathy for Sylvie whose spiky reactions could be hurtful, Becky's reactions reflected this yet Sylvie's predicament brought out a caring response expressed through small but significant gestures. She came across as the 'peacemaker' trying to smooth out the niggles in this rather claustrophobic environment,  A nicely handled dcharacterisation.

Mr. Causeway
                                                                                               Syd Smith
This is a role that requires finding the balance between the assertive, business-like manner of the office manager, the discomfort of being the only man in this working environment and the sincere affection for Lily.
For chunks of text Syd had to be in his 'office' trying to look as though he was working without being a distraction to what was happening on stage.The siting of his office at the back of the set allowed him to be seen so though not directly 'in the action' he was very much part of it. He handled this well.
Physically Syd was very restrained and I felt we needed to see a more animated presence when he was fully 'on stage.' Mr. Causeway uses a cheery manner to help him 'chivy along' the girls and  Syd could have been a bit more decisive in manner when he realises he is feeling uncomfortable about the converations taking place and retreats back into his office, this could have been developed for comic effect.
When talking at cross purposes with Lily, Syd had a nicely distracted air, so intent on getting his dinner invitation out he is not aware that Lily is completely oblivious.
Vocally, Syd was very quiet and I fear we may not have heard all his lines, this was better when he was further downstage and his conversations with Lily in Act 2 worked well, he conveyed sincere affection sincerely.

                                                                                                           Jo Fosker
Jo, you have clearly taken on much more than a directing role in this production especially with helping to establish the group in a new venue and trying to ensure you are providing the audience with a good experience.
Good casting choices meant a  mix of experience and newcomers, the cast worked supportively together.
Given you are working in a new venue I suspect you and the group are still discovering the limits/freedoms of the acting space. The stage is spacious and deep which means that once you have an audience in, voice projection becomes crucial. Due to the set design three of the characters spent most of their time upstage and consequently we could not hear them so well. Can I suggest that you work on voice projection with them all to allow their voices to reach out to the back of the hall. The cast did handle changes of tone and emotion well. A few prompts were needed during the performance  so more line rehearsal may have helped.
A possible slight change to the set by bringing the desks forward and putting the exit to the toilet behind the desk would have pushed the actors further forward. Something to consider when designing your next production.
The pace was good and the scenes were helpfully marked out by the use of themed music very effectively. You handled the direction of the overlapping conversations well and the characterisations were clear.
There were a couple of moments of comic potential which could have been developed, Mr. Causeway's office being cleverly sited where it was would have allowed him to pop his head around the office door particulary when the possibility of a cup of tea was in the air. Your actor's height would have suited such a move.
For Tiffany there is this lovely moment when she is talking to Mr. Causeway while holding an inflated sex doll, given the character's outgoing personality more could have been made of this so the doll became more visible and more like a ventriloquist's dummy.
You did bring out the underlying theme of motherhood well and the characters moved fluently from banter to office talk to deeply personal interactions well.
The audience were very attentive throughout and gently vocal in responses to what they were seeing. The cast were given a warm reception at the end, the audience had clearly enjoyed their evening.
Thank you for your hospitality and the chance to see the production."
     Maggie Fisher-North Essex Theatre Guild

Critic's Comments:-

Maggie Fisher-North Essex Theatre Guild

Christine Davidson-NODA

Photos taken during the production