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2023 Productions:-

Murder at the Rehearsal - directed by Jo Fosker

What a good night out! A traditional village hall setting and a full auditorium, which was warm and welcoming in contrast to the unpleasant weather outside.  On the way out, it was clear that the show had gone down well and it looked as if the actors had enjoyed it, which is what it is all about. This critique is more difficult to write than usual.  I am writing about actors from the Phoenix Theatre Company pretending to be actors in a dress rehearsal. So, any critique in this adjudication will be based on the rehearsal we saw on stage. Not easy
The layout of the hall meant that the audience, getting their tickets etc., had to wait outside. To avoid this problem, could the raffle be in a different location as that seemed to add to the congestion? I had a nice welcome and audience were greeted warmly on arrival. Seating was rearranged to suit the needs of the audience. Chairs were comfortable. The programme was colourful and informative. I found the notes from the author to be particularly interesting to read as I waited for the performance to start.
A plain simple set. However, it was entirely appropriate and the touches which were added to the bare set were well thought out. I particularly liked the broken chair.
Lighting was absolutely fine. Sound effects seemed genuine and were accurate and on cue. It was a shame about the lighting issues in the second half. However, the problem seemed to be resolved quickly and the show still finished with enough light and in the right places for the audience not to miss any action.  Indeed, because of the 'ghosts' they may have assumed, as I did for a short time, that the lighting failure was part of the action. I did not find the introductory music particularly relevant or interesting, but I may have missed something.
Not the biggest of challenges but each costume had been very carefully thought through and suited each individual character very well.
When I read this play, I felt I was going to be in for a long evening. I was proved wrong. Whereas the plot felt thin the characters made up for it. The play was well directed and I found little to criticise as it was only 'a rehearsal'!  The use of the whole stage area allowed characters to move around easily without masking. There were, maybe, too many times characters were in a straight line. However, as it was only a dress rehearsal, I am sure that will be put right on opening night. I liked the characters sitting on the stage. Could they all be seen at the back? Diction and delivery were all very good and quite natural.  As I had read the play in advance, I was not surprised by the ending. I just felt it could have been made a bit clearer to the audience. I suspect he lighting failure did not help with this. Perhaps the cast could have made clearer that their 'real life' characters were different from the ones we saw in the rehearsal. -stronger voice changes and mannerisms maybe. However, I suspect that a lot of the audience were a little bemused.  The play being rehearsed was funny and imaginative but totally unbelievable at times and had a number of good character parts.
Everyone knew their lines and movements. Little hesitation or stumbling over words. The acting was generally very good. Well done. Having been around 'am-dram' for some time these characters were well known to me.
Jill Hardcastle (Becky Smart) Portrayed the nervy, world weary disenchanted middle-aged director with an easy comfortable style. Moved around the stage well and was good at looking at her notes without losing contact with the audience
Gemma Brooks (Tina Cooper) The eager to please drama group member who probably is the first to put the chairs out, acts as prompt and fills in at rehearsals. In this part Gemma was not on for long but bought an easy confidence to this role.
Mary Harris (Helen Langley) Helen was just right for this part. Confident and easy on the eye. It was great to see her given flowers at the end. Was this in the play or for real? The latter, I suspect- happy birthday.
Rory Jones (Tonio Ellis) This was a nice portrayal of an 'over the top' stock character. His movement was excellent and his characterisation never wavered. Handled the lighting situation with aplomb.
Andrew kemp (Iain Sutton -Holding) He looked good. The hair was excellent. He delivered his lines with confidence and moved well and in character.
Kim Taylor (Jenny Jeggo) Well costumed and acted to show off her flamboyant, attention seeking character. Early on I found it a bit difficult to follow what she was saying but this improved as the play progressed. An engaging performance
Jackie Draycott (Kaz Tomlinson). Although only for a short time, I was particularly drawn to this characterisation. She had a clear, interesting voice and delivery was just right. She was really good to watch. We would all have enjoyed having a Jackie Draycott in our drama group.
Detective Shaw (Kenton Church). I couldn't quite reconcile myself to him being a detective. He was a mixture of practicality and creepiness. He made good use of the stage and his delivery was good. I wonder whether he was a dentist in real life outside of his activities in the fictional drama group. It always felt that something nasty was going to happen. And it did
Pat Spencer (Tina Cooper) Those of us in amateur drama could relate to this part. Probably best played by a man but there were not enough men or other actors available so there was need to double up and bring on a female actor to fill the part.  Whatever the reason, real or fictional, Tina made a good job of this part.
Director (Jo Fosker) A good Director of the real and imaginary play. She made the 'surprise' appearance of the evening.

A good evening's entertainment. Well done.  I enjoyed it and I suspect the group did as well."

     John Sanders-North Essex Theatre Guild

Critic's Comments:-

John Sanders-North Essex Theatre Guild

Christine Davidson-NODA

Photos taken during the production