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2008 Productions:-

Time to Kill by Leslie Darbon - directed by Reg Peters

Critic's Comments

"Time to kill - it's a sort of play on words, isn't it?
These bored housewives spend coffee mornings dreaming up pranks, till one day they tire of japes and set their sights on justice, and a man gets shackled to a patio chair.
Leslie Darbon's improbable play has been popular with amateur groups for nearly 30 years, perhaps because it has four good parts for woman.
Phoenix's pedestrian production, directed by Reg Peters, did little to convince us that it's a piece worth reviving.
Tricia Childs turned in a confident performance in the demanding role of "prosecutor" - her monologues often had us gripped.
Angela Gee was the smirking atheist in the judge's robes, Helen Langley the reluctant witness, Joan Lanario gave good value as the dizzy, dotty Liz, Syd Smith was the Defence Counsel with a guilty secret, and Geoff Hadley played the accused, the suburban Lothario, struggling with leaden dialogue - "meaningless feminine emotionalism" being just one example.
Pace, motivation, even characterisation, need to be applied even to this bizarre genre. It may be hard, but you need to rise above the text.
Or choose a better play.."
                        Michael Gray-Weekly News

"Front of House I have to admit that I am starting to find it difficult to find something new to say here. Your FOH operation was up to its usual smart standard. The programme keeps on getting better (hopefully, following my comments). The only niggle, and this is probably not your responsibility, was that someone had turned off the exterior lighting by the time we emerged, and the audience were plunged into a pitch black walk to the car park!
Set I realise that you have difficulties in building sets at Christ Church hall, and I take that into consideration. However, when a script calls for an "elegant modern house….the home of Business Executives, Directors," it is disappointing to see a very basic set which only fairly crudely attempts to meet this description. Whilst it may be difficult to physically build sets, nonetheless it is perfectly possible to put a lot of effort into the dressing of the set and the furniture. Whilst you managed to evoke the spirit of the script in the landing and the iron chair, I found the bar very crudely made and also the lower half of the bookcase, which appeared to just consist of random pieces of laminate flooring.
There was also no consistent style in the pictures and other decorations, such as ornaments.
Props Here you did succeed. Props were kept to a minimum, and this worked. I was apprehensive before the play about how you would deal with the handcuffs (they tend to have a mind of their own!), but all was well, and the unlocking (the difficult part) worked fine.
Stage Management Nothing amiss here. You had an excellent change between Scene 1 & 2, although some music to distract the audience from the movements on stage would have been good. Apart from that, there were no missed entrances, and the props were in the right place, so, well done.
Costumes Everything seemed to be in order, but I felt there was something wrong with Maggie's outfit. It jarred on me all evening, but luckily for you I couldn't pin it down.
Sound The incidental music was hardly audible, but seemed appropriate. As mentioned before, there should have been some music to cover the scene change. The telephone worked well, but I hated the door chime, which held up the action by its length!
Lighting The requirement was for general day lighting, and this you provided. I felt that the pure white spot on Alan during the trial scenes was a little too harsh, but I was delighted to see some use of colour generally, although the use of (say) pale pink from one side and steel blue from the other does give much better facial moulding than using the same colour from both sides. Whilst I always say that you do not need a uniform wash over the whole stage, there was an unfortunate black spot LC, just L of the witness chair, where a number of the cast had to stand.
Direction I first need to mention the play, because that determines how it is directed. As far as I can determine, this play has never been presented professionally, and to me this is a sure sign of something being wrong. I think the premise of the script is reasonably plausible, but the poor writing does not enable the Director to draw out the contrasting emotions of humour and evil tension, which is implied. It was interesting to note that, whilst the audience treated Act 1 as a comedy, they sat silent through Act 2. I believe that this was because you tended to overplay the comedy in Act 1, but during the Interval the audience began to realise that maybe something more was afoot.
Having made the above points, I will now turn to the Direction in detail.
In any good drama you will get flashes of humour; this is how the tension is made to appear greater and how the audience are temporarily allowed to relax before the next dramatic twist. Unfortunately, until the "electrocution" you really gave us no drama; the humour of Scene 1 carried over into Scene 2 and, despite some attempts to bring passion and emotion into the play, the audience were undecided as to what was going on. There was no consistent build-up of tension throughout the performance.
Although I will deal with individual cast matters later, the problems I have outlined were largely due to an un-sustained tension and passion between Maggie, Don and Alan in Scene 1, as well as an unconvincing sense of evil and leadership from Maggie throughout. There was also a serious lack of pace emanating from some of the cast, particularly Don. This was important, since it is a long play and the poor writing coupled with slow pace led to one wondering if it would ever end. This is a sign of either the contents of the script and/or the delivery being uninspiring. There was also a distinct lack of reaction from the ladies throughout the trial, except when they had lines. I would also have liked to see the ladies showing more cohesion and acting more as a hounding pack than as individuals.
Before I come to the good points, there was one major omission, which was disastrous. This was the checking of the wiring by Maggie. All she did was to walk around the set making vague gestures, which meant nothing to the audience. When the electrocution took place, no-one knew what was happening. This was very important, since the knowledge that something is likely to happen is a commonly used device to enhance and build tension. It only needed a bit of wire at the chair, a bit somewhere near the back wall and a visible switch. This was a bad mistake!
I later asked my companion, who had not read the script if she had realised what was going on and she assured me she did not.
In general, I liked the way you used the stage and avoided overcrowding and I thought that during Act II there were some good instances of dramatic tension. You had a pretty good cast on the whole and I feel that, given an injection of some of my magical "oomph!" you could have made something of this poor play.
Cast Don (Syd Smith) I have now seen Syd on a number of occasions, and he is the epitome of the solid "trouper" which any society needs, Unfortunately, I have never seen Syd play anyone but himself and this part was no exception. Apart from having a very slow and ponderous delivery, with a few microseconds of hesitation before each line, slowing down the whole dialogue, Syd has the problem of all tall actors and that is a tendency to stoop with head down, lack of eye contact and, surprisingly, a difficulty in showing real and consistent passion. Sorry, Syd, I realise you will find it difficult to change after all these years, but take heart from the fact that you keep getting cast!
Maggie (Tricia Childs) Obviously, the whole play revolves around Maggie. Within the limits of the script, she has to show extreme and deep passion together with an insanely evil and almost uncontrollable intent. The great problem is that the cause of her feelings (i.e., the circumstances surrounding the death of Rosemary) is an extremely weak one. However, in Scene 1, I hoped that the very well done passion scene with Alan was a promise of things to come, but unfortunately this was not sustained. I feel, perhaps, if Tricia had been able to have a greater stage presence by the use of a stronger and deeper voice, then we may have seen her controlling proceedings in a more convincing manner than we did. This was a good, solid performance, which needed a little more fire to make it successful; an opportunity missed.
Helen (Helen Langley) I liked Helen's performance a lot. Her characterisation was excellent and convincing and I liked the transition from meek to passionate. Her audibility and diction were excellent and all in all this was an enjoyable performance.
Alan (Geoff Hadley) This is a difficult part. From a passionate scene at the beginning, he then has to sit for the remainder of the play, with few words but having to appear involved. The passion scene was fine, as I have said earlier, (but I would need a lot of convincing that he was a Lothario!). In general I felt that Geoff managed pretty well, but I did feel that he could have shown rather more of an active interest in the proceedings and reacted accordingly in between his lines. I am sure that, as an innocent party in that situation I would have been extremely disturbed!
Jane (Angela Gee) A nice performance with an excellent delivery. I did not quite get a character coming over, but well done, anyway.
Liz (Joan Lanario) I thoroughly enjoyed Joan's performance. The characterisation and delivery were virtually perfect, without dominating the scenes. Well done on a great performance and I look forward to seeing Joan again in the future.
Finally This was a difficult play to do well. I would have like to have seen a more consistent build of tension, but in the end it was a reasonably enjoyable evening."         

              Ian Crisp-North West Essex Theatre Guild


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