Category: Reviews

Quartet – NODA Review

Ewhurst Players “Quartet”

Ewhurst Village Hall, 19th May, 2017


Ronald Harwood’s beautifully observed study of former professional opera singers from the Carla Rosa company now in residence at Beecham House retirement home for musicians in rural Kent, is one of the finest vehicles for mature players to showcase their acting talents.   Opening on a hot June late morning in a splendid set of a music room with posh furnishings and a patio leading to the gardens with birdsong and pictures of composers on the walls.

Wendy Davies as Cissie perfectly captured the essential amiable, but forgetful early stage dementia of Cissie, who for reasons unknown thought everyone had just returned from Karachi.   Wearing headphones she sat listening to “Rigoletto” oblivious to all else, especially the saucy talk from Wilf.  A highly experienced actress is Wendy who never disappoints in any role.

In stark contrast George Yates played Reggie with truthful intensity.    Reggie craved order and routine and had barked at the unfortunate matron who substituted apricot jam for his usual breakfast marmalade.  A nicely observed portrayal of a decent but reserved man putting up with he pitfalls of old age, except when confronted by the arrival of his ex-wife, with whom he eventually remade a sort of bond.  A great role to play and apart from one or two stumbles done supremely well.

As different as chalk from cheese was the sex-mad Wilf all eager to talk dirty to the hard of hearing Cissie.    Peter Bradley referred to the prostate, piles, cataracts, teeth falling out and spoke in coarse terms of how he hated the ageing process.   Nevertheless, an engaging character was Wilf, dovetailing perfectly with the  more refined Reggie.   Peter relished playing this role, and how it showed!   By comparison with what is all too common in modern theatre and in stand-up comedy routines Wilf’s language was relatively mild, but his obvious enjoyment of “talking dirty” made it seem at least mildly shocking and all the more enjoyable for that.

The imminent arrival of Reggie’s hated ex-wife Jean really put the cat among the pigeons and when, in the form of Patsy Mortimore, she finally arrived all “Grande Dame” and diva-like bemoaning her “fate” of having to live among the lesser lights, the story began to take a more interesting shape.   Reggie could not bear to be in the same room with her and, when at last, they had meaningful conversation, old resentments quickly came to the fore.

Cissie, having been the butt of Jean’s cutting and insensitive comments about excess weight then reminded Jean that Verdi translates as Joseph Green.   Jean of course was fully aware of this but dotty Cissie had probably already mentioned this fact a many times, we may assume.   Jean, walking with a stick was bemoaning awaiting her new hip operation.  Jean actually moaned a great deal about many things  and Patsy really got inside her character   The question arose as to the proposed annual performance of the quartet from Rigoletto to mark the anniversary of Verdi’s birth on October 10th, just over three months away.

The luncheon gong sounded, and Wilf announced “lunch” and on their return and following scene the very next morning   Jean was still being adamant that she would not sing Gilda as she had lost her singing voice after having a child in her 30s.    She was refusing all entreaties, terrified of people saying and thinking she was way past her pomp. Patsy played this strong willed yet highly vulnerable character with consummate skill.

Scene two was set next morning and all had changed costumes.    Jean was still adamant in her refusal to play Gilda.

Now, in Act Two some three weeks later in early morning, with a slightly rearranged set (sofa moved against the wall and a rail of costumes upstage, with a trunk of Rigoletto costumes in front of this),  all appeared in their night attire except  the suited Reggie.   The men’s and women’s dressing rooms were either side of the rail.    Jean, having finally been persuaded to sing Gilda, they were all preparing themselves to practice the quartet.    Very interesting and revealing dialogue took place between the two men and two women, in their respective dressing rooms with prominent make up mirrors either side of the rail, with effective use of the fourth wall.  Reggie  was resplendent in Rigoletto’s red and green tights (his costume was provided by a company in Manchester –  Woodland Community Players)

The final scene took place front of cloth with the four “singing” their hearts out to a recording of “Bella figlia dell’amore”, well marshalled by Musical Director Bobby Swanson (played from the floor by Simon Fraser) ending to rapturous and well deserved applause.   Some extremely impressive miming, one might have thought they were all actually singing this beautiful quartet.   Simon also played operatic highlights before the performance and during the interval, unobtrusively.

The stage set was an impressive one  all in all and was built by Chris Dews aided on painting / decorating by Rachael Edmondson, Victoria Helstrip, Jeannie Metcalf and Nicki Payne.

Effective lighting was provided by Carl Osborne and Sound was well handled by Bill Pilcher.

Anne Lyth did sterling work on wardrobe which was well fitted and apt.   The rail of costumes was colourful and one could quite believe they were those of ex-professional opera  singers.

Jean Metcalf gave just two prompts on the night I attended in a very wordy play. The diction throughout was clear and the characters highly believable.  Ewhurst Players were fortunate to be able to call upon all the  mature and experienced players of this standard, from which I am sure that any watching less experienced members would have gained  much in studying timing, pauses and body language.

Meg Bray, the play’s director, should feel highly satisfied with the way her characters played their parts and of the warmth, emotion and interplay between her actors. She was faithful to the spirit of Harwood’s masterpiece.   A clear success for Meg!

With the customary impressive front of house team  again providing warm hospitality and a tasty meal I have to conclude that Ewhurst Players  fully maintained, even enhanced their already impressive reputation as a rare theatrical  jewel in deepest Surrey.

Jon Fox – NODA District 19


Ewhurst Players “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”

Ewhurst Village Hall – 27th January, 2017


Though not performed as frequently now as in olden days, Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves remains on the panto rota and here was made somewhat “less gory” by Director Marian Heathcote than the original tale of the Arabian Nights, thankfully.   Containing all the elements we associate with traditional panto, this version by Alan P Frayn was therefore well chosen with the usual local and topical references eg Fatima’s Hazelbank Store, that “well known Iraqi grocery chain” with stores throughout Baghdad, and one in Ewhurst too, quaintly!


A generally strong company of twenty two, including a few children and very young adults all gave their utmost energy and talent to make the show run smoothly, which it did.


Outstanding performances were given by the following;  Andrew Hull as Mustafa with boyish daft charm and a range of comical facial expressions;  Wendy Davies as Queen, charisma and experience obviously showing through;  Daniel Williams as Asbad, chief of thieves, with plenty of attack and verve in the role;  Barrie Heathcote as a highly effective Vizier with world weariness and superb diction, even in a smaller role;  Nicki Payne as Bashim and Julia Heathcote as Grabbit, the idiot baddie double act with superb mutual rapport, timing and delivery of lines, and comic business.    They were all top drawer performers.


Only a tad less than excellent were Sophie Shickell as Ali Baba, in the principal boy role;  Chris Dews in the Dame part of Fatima, who just needed to point his phrases a little more and use pauses to be truly dynamic.   He certainly has stage presence and there is a gifted Dame there, given more experiences in these roles;  Alsatia the dog (evil) in black played by Lou Worby and her opposite number Caterina the cat (good) in white, played by Catherine van’t Riet – both worked really well, but again needed a little more attack in general.


That extra 10% makes all the difference and – though this is a general  rather than specific observation – top panto performers  must be larger than life with huge energy, confident delivery, much use of body language and facial expressions.   The very best players have all these qualities, most of which are only gained through stage experience, which can however sometimes be found even in relatively younger players.


Sharon Welland did really well as Marjana, (the slave girl and story heroine) and so did Jo McInnes as Crown Prince (son of the Sultan) and Kats Koster-Shadbolt as the Princess (whom he marries).   Fabian Cole gave good support as Notsobad, the stage partner of Asbad.   Fabian apparently took over the role at short notice, most creditably.   Double acts and especially baddie ones have such potential for fun and both Daniel and Fabian added greatly to the show’s enjoyment.


Bill Pilcher, clad in turban was a most competent Sultan and Natalie Davies, the daughter to the Vizier was a pretty and realistic storyteller Scheherazade.


Chorus members Peter Bradley, Imogen Fowler and Melissa Sweet all played full parts doubling as thieves, dancers etc.  with the three children Lucy Payne, Neave van’t Riet and Katie Welland all showing promise in smaller roles.


Camelia the camel was not credited in the programme, which is a shame as he / she did well.   Talking camels are not often found in panto, but I was very pleased that Camelia could talk, and did so – extremely well in fact! Skin parts are a major part of panto and the two people involved deserve a mention!


In general the performance had pace – and certainly energy – but only on a few occasions cues were slow to be picked up.


The opening set of two bead curtains covering stage exits left and right with turbans painted above were effectively portrayed and the director Marian Heathcote, who is highly experienced, used the rather small stage to its utmost, to her great credit.


The music throughout was sung lustily and tunefully, though panto players are not known for their operatic power, as was evidenced here.    Song highlights were these – “Life’s a Happy Song”;  “We could have been  anything we wanted to be”;  “The moment I wake up / It must be Love”;  “All by Myself”;  “You are the Wind beneath my Wings” (excellent comedy and hilarious routine);  “The more I see You”;  “Be Our Guest”;  “Love was made for Me and You”;  and finally the Finale song “We got the Feeling”.   I found the drumming rather loud on the opening number “Panto Express”, but perhaps my ears became attuned as, after that, the band under Musical Director Simon Fraser gave good support with just the right volume.


Many of the panto scenes were done outstandingly well, my particular favourites being these:  the Hazelbank Store;   Alsatia and Caterina dialogue scene; Bashim and Grabbit as new gang members, wearing “L” plates;  the corny dog jokes (Pal, Chum, Winalot etc);  the kitchen scene – very strong and most effective, (though I trust the coated sponges “frisbeed” into the audience during my visit were thrown out less enthusiastically during subsequent performances);  Camelia’s entrance and Ali Baba’s  singing; spirits of the Cave (Junior chorus in attractive gold costumes);  the strobe lighting for Ali Baba’s escape (an effective end to Act one);  Fatima’s jokes with audience;  the white chalk cross scene on Ali Baba’s door;  the oil sheiks disguised with beard and sandals(classic panto at its best!);  Notsobad’s tongue twister (superbly done);   young lady dancer and her acrobatics;  the songsheet scene (“Ali Baba’s camel”) really well run by Mustafa;  the Act two finale.


Sophie Shickell, doubling as Choreographer set mainly simple dance and movement routines which were well rehearsed, well carried out and which contributed much to the show’s success.


Wardrobe under Anne Lyth with Fee Fraser, Molly Fraser and Hilary Pannell was well above average panto standard and made a strong impression overall.   There was plenty of bright colour, which is vitally important.   Alsatia and Caterina were particularly effective, as were the Sultan, Vizier, Marjana “et al”.


Make up and hair was done in real panto style – I especially liked Alsatia / Caterina – and credit must go to Nicki Payne and Sophie Shickell!


Lighting and sound effects were well used by Carl Osborne and Bob Foley respectively.


Though I have noted a few possible areas for improvement, the whole production was highly enjoyable with all the important ingredients and in particular the vital company energy and life being very much in evidence.   The company did the production team and themselves, not to mention the audience, proud.


Lighting          Carl Osborne

Sound              Warwick James



Jon Fox – NODA District 19


EWHURST PLAYERS – Ewhurst Village Hall – 20th May 2016

Two plays:   “The Fat Lady Sings in Little Grimley”

                        “What’s for Pudding?”

Two totally different, but wildly funny comedy plays were staged by this warm hearted and dedicated company.    The first, “The Fat Lady Sings in Little Grimley” was absurdity played with a straight face, almost Gilbertian in the impossible scenario and plot and happily resolved in Gilbert’s unique Topsy Turvy style.   The second, “What’s for Pudding”, had the advantage of being slightly more believable, a mixture of soap opera and farce.

The “Fat Lady” was a four hander featuring the phoenix-like Little Grimley Amateur Dramatic company and their pig-headed refusal to bow to the inevitable fact that the society has no talent, no audience, no money and no cast worth mentioning.

Gordon           Mike Fanya

Margaret        Pat Mortimore

Joyce              Jeannie Metcalf

Bernard          Ben Aveyard

Mike Fanya as Gordon was  a magnificently bombastic and bullying society chairman, driven to distraction by the dim witted secretary, Joyce, beautifully played against type by Jeannie Metcalf.    I really felt for Gordon, having been confronted by certain committee members in real life, not entirely dissimilar to poor Joyce!     I really should add that all the players were acting against type as well! Unless, that is, Jeannie is planning to produce Seven Brides anytime soon, though I am certain Ewhurst Players have considerably more talent than Little Grimley.

Pat Mortimore as the self deluded  Margaret, a Florence Foster Jenkins wannabee, also gave a bravara performance of this poor lady. Last but certainly not least was Ben Aveyard playing a convincingly hopeless stage director put upon to be an actor but arguing against his fate and much else besides.

The unlikely events of the sabotage against the rival amdram company GONADS, set up in opposition by Miriam, Gordon’s ex-wife were farcical to say the least and I felt the plot lost something of it’s humour in that part in consequence, though not the performances.

The evening ended triumphantly for  the redeemed Gordon and his merry .band and despite my reservations about some of the unlikely antics I thoroughly enjoyed this play.

Director Wendy Davies had worked well to keep up the pace of the dialogue and the facial expressions and diction by all actors/ actresses were extremely effective.


The second half of the evening was taken up by  What’s for Pudding, a five hander.

Mary          Victoria House

Jack           Ben Aveyard

Maureen    Jo McInnes

Ted            Felix Cuthbert

Dennis       Mike Richardson

Mary and Jack have a marriage lacking magic with much back biting and sarcasm but their usual tedious evening is suddenly changed by the arrival of their friends Maureen and Ted.   As the whisky bottle flows – it is a featured prop in this performance – and inhibitions fall away, we witness many of the frustrations of married life by both couples.

Wandering innocently into the mayhem comes Dennis , simply intent on ordering a pair of trousers from Mary’s catalogue.   He is a fish out of water, harmless and boring  but proceeds to stay while the whisky is offered to him, and is inexorably drawn into the mayhem.

This play is skilfully built by director Angela Richardson and the problems in Maureen and Ted’s marriage are cleverly played against the problems of their hosts own marriage.

This story has more depth and though anarchic stays within the bounds of possibility, in general.     Skilful  and well nuanced performances were given by five talented players with the lively Mary- Victoria House, and unstable Maureen – Jo McInnes, setting much of the agenda for the revelations which are at the heart of this story. Ted, as Felix, had some of the best lines  and revelled in delivering them  with wonderful comic timing.

There was a detailed set necessary in this play which was provided , for both plays by Chris Dews and Angela Richardson, in effective lay out; not least the vital drinks trolley and whiskey bottle.

Lighting was provided by Carl Osborne and Sound Effects by Bob Foley and both worked well.


As I have written previously , Ewhurst Players have a real depth of talent both with acting and directing and once again these two well chosen and even better cast plays, both compellingly and laugh out loud funny – and the almost full  audience were kept busy laughing, as was I, – made for yet another of the wonderful evenings that have now become commonplace in Ewhurst Village Hall.

Review: Sleeping Beauty

29th January 2016

A pantomime featuring characters from at least four other well loved pantos is a good idea. I have loved panto from age four and so why not get more panto characters for my money, so to speak! Not that NODA reps have to pay at all, which along with the now customary warm and attentive welcome we always get at Ewhurst almost guarantees a good review! Though even we well treated reps do actually care about what goes on stage more than in front of house. Continue reading “Review: Sleeping Beauty”

Review: The Hollow

17th November 2015

This typical Agatha Christie whodunit set in 1951 features neither of her two famous sleuths – Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot – but true to form does include a police inspector and a constable. Set in the sumptuous garden room of “the Hollow”, Sir Henry Angkatell’s house outside London, most of the characters are related to each other as direct family, cousins or distant cousins. Continue reading “Review: The Hollow”

Review: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

7th February 2015

This interesting Panto tale with a humorous script by the well known writer John Morley has delighted generations of children. The central plot in this version revolves around a hard up circus owner Sadie Spangle, the dame role, played with panache by Chris Dews. Goldilocks, her daughter aided by all the circus performers, try to prevent the evil Benjamin Black a rival circus owner from taking over Sadie’s circus. Continue reading “Review: Goldilocks and the Three Bears”

Review: Tom Jones

20th November 2013
NODA Review for Jon Fox

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