Photos by Angus Tosh
Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood
NODA review by Pauline Surrey
We all know the story of Robin Hood, Maid Marion and the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham. Here the latter was revealed as even more wicked than we had thought, as he wished to ‘bump off’ his delightful young and wealthy niece and nephew, the Babes in the Wood, in order to inherit their wealth. This provided great additional excitement to the story and an extra level of evil to the dastardly Sheriff. A large cast took up the task of ridding Nottingham of this odious man with great gusto.
Ewhurst Village Hall is small, but perfectly formed, with recently installed ranked seating at the rear proving a great asset. There was a warm welcome from the Front of House team, and a cheery atmosphere pervaded the Hall.
We were offered an excellent, well-designed programme, which greatly enhanced our enjoyment of the show. There were interesting notes from the Chairman and the Director, some good rehearsal photos and cast profiles. An enlightening history of the Ewhurst Players, as well as a profile of NODA were included. An absolutely fascinating 3 page article on the history of the Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood legends taught me much I hadn’t known.
Lighting and sound effects were used very effectively and dramatically throughout.
Colourful costumes throughout, of course, except for the black-clad sheriff and his side-kick Dennis. The rabbits were in smart tweed jackets, and had marvellous makeup, floppy long-eared caps, and fluffy white tails. Outrageous costumes, wigs and makeup for Winnie Widebottom, intriguing layers of underwear too!
The scenery was excellent, some beautiful forest glades, some fine interior scenes in the Sheriff’s Hall, a scary dungeon, and an exterior view of the huge Castle too. To the right of the stage was the frequently used rabbits’ burrow, with an awning over the entrance, in front of which was a pleasant flowery bank. Props were many – some I remember were fierce-looking swords, bows and arrows, benches and a blackboard for the schoolroom, tree trunks in the forest, hand shackles in the dungeon and a VERY fierce door there. The door in the windowless tower was pelted with large stones, and a huge rock finally broke that door down. Oh and there was one particular arrow which I shall mention later.
First of all, let me praise the music, the slick choreography, the voice projection, the good use of the stage, and also the length of the piece. This panto was just the right length. I have seen a couple this year that were much too long for their young target audience, Ewhurst Players got it just right.
The Musical Director, Simon Fraser, was on keyboards, accompanied by a bass and drums. Sound and voices were all very well balanced, never encroaching on the very funny lyrics, which I understand were written by the MD himself. Much to chortle about here!
It is wonderful to be able to hear the voices, young and old, so clearly. Quite often, particularly in the case of children, one has to strain to hear their words, whether spoken or sung. This wasn’t the case here at Ewhurst, one could hear all the words quite plainly, well done to all here – especially as the words and the lyrics were so amusing.
There was great use of the stage, and indeed the whole hall, and good use was made of the central steps from the stage to the hall, especially during ensemble numbers where some of the children perched on them with the rest of the cast spread out behind, producing a pleasant tableau.
We met the feisty outlaws, a confident thigh-slapping Robin Hood (Nikki Bradley) and her gang: Alana Dale (Lucy Burr), Friar Tuck (Pete Bradley), Little Joan (Natalie Davies) and Jill Scarlett (Nicky Payne). They were a lively lot, full of good ideas. Maid Marion (Georgina Rushworth) appeared, and we heard the Sheriff’s horrid plans for her. Her Nanny, Winnie Widebottom whisked onto the stage. Barry Harrison-Fudge made a great Nanny, especially later in his hilarious striptease scene.
The dastardly Sheriff was masterfully portrayed by Felix Cuthbert, very threatening all in black, with an amazing wig, and yet obviously not the brightest, so on a hiding to nothing. He was aided and abetted, and hindered, by his hapless assistant Dennis, again well played by Daniel Williams.
The Babes in the Wood appeared and were put into the charge of Nanny and sent to the schoolroom. This was a jolly scene with lots of fun with numbers and a version of the Alphabet Song. The Babes – Tilly (Christabel Muggleton on the night I visited) and Tommy (Eli Neal) were excellent, and the juniors in the chorus made this a lively scene.
Robin and Marion fell for each other of course, and there was a good love duet from them. Robin started showing off, and the outlaws berated him in the very fine number ‘You’re so very cocky, cocky, cocky, cocky’ which I believe began as a Kylie Minogue song.
I have seldom seen a panto with so many well-known songs with such cleverly adapted lyrics. Some more I really enjoyed were: ‘Let’s put those Babes where they belong…’ to the tune of the old Joe Cocker song; All that Jazz; Another One Bites the Dust; the old Chas and Dave Rabbit song; One Fine Day and many more I can’t identify. Superb! One really funny one was the Babes singing ‘Can we please be killed by you?’ to the tune of Crystal Gayle's Brown Eyes Blue. Panto at its best!
There were so many nice surprises. Robin Hood’s appearance, for example, was always preceded by a twanging arrow arriving in one of the trees to the side of the stage. Very clever – how did they do that, we wondered.
The two jolly rabbits played so well by Zoe Neal and Pippa Simpson were pert and perky, they made a great team and were very endearing, and insisted on finally performing their Rabbit Ballet, when they weren’t shooting back down to their burrow as quick as a flash.
The dungeon scene, with Robin Hood in shackles and Dennis or the Sheriff slamming open the very heavy door right into him, and later of course the same thing happening to the Sheriff, once the outlaws had freed Robin and shackled him instead, was a marvellously funny section.
But the piece de resistance was definitely the attempt to break down the door of the tower with no windows. First the audience were given loads of ‘stones’ to pelt at the door. Then, when that didn’t work, a huge ‘boulder’ was passed down the auditorium, in slow motion, and with great effort tossed by Friar Tuck successfully against the door. Very skilful! Great sound effects again.
Wendy Davies is to be congratulated for her fine direction of this slick, funny, surprising, inventive, well-cast and totally entertaining piece of jolly theatre. The finale, obviously of the wedding of Robin and Maid Marion, was a thoroughly splendid number, involving the whole cast, to the tune of Carole King's One Fine Day, with excellent hand-jiving and great movement about the stage so everyone could be admired, and fixed in our memories.
A great evening’s entertainment. Thank you, Ewhurst Players!
Best Of The West | 4 - 12 March 2022
"A West End Musical Extravaganza" - An exciting title and an exciting evening travelling through some of the best musicals ever written. It must have been difficult deciding what to leave out. The directors, Meg Bray and Simon Fraser, are to be congratulated on such a fine evening with such fine performers. The wide range of ages amongst the cast was particularly noticeable and indicates the strength and depth of this society – many with a great future. Despite the space taken up by their tiered seating they still managed to perform both in the round and upon the stage without any loss of seats.
The limited number of props were well managed and essential. There was superb use of a variety of curtains – someone was certainly busy putting all the rails up! Simple but effective use of curtains. The sound and light gallery situated at the back of the hall up a steep ladder produced some fine effects. Good use of general mics but well controlled. The lighting was at all times appropriate for the scenes although occasionally the faces at the front of the stage were a in shadow.
One of the problems with a compilation show is how to develop the costume plot without breaking the rules for performance. This production was most diligent. All the ladies were so well dressed in colourful T shirts with coloured or black calf-length skirts. - well sourced from you know where and I gather they may not be suitable for washing however they looked really good. I would have liked to see them the day all the girls stood on the stage and the skirts were all cut to the same length – dedication to detail. The men were similarly dressed in black trousers with coloured or white T shirts. The odd scarf or shawl changed the setting perfectly.
The band of three played well together and provided very good support for the singers without drowning anyone out – not easy in a small venue. The musical score appeared seamless especially the links between scenes.
The difficulty for me is that I cannot mention everyone individually – for everyone involved gave their all and performed to a very high standard both those on and those off stage. They were a credit to themselves and their directors. From the opening of ‘There’s no business, like show business’ to the final chord of the selection from Les Miserables the audience was enthralled and transported far away from our everyday problems. The Young Rising Stars section was particularly delightful as all performed exceptionally well and showed what a great talent there is in the wings for future Ewhurst Players productions. The subtitle of this show was West End Musical Extravaganza – indeed it certainly came up to one’s expectations.
Congratulations to everyone involved in this performance
SE Councillor, NODA
The Lady In The Van | 27 - 30 October 2021
Pauline Surrey writes: The story of the arrival on Alan Bennett’s driveway of the Lady in the Van, and her subsequent 15 year stay, first appeared in his memoirs ‘Writing Home’. Then he wrote the play, later the film appeared. We all know and love Mr Bennett, that National Treasure, and here his writing was as always crisp, funny, acutely observed, and very moving.
The programme offered much. Much more than is sometimes the case. I think one can never underestimate the importance of a ‘meaty’ programme. The Director’s Note told of how the Players kept busy during lockdowns, trying to reach out to the younger generation with Zoom play readings. Simon Fraser also talked about theatre as a shared experience, saying that watching others act, sing and dance before you can never be matched by the big or small screen. I agree. There was a super detailed article on Alan Bennett, with comments on the challenges of performing Lady in the Van, complete with 4 photos of Alan throughout his career. There were interesting cast profiles, a page on the Ewhurst Players, and one on NODA. In short, this was a super programme, designed by Will Shepherd. The icing on the cake was its cover design and the little cartoons that graced so many of its pages.
The set was great, the clever backdrop gave us the view of the North London town houses of Bennett’s street, peeking over his high garden wall. To the right of the stage, the ivy clad wall was hinged, to allow for the arrival of the van. To the left of the stage was the elegant façade and front door of his house. In the left foreground was his desk, with his all important typewriter, and in these circumstances the equally important waste paper bin. Oh, and the dustbin by the front of the house came into its own for unmentionables too! Props were many, of course, always emerging from the van. Last but not least was the large and weighty coffin.
Lighting was used very effectively throughout. There were some interesting sound effects. Hair played an important role in this production. I personally was fascinated by the two Alans’ wigs (and specs) which gave these two quite different faces such a great similarity. Miss Shepherd had a great many changes of apparel, some more disgusting than others. She was transformed towards the end, after her visit for a wash and brush up to the day centre, amazing! I was also fascinated by the stylish 1970s outfits of Alan’s neighbour Pauline. Took me right back!
It was a delight to see this quite challenging play performed from the back row of Ewhurst Village Hall’s new tiered seating. The play was finely directed by Simon Fraser, who managed to get the balance between the three main characters exactly right. The two Alans, Barry Harrison-Fudge and Will Shepherd, were marvellous at creating the real Alan Bennett’s character, mastering not only his accent, but also his modest, self-deprecating persona, and even his ‘excuse me for breathing’ gait.
Both on stage together, the younger one frustrated, tetchy, perplexed, furious, speechless with anger, yet resigned, the older quizzically looking on, benignly smiling, handing out advice. We didn’t see anything of Alan’s surely exciting life outside the home, but one line I remember so well was upon his realisation that, as more and more of Miss Shepherd’s past was revealed, ‘Alan’s got as much flavour as a pebble!’
Wendy Davies gave us a great Miss Shepherd, fussing about in her many layers of grubby and ill-fitting garments, but giving a hint of her previous existence with her refined accent and vocabulary. This was a lady with a past, who still kept a great deal of dignity and pride. Mysteries about her past were many. There was a traffic accident. There were nuns. There was a time in an institution. There was music, her love and fear of it, her talent, and skill now sadly lost, her great sense of sadness at that. Her raging at Alan to ‘turn it off!’ each time he played his record player. Wendy Davies excelled.
There were so many themes running through this play. Alan’s trendy neighbours Pauline and Rufus, played very amusingly by Juliet Garland and Mike Humphries, living the Highgate life, in their glamorous outfits, off on their middle-class travels, yet paying lip service to the ‘live and let live’ of that area and era, who obviously earned Alan’s inner scorn.
The theme too of ‘what to do about the aged parent’, question, when the only son had come south. Alan’s guilty conscience about his mam, played sweetly and very well by Meg Bray, were exacerbated by Miss Shepherd’s feisty independence, and her barbed comments about his lack of attention to his mother. Families indeed, all different, the contrast between his guilt feelings, although he did see quite a lot of his mam before her final decline, versus Miss Shepherd’s family disowning her and ignoring her for years.
The social worker, played with vim and vigour by Catherine Staples, was what, society’s guilty conscience, the interference of the Nanny State? She exasperated Alan, and many in the audience too no doubt, but caused many a wry chuckle.
Various other characters popped in and out of this play, ambulance drivers, doctors, a relative, a priest, and a menacing kind of character called Underwood (Ben Aveyard) who kept appearing, peering into the van, exchanging a few words with Alan, then disappearing again. I never got to the bottom of who he was, but I feared the worst.
The van, of course, though a prop, was as good as a character in this play. Scrappily painted in mimosa yellow paint by Miss Shepherd, refusing to travel far without being pushed, with flapping door and sliding window, it was a part of Miss Shepherd really. It emitted a pungent odour. All kinds of ‘useful’ and sometimes disgusting objects were attached to the back door. And of course it haunted Alan’s life throughout these long years.
Finally, despite the best efforts of the social worker, and the best hopes of Alan and the other residents of the street for her to take herself off somewhere else, Miss Shepherd sadly died in her van. Her funeral was enacted very dramatically and effectively, complete with heavy coffin, pallbearers, planks and ropes, and she was lowered into her grave. Only to pop out again! The jolly scene at the end, as the van was cleared by some chaps in hard hats and yellow vests, was a nice touch too, release at last for Alan.
All in all, this was a fine production, well directed, well acted, with many little episodes for one to think about later, as well as the wry humour of Alan Bennett’s great writing.
Oliver! | 31 January - 8 February 2020
Whilst the various productions of this show vary from the 1960 premier to the 2009 reincarnation the story and the atmosphere remains exactly the same and firmly based in the 19th century England of workhouses, beadles and ‘gents’. The most significant aspect of this show is that of tunes which have been hummed by generations and with the 2009 revival likely to continue. The survival of good over evil is overarching.
The set was on two levels. The higher of the two predominantly represented the inside scenes whilst the thrust was used most effectively for street scenes. The fixed set was cleverly designed to represent a wide variety of locations with the change of a prop here or there. Props and furniture were well designed to facilitate swift changes.
The band of three led by Simon Fraser, the musical director, provided really good backing to the singers as well as creating atmosphere during scene changes. The whole musical score seemed seamless and the balance between the singers and the band was excellent.
This was an exceptional production of Oliver. From beginning to end the attention to detail was obvious - from the inspired but practical stage set to the high-quality acting and singing by the well-balanced cast. This show has some outstanding parts for both actors and singers and this performance showed the great versatility and superb talent of Ewhurst Players. Whilst the role of Fagin (Bobby Knott) was played with sensitivity that of Bill Sykes (Ben Aveyard) was very melodramatic and blood-chilling. Nigel Peacock, who took on the role of Mr Brownlow at two hour’s notice is to be congratulated on his characterisation and bearing. All of the principals are to be applauded for their superb singing and excellent diction. The choreography was first class throughout with the whole ensemble participating and making some complicated moves look easy. I particularly enjoyed the sound of the washboard during Oom-Pah-Pah!
No production of Oliver is complete without the young performers. Ewhurst Players have a troupe who excelled themselves and carried out their roles with flair. Oliver & the Artful Dodger played by two experienced performers Ezra Knott and Zac Leslie had the audience in their hands following every move and expression.
Meg Bray, the director, is to be congratulated in bringing all the various aspects of this musical together with such style and panache.
Congratulations to everyone involved in this performance
Kay Rowan SE Councillor
Whose Life Is It Anyway? | November 2019
Whose Life Is It Anyway? – an intriguing title and one which unravels a myriad of emotions throughout. The story of a potter whose has a life changing accident and is paralysed from the neck down. Doctors strive to keep him alive whilst he disagrees. This leads to some serious ethical and moral issues with a touch of humour thrown in.
The ‘supper’ arrangement in the theatre worked well. During supper the stage was set as an intensive care room in a hospital with the comings and goings of staff.
There was great attention to detail with the set and the props all of which were essential and used correctly. The two offices either side of the stage were sufficient and the changes in lighting greatly assisted the audience. The sound and lighting were very well set up and managed. Good use of lighting to indicate scenes with good levels. All the costumes were appropriate and enhanced the scenes and the makeup was good in that it was natural.
This was an excellent production from beginning to end. The cast maintained a steady pace throughout whilst each member of the cast had a vital role to play in the plot and the characterisations were very varied and creative. I am loathed to pick out individuals for each and every one performed their roles to a very high standard and all are to be congratulated on their performances.
Congratulations to the director for the thoughtful insight in the way he brought this production to the stage. An outstanding and thought-provoking production which was appreciated by the whole audience and one of which Ewhurst Players should be justly proud.
NODA South-East Councillor
The Accrington Pals | 14-17 November 2018
In this landmark centenary year of the end of the Great War, I have already been privileged to review a fair number of tribute productions, ranging from concerts to revues. This immensely moving and powerfully directed and acted production written by Peter Whelan and directed by Meg Bray, really hit the spot. A key part of the whole play was the prominent, but not oversized, large screen portraying war footage. The action onstage captured very well the horror of war and I found the cutting back and forth between stage and screen acting real and appropriately chosen. A great plus to the whole, in fact.
The stage itself was cleverly split to include three separate locations, Accrington, two army camps and the Somme. It was clear from the outset that a great deal of thought had been given to bringing out the humour, the pathos and the sheer horror of war and also the wonderful camaraderie of the decent British soldiers. Though essentially about war, this moving play was both a microcosm of the life in Accrington (and elsewhere) a century ago and a timeless tribute to the essential goodness of the common folk everywhere.
Its ultimate triumph was the invincibility of our human spirit over grief and evil. Ewhurst Players boast a real depth of acting talent and many of the actors have proven this to me on many occasions. However, it was heartening to see some relatively new arrivals also reaching this high standard.
Stirring classical and taped film music was used to heighten the emotion. All were well chosen, but I found some almost too moving for comfort at times; Adagio in G minor (from the film Gallipoli); Pachelbel’s Canon and Fugue; Adagio for strings (from the film Platoon); “Oh peaceful England” (Edward German); and Nimrod Enigma variations (Elgar). I confess that a moist eye was never far away!
Lighting and sound effects were extremely well used and much enhanced the whole. Nick Graham (lights), Ian Kay (sound) and Chris Gates (video and technical support) all deserve an honourable mention. Chairman Chris Dews constructed the realistic set and Fee Fraser used her eagle eye on wardrobe. A real Ewhurst team effort all round in fact.
The whole play was shot through with emotional highlights and yet with the sheer ordinariness of the everyday life of the folk in Accrington; the knocker-up man with his long pole to knock the terraced window; the carrier pigeon and basket, boys playing conkers; gas lamps on the kitchen table; the nosebleed and how common such ailments were; the CSM shouting at his men (well done Matt Thomas); Tom falling for the decade older May (Daniel Williams and Catherine Strange) showing vulnerability and passion so skilfully too; Ralph (Simon Fraser) and Eva (Jo McInnes), a superbly believable couple.
The fruit stall, with brass weighing scales, showed how everyday life proceeded despite the horror of war with the absence of regular news from the war being hard to bear. The stoicism of the people was painted so beautifully and director Meg Bray had sculpted a masterpiece, though it must be said that she had some very special ingredients with which to work.
I must add that in plays I routinely award each player a mark out of ten with six being average and seven good. In this play all players earned either and eight or a nine. Praise indeed!
Other names not specifically mentioned thus far – all of whom must surely feel proud of the important role they played in this wonderful play – were Sarah (Nicola Payne), Bertha (Sophie Shickell), Annie (Tricia Cooper), Arthur (Martin Sworn) and three special much younger boys. Reggie was the cheeky son with the nosebleed and the troubled mother (Annie) – well done, Luke Elms. Hamish McInnes with his clear voice and obvious stage presence was the paper boy. Harley Boatswain sang nicely as a choir boy.
The coup de gras was kept to the very end, however, with the final tableau with the back screen lit in red with poppies all round and the men with rifles silhouetted. The audience were momentarily stunned into silence. Tom as a ghost in white captivated the senses.
Frankly the whole production was exceptional and the only slight niggle I had was that one or two scene changes were a little on the long side.
I must mention the programme too; a welcome full page about NODA and another full page on “Help for Heroes” (the charity chose by Meg and the cast and to which the raffle proceeds were donated).
My visits to the warm, hospitable and talented Ewhurst Players, though my longest by road, are always ones I much look forward to and the warmth, dedication, obvious team spirit and sheer talent in this delightful “jewel in the crown” in rural Surrey once again delighted me. I salute you all, each and everyone!!
NODA Area 19
A Bunch of Amateurs | 19th May 2018
This Ian Hislop / Nick Newman comedy drama had a surprising depth which became more apparent as the story unfolded. The plot concerned an egotistical, fading Hollywood film star cast as King Lear at Stratford. Unfortunately for Jefferson Steel – played with marvellous depth by Peter Bradley – Stratford St. John is in deepest rural Suffolk and not, as he thought, in Shakespeare’s Stratford upon Avon.
This eight-hander, set in the present, had many twists and turns in the plot and the eventual recognition by the play’s egotistical central character of his own nastiness and contempt for “lesser talented players”, thus enabling him to gain internal peace at long last, was a sort of “Damascus” conversion. That he eventually fulfilled his “destiny” to play King Lear at Stratford-upon-Avon and be accepted as a valued member of The Stratford Players (Suffolk) provided a redemptive and heart warming denouement to this fascinating piece.
Director Meg Bray, assisted by Mike Richardson, had clearly invested enormous effort into the characters and casting. An experienced cast featuring only one distinctly young player brought a wealth of stage experience to bear, which must gladden the eye of any director, even one as richly experienced as Meg.
An innovative and humorous insert into the programme proper, was the faux programme given by The Stratford Players featuring a production team of such gems as these:-
Prompt Justin Tyme
Vocal Coach Ivor Lisp
Costumes Will Ittfit
and several others in similar vein. To my mind this is one of the (many) joys of watching amateur theatre. One would not find this done at Chichester or The National, more is the pity!
The set, designed by Chris Dews, was simply, but skilfully arranged as the rural Barn Theatre, with a real farm feel to it. Other scenes such as Mary’s B&B were simply but effectively set out with good use of lighting by Carl Osborne, no connection with “Phil Terr”!
Anne Lyth’s costumes were effective and realistic. Top class sound design and effects were courtesy of Bill Pilcher. These featured a number of themes from famous films, including “Superman” and “Jaws” among several others, equally well known.
Peter Bradley as Steel was hardly off stage throughout. His was a monster of a part, which he will long enjoy having played. Peter’s performance was among the very best I have seen this year. And I have seen some corkers, you may be sure!
Tricia Cooper as the tough resourceful Lear director Dorothy Nettle was a marvellous foil, her refusal to give an inch to the American tyrant providing fascinating theatre, Molly Fraser as Steel’s daughter Jessica, modern, talented, humane and with an ability to best her father in so many ways, gave a peach of a performance in this rewarding role.
Jamie Boyes’ character Nigel Dewbury was a little more one dimensional and therefore less rewarding to play than some. However, Jamie provided the Tweedle Dee to Steel’s Tweedle Dum and their constant bickering and sword versus umbrella fight provided much of the high drama to the play. A skilfully played role!
Wendy Davies as the jealous Mary Plunkett brought her considerable stage experience to this role. Mary exudes charisma on stage and I saw her give yet another in a string of fine performances I have witnessed. Chris Dews was the somewhat star struck, slow witted Denis Dobbins and bumbling stage manager, and most convincing in the role. Jay Garland played Lauren Bell, the local brewery’s advertising manager and effectively, via her husband, the show’s financial backer and a resourceful and able character. Anne Lyth played herself as the King Lear wardrobe mistress.
All in all, this was a fast paced and highly enjoyable production and I commend it, not least the excellent diction throughout.
NODA Area 19
Death and the Maiden | 16th November, 2017
Ewhurst Players have chosen a three-hander of two men and one woman to carry the flame for their main autumn production. In choosing this gripping if somewhat uncomfortable-to-watch play, they have for me, as a NODA rep. at least, broken new ground using merely three players.
Right from the start, seeing Paulina hide out of sight as her husband Gerardo welcomed his (car breakdown) rescuer Dr. Roberto Miranda in for a late night drink, the obvious tension was amply displayed. Izzy McLean as Paulina Salas was all angst, suspicion and wanting vengeance. Her body language perfectly captured the turmoil of her character and as the plot unfolded and she herself became dangerous to both her “tormentor” and indeed her husband, the tension rose to near boiling point.
Simon Fraser, as the initially bewildered Gerardo Escobar, who then became very angry with Paulina and enraged that she would blithely take justice into her own hands, had a wonderful role to play and did so with great skill. His relationship with Paulina was laid bare when his long ago affair with another woman was revealed. It was clear that Paulina still had never got over it or really forgiven Gerardo.
Paulina, in painfully real style, strove to torment Dr. Roberto Miranda, her former tormentor who captured and raped her many years ago. Izzy’s playing was that of a clearly gifted actor. When Dr Miranda appeared, bound and gagged, sitting helplessly in a chair, having been knocked unconscious by Paulina in the night, it was difficult to fully know how we in the audience felt, as the author Ariel Dorfman clearly intended. This deeply painful play certainly succeeded on many levels in examining our own ethics, emotions and views on several areas of life and this was in fact the true richness and depth of this multi layered play.
Ben Aveyard, as the suffering Dr. Miranda, portrayed both his physical and emotional pain, anger, bewilderment and guilt – if indeed he even was guilty? – in beautifully nuanced manner. Sitting in his underwear with bare feet and a flimsy T-shirt, it was difficult not to sympathise with his predicament, whether guilty or not.
The gun was prominently used, a key prop. obviously, but I thought it rather odd how Gerardo clearly had the chance to seize it from his wife, but did not. I could not decide whether or not this hesitance was intended by the plot, or indeed the director. Presumably others in the audience would have thought the same.
I have to say the whole idea of a confession, forced by threat, I found a tad unconvincing, even though this was a key part of the plot. The idea of Paulina inserting some inconsistencies with which to trip up the Doctor – as she admitted not being one hundred percent sure he was in fact the rapist – seems to my mind a writer’s device which, though superbly well portrayed by all three players, jarred somewhat for my liking. On the other hand, one could say that the lack of total certainty on Paulina’s past, prior to the confession, pointed towards a degree of mental frailty, beyond which one might expect and leaving one to draw conclusions about the truth or otherwise of her own past life. I have tried to look at it both ways, which is probably exactly what was intended by the author and skilfully interpreted by the excellent director George Yates, assisted by Victoria Helstrip.
All in all, I found myself unsure as to Roberto’s guilt, as doubtless others have, over the years. Did he or didn’t he? We will never know and the huge mirror, designed for the audience members to look into their own reflection and hearts provided a powerful but somewhat frustrating penultimate scene.
At the final scene at the concert when the play’s title “Death and the Maiden” by Schubert was played, Paulina and Roberto – or was it merely his image? – stared at each other as the lights faded. An enigmatic conclusion to a thought-provoking play.
A word of praise for the effective set of a wooden cabin set in an unnamed South American country. Oars, a lifebuoy and predominance of wicker furniture perfectly set the remote setting. Good sound effects by Bill Pilcher for the truck arriving and leaving among others made a realistic impression. Even better lighting by Carl Osborne added much to the overall effect. Anne Lyth did sterling work on wardrobe and George Yates, who together with Chris Dews designed the atmospheric set, deserves a distinction for creating this realistic cabin.
Despite my comments about the confession, I found this a top class play of professional standard by all three players and director. Challenging productions and Ewhurst Players clearly go together like fish and chips. Tasty and wholesome!
NODA District 19
Dick Whittington | January 2018
Whatever should a company do when it boasts two Idle Jacks? Why, start the show with them both on stage in a comic repartee scene of course, what else! Barry Harrison-Fudge (Fudge to all) was Idle Jack in this instance and his “brother” Chris Dews shared the run. Fudge was a mesmeric presence throughout this production, showing professional polish, comic timing, in fact the lot!
Dick Whittington was well played by Jo McInnes giving a sterling performance. Molly Fraser as Alice Fitzwarren, in love with Dick, was also a splendid Alice. The pivotal Dame part of Sarah the Cook was played in charismatic style with good timing and vocal clarity by Charlie McLean, whose sole previous acting experience apparently was playing a dead body! Where have you been hiding your talent all this time Charlie? And why?
Tom the Cat, athletic and heroic with feline grace was excellently played by Sophie Shickell, radiating stage presence and making a marvellous foil for Dick. The spitefully horrible Queen Rat – no less effective for not being a King Rat – was given frightening reality by the capable hands, and tail, of Nicki Payne. Rats got a hard time from we humans. Well this one gave the humans on stage a hard time and the show was much the more enjoyable for it.
Julia Allan Patel and Sharon Welland were the comic bad double act Rot and Stench respectively, showing good comic timing and much comedic acting. The scene in the sea with the driftwood was top class.
Julia Heathcote was a delight as Fairy Bow Belle, her Dame Edna spectacles, pink ballet tutu and droopy wand, together with an excellent comic flair meant that she really stood out in what was a special performance.
Barrie Heathcote as Alderman Fitzwarren and living firmly in Old London Town, long before the days of easy travel, was nevertheless from “oop North” and “reet gradely” he was too. His accent brought some distinct character to what is usually a less rewarding part to play.
Two highly experienced actors – and it showed – in Wendy Davies and Peter Bradley, played Dora and Harry with practised ease.
Some amusing antics were charismatically played between Louisa Worby as Queen Megabazooma and Fee Fraser as the High Priestess “red-carded” by the Queen for overacting. In panto! I suppose, had she been underacting – as I see to my horror all too frequently upon the amateur stage – she would have won a medal. Great comedy and, of course, actually a compliment. How I despair though at those who don’t act enough! There were none in this show, I am pleased to report!
Fabian Cole did well as the ship’s Captain. Julie Edwards made a distinct impression as the horrible Stenchess and also doing well was Lucy Payne as Rat. Rosie Bishop, Lottie Welland and William Wood in chorus parts added sterling support.
Quartet | 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