Posted on 11:45am Saturday 24th October 2015
Banbury Cross Players chose Alan Ackbourn’s classic comedy, Absurd Person Singular, directed by Brenda Williams, for the opening production for their 2015/2016 season. An old favourite with both amateur and professional groups, the play is set in three kitchens, in three Acts, on three consecutive Christmas Eves in the 1970’s. (There was no mention of the decade in the Programme but you guessed due to the gaudy household fabrics and the flared trousers). There is only a small plotline in this play that opens in the kitchen of Sidney & Jane Hopcroft. Jane clearly suffers from OCD as she cleans and polishes whilst Sidney awaits the arrival of his visitors, Sidney is played by BCP stalwart Philip King who put in a worthy performance as the hapless Sidney bent on impressing his upmarket guests who are calling in for a Christmas noggin. Looking like a cross between a young Bruce Forsythe and one of the Chuckle Brothers, Philip drove the pace of the piece as he coped with his introvert wife who clearly is out of her depth on the social front. . Helen Williams credibly played Jane who obviously would rather be cleaning her or (as in the second act) someone else’s oven rather than involve herself in party talk. The yuletide drinkers arrive in the form of Geoffrey & Eva Jackson. He an architect anxious to improve his lot with the local developers, she a pill-popping housewife who takes countless tablets every three hours day and night. The other guests other than the two we don’t see are the Brewster-Wrights. Ronald’s a Bank Manager and his wife Marion is an upwardly mobile sort who whilst praising Jane’s Kitchen in private hates it and all the Hopcroft’s stand for. There you have it the scene is set for the interplay over three acts of these six people. Sidney goes from the underdog in Act One to the leader of the pack in Act Three after Geoffrey’s business has all but collapsed as did one of his buildings, and Ronald is losing it due Marion’s excessive drinking. Jonathan Rubery as Geoffrey played his part well as the philandering husband. Unfortunately his voice, as with Marion, didn’t carry well and many of their lines were lost. Joanna Firth is Geoffrey’s wife Eva and was all but mute in the whole of the second act except for a few lines at the end but her performance spoke volumes. After being told by her erstwhile hubby he was leaving her Eva tries numerous ways of ending it all, all thwarted by her drinks guests who by now are involved cleaning, repairing lights and avoiding bites from George, the ferocious dog in the hall. I did feel sorry for poor Eva. Talking of dogs it is clear that each of the three ladies as they host their Christmas Eve party is very much the underdog. OCD Jane in Act One, Eva the case for treatment in Act 2 and in Act 3, Marion who has taken to drink and whose husband isn’t best pleased when Sidney and Jane give Marion a bottle of gin for Christmas. Marion was well played by Michele Lothian albeit at low volume but Ray Atkinson as her husband could have stepped straight out from the West End. A polished and professional performance if ever I saw one. Clear crisp diction, the full catalogue of emotion as he goes from lofty Bank Manager to suffering electric shock whilst dabbling in DIY. Most of the cast needed prompts as the night progressed, this was the second night of a four night run, but in fairness the parts were huge and some monologues lengthy. Now this is where, for me, the piece faltered a tad. The kitchen set, designed and built by Richard Ashby and Andy Sutton, I felt, was a little on the extensive side. This play is a comedy and not a farce so the humour is in the wording and the interaction between the actors. There was a large amount of walking involved due to the size of the stage which not only must have worn the cast out by the end of the evening but lost a little of the intimacy required in some of the scenes and also didn’t help with the poor dialogue volume too. However, I liked the 1970’s details on the stage including the Homepride men. Nice touch. The sound effects by Mark Neale were excellent with the noise of the rain outside each time the door was opened and the noise of the party guests in the other room when that when that door was opened. Save for the lack of volume, any criticisms of this production seem a bit picky as Banbury Cross Players score another win with Absurd Person Singular. On the whole it was a splendid and entertaining presentation performed by a talented cast and back stage crew.
Posted on 3:09pm Saturday 18th July 2015
Banbury Cross Players chose Bram Stoker’s epic ‘Dracula’ for their final offering of the 2015 season. Adapted by Jane Thornton and John Godber this tale of Vampire Bats, Transylvanian Counts, coffins and lunatic asylums was just the thing for a grey summer’s night in July.
Posted on 3:05pm Saturday 18th July 2015
The Sinodun Players presented the Neil Simon classic ‘Plaza Suite’ for their summer production, Set in the renowned New York hotel in the 1960’s, Plaza Suite is a three-act piece based around three different couples that check into suite 719 at the famous New York hotel.
Posted on 11:14am Saturday 25th April 2015
Move over Robert Donat and Kenneth More, there’s a new Richard Hannay in town. From the moment Andrew Whiffin stepped onto the stage as the protagonist in this superb production, he was the suave, erudite, well-dressed Richard Hannay we have seen portrayed over the years and sporting the pencil thin moustache required of the period, Mr Whiffen gave an excellent performance, completely convincing, confident and energetic. Banbury Cross Players’ third production in their season was The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow from the original novel by John Buchan. It provided a hilarious evening of pure entertainment. The action follows roughly (very roughly) Buchan’s original story of Hannay being sort by the police for murder (he’s innocent of course). He flees to Scotland in search of the mysterious baddy with the tip of his little finger missing. He can help our hero with his enquiries. To start at the beginning, up go the opening credits for the play, projected on the rear wall. Just like the black & White ‘B’ movies some of us are old enough to remember. This is just how it is meant to be. The play is performed as it were being produced as a 1930’s film on a budget, which in itself provides great hilarity with the endless number of props and the shortage of actors. This of course provides a problem for reviewers of the piece. Where the action is a tad suspect and some of the Scottish accents are appalling, ranging from just plain bad to Irish and yes, some American in there methinks, is that meant or not? Back to the plot. Ably directed by Chrissie Garret, The 39 Steps must have been great fun to produce. The ingenuity of the props crew had to be seen to be believed. Fireplaces doubling for cars, sceneshifters with torches on poles to represent the police searching the moors in the mist, excellent. The lighting plots of John Hicks and Linda Shaw added greatly to the atmosphere and the sound effects provided by the four-piece orchestra led by John McCormick, who was clearly enjoying himself, were spectacular. I would be interested to know how they got their timing spot on. Clare Lester played a couple of parts, providing the corpse in the first scene and also popping up in various scenes to give Mr Hannay away to the law, until eventually she realises he is telling the truth about his innocence and the network of international spies known as – wait for it – The 39 Steps. If this sounds slightly sombre, forget it, the play is a hoot from start to finish. Ms Lester was kept busy throughout the exercise and frankly we could have been in the West End judging by the calibre of her performance. How do you review the other two main performers, Nik Lester and Dave Smith? They had more parts than a Boeing 747, and the quick fire changes they executed, sometimes whilst holding a conversation with themselves added to the fun. The famous Forth Bridge scene was done well although I would have liked to see some kind of railway footage projected on the back wall to add ambience. The chase over the bridge was excellent and again the prop department came up trumps with the ingenious use of a pair of steps and a ladder. As mentioned, the idea behind this adaptation of The 39 Steps story is to parody an Alfred Hitchcock film of the time. The play throws in the occasional snippet appertaining to a number of his triumphs. I spotted North by Northwest and Psycho. The use of the Coronation Scot and Dick Barton theme again added to the period of the piece. In all a cracker of a production. Dave Smith and Nik Lester must have, and should have, been exhausted by the end of the evening. Coats, wigs and kilts in all directions, and I especially liked the homemade bagpipes. OBE’s have been given for less. My favourite line of the night went something like this: Woman: My Uncle Bob is a Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard. Man: Your Uncle Bob? Woman: Yes Man: So Bob’s your Uncle. Made me laugh.
Posted on 6:00pm Thursday 5th February 2015
Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore Banbury Cross Players 4th-7th February 2015. The Mill, Banbury Banbury Cross Players’ first production for 2015, and the second in their 70th Anniversary season, is Hugh Whitemore’s cold war drama based on the true story of the infamous Portland Spy Case of the 1960’s. The play revolves around the Jackson family comprising Bob, Barbara and their daughter Julie. They live a quiet life in a pleasant suburb, their best friends across the road being the happily married Canadians Helen and Peter Kroger. The Jacksons’ lives are shattered one day with the arrival of Stewart, an MI5 official informing them that their friends are suspected of spying for the Russians. He wishes to use their house for surveillance purposes and installs two young ladies who use Julie’s bedroom to keep their eye on the comings and goings at the Kroger’s house. Whitemore’s play provides an insight into life in the early 60’s and the excellent split set designed by Peter Bloor was adorned with many period pieces and came over well as an ordinary comfortable surburban home in an ordinary town inhabited by ordinary people. The overriding theme of the drama being this could happen to anyone anywhere, you never know who your friends and neighbours really are. Scary. This was the opening night of the play run and nerves and a couple of prompts were evident. The theatre was only half full too. Shame. Kate Fricke who played Barbara seemed particularly nervous as the action began but by the second act was well into her stride and delivered a magnificent address seemingly word perfect and impressive as the situation tears her apart. She cannot believe the stories about her best friends and hates spying on them, having to tell a ‘Pack of Lies’ to the point that she almost alerts Helen Kroger of what is going on Kate’s husband Bob (Andy Crump) came over well as the steadfast husband, dependable, rarely away from home and a rock for Kate who is greatly affected by being caught up in the earth-shattering revelation concerning her friends. His love for his wife is obvious throughout the play and even more evident at the end of the piece when he breaks down informing us of the fate of his wife. Scarlett Primrose was excellent as the Jackson’s daughter Julie. Her instant transformations from happy teenager to anti-parental rebel were a testimonial to the writing of Mr. Whitemore who obviously knows a thing or two about adolescents. Banbury Cross stalwart Philip Fine played Stewart, the MI5 man, who at first asked then insisted, as the plot unravelled, that he use the Jackson home to spy on the Krogers. He played the part totally convincingly even to the point of the Oxbridge accent. (If he doesn’t normally talk like that - well done, if he does - well cast). Sarah Lonton portrayed Helen Kroger perfectly as the fun loving yet caring friend of the Jacksons who was up for anything except socialising on a Saturday night. (This was when the Krogers entertained a mysterious visitor, who of course turns out to be their contact with the Russians). Elegant and charming she was the epitome of the friend we all would like, but out of sight played a dangerous and dark game and eventually it was revealed she indeed was a Colonel in the KGB. Peter Kroger was played by John McCormick and again he convinced us he was the happily married but slightly exasperated husband of Helen, and in a short spot-lit monologue revealed to us how and why he became a communist. Kate Groves and Helen Watson were Thelma and Sally, the girls who spied across the road to the Krogers house from Julie’s bedroom. Directed by Terry Gallager, Pack of Lies is another Banbury Cross success story. The sets are getting better with more attention to detail, though it was a strange lighting effect to switch on a standard lamp, which didn’t itself light up but the stage did. The pace of the play sagged a little at times and their were a couple of other strange monologues in the first act, but these of course are down to Mr Whitemore not BCP. Perhaps I missed their point In short another cracker pulled off by Banbury Cross Players
Posted on 11:08am Sunday 30th November 2014
The plot of this production revolves around Eva, a young Jewish refugee from pre-war Germany, who was given safe passage to the UK under a programme introduced by the government at the time. All the action takes place in Eva’s home back in war torn Germany and in the attic of her 1980’s Manchester on a split set, designed by the talented all-rounder Andrea Spencer. It was a bold decision to undertake this play, which was only written in 2009, but as per, the KBDG came through it well. There are deep waters afoot when Eva, who in the ‘80’s is now known as Evelyn, discovers her daughter has found the evidence of her early years and is not best pleased. (About this time a mobile phone goes off in the audience and the lady seems to have a problem turning it off, there’s always one despite numerous reminders pinned round the hall to turn off your phone. You couldn’t make it up) I digress. Directed by Kate Belcher ‘Kindertransport’ did start slow, but in fairness this was the first night of the run so nerves come into play. This was emphasised by the prompts given to the usually word-perfect Paula Eastwood as the grown up Eva. Apart from that Paula played her part well, coping with the discovery of her secret by her adolescent and feisty daughter Faith admirably portrayed by Bryony Harding. Sarah Curran convinced us she was Helga, Eva’s birth mother, starting the play as a typical middle-class Jewish mother sending her daughter away with her valuables hidden in Eva’s shoes, and ending as a crone, a shell of her former self as the ravages of war have taken the toll including the loss of her husband in a Concentration Camp. Eva comes to the UK to live with Lil and the relationship between the women in the play is examined in depth as Eva skips her English lessons to go and ask round the local big houses if they will give her parents jobs so they too can come to England. Lil doesn’t like this at all. Eva is unhappy and misses her mother. But Eva and Lil both eventually become at peace with one another as Eva is shown steadily losing her Jewish roots. Andrea Spencer as Lil was up to her usual high standard and played the part of the grandmother to Faith as well as she portrayed one of the high-kicking dancers in ‘Stepping Out’ her first outing with the Group all those years ago. Time marches on. Now, a star is born in this production of Kindertransport in the guise of 14-year old Ruby Belcher as the young Eva. The part she took on was huge by any standards, but for a young girl to tackle it as successfully as she did took both talent and courage. I am told prior to this play Ruby had only had small parts in school plays, but you would never have known as she seemed word perfect and confident in what is a very demanding role. No doubt we will be hearing more of the young Ruby, a jewel in the Group if there ever was one. (Pun intended). Four other small parts in the piece were all played by Rob Bateman. Unfortunately all four characters had their arm in a sling as Rob had damaged his arm badly. Such are the perils of am dram where there are no understudies. I have to admit I couldn’t grasp the coming and goings of one of Rob’s parts, the Ratcatcher, as he cruised around the stage under a black cloak ignored by the cast and doubling as a scene shifter. Perhaps it’s me.
Posted on 5:12pm Saturday 18th October 2014
Just as the nights draw in and the rain never ceases to stop, along come the Banbury Cross Players with a production that lifts your spirits straight back to the halcyon days of high summer. This time it was that good old Am Dram stalwart, Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Bedroom Farce’. Directed by Trish Thompson, the choice of this very, very, funny play was an inspiration and thoroughly enjoyed by all on the opening night I attended. Sadly there were a fair number of empty seats but through experience I know the first night is hard to fill the chairs and numbers tend to build up during the run. As the action began, I have to say I didn’t like the set. However as the play progressed I realised the set design was an inspiration. With the moves of the actors through the labyrinth of bedroom furniture the set worked a treat completely filling the stage and I fail to see how else it could have been laid out any better. Top marks then to Richard Ashby and team. So to the play. For anyone who doesn’t know the plot, the action takes place in three bedrooms over the course of one night. The scenario is simple. Malcolm and Kate are having a house-warming party the party is ruined by the antics of Trevor and his dotty partner Susannah. Trevor kisses old flame Jan who is attending the party alone because her hubby is in bed with a bad back. This seems to upset Susannah a tad who decamps to Trevor’s parents Ernest and Delia whilst Trevor seeks a bed for the night. There you have it. By now I am looking for something to criticise but alas nothing so far. Sure there were a few minor first night nerves and hesitations detectable but you get those in professional theatre so no complaints there. Ernest & Delia played by Peter Bloor and Janice Lake succeeded in giving the credence of a retired married couple, naughtily eating pilchards in bed and looking forward to a lie in the next morning, as it was a Sunday. Nick (him of the bad back) was so convincingly played by Andy Crump I am sure I felt the odd twinge myself on his behalf during his performance. He also starred in the shortest scene I have ever seen in a play, consisting of one word. Mr Ayckbourn sure can write ‘em. Helen Boughton ably played Nick’s wife Jan who fought off the dastardly hirsute Trevor, the latest creation of the talented Rob Hall complete with a smooth polished accent that reminded me of Leslie Phillips. Tara Lacey, faultless as usual, played Susannah, Trevor’s long suffering lady and had a fabulous routine with a pair of mini cymbals she used to remind herself she was attractive, confident and there was nothing to worry about out there. Hysterical. You’ll understand by now I am desperate for something to criticise but still failing badly. Blast! The final duo in the piece is Tom Perry as Malcolm and his young wife Kate, whose party is the reason for the chaos, remember? Tom convinced me he was a young married man who didn’t know a lot about d-i-y and who got really upset when Kate suggested he wasn’t all he thought he was in the bedroom department. Kate herself was sweetness and light, ah yes the tribulations of early marital bliss. The Lighting plot must have covered a few pages and this again was carried out with panache by John Hicks and Linda Shaw. In all a great play and a wonderful night’s entertainment. However, I am so miffed not being able to say anything negative about the production I will reiterate on the seats in the Mill, they really are the most uncomfortable I have ever come across. Lance Bassett
Posted on 5:06pm Saturday 18th October 2014
BCP’s choice for their summer production this year was Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water, a tale of three sisters who return home for their mother’s funeral. They certainly were diverse characters. Catherine the youngest who can’t find a man to settle with and compensates by smoking drugs and shopping with money she doesn’t have. Helen Williams grabbed this part by the throat and completely made it her own. A good interpretation of a role that is complicated with a mixture of self-depreciation, pathos and hilarity, Helen completely mastered it.
Posted on 10:19am Sunday 9th March 2014
The God of Carnage Banbury Cross Players The Mill 5th-8th March 2014. This Tony award winning play by Yazmina Reza would be a test for any amateur group but Banbury Cross Players rose to the challenge as usual, presenting the piece as a one-act single scene piece, which worked really well. So the scene is one set, four characters, little in the way of a plot, massive parts for the actors. Four parents meet to discuss a school playground incident involving their sons, where one has hit the other with a stick, knocking out several teeth. They meet at the home of Michel and his wife Veronique, parents of the playground victim. I’m not quite sure why the play was set in France it could have been anywhere, but I digress, the play begins. What I took to be a rather slow pace at the start with Veronique being very quiet and softly spoken was a deliberate ploy as the play progressed and speeded up until its climax when mayhem was the order of the day. The set was simple, perhaps too simple, lacking a little in homely warmth with a single plain wall and no rug on the stage floor. The piece also could have used a little more movement, after all the stage area is a good size, and there was a good deal of the cast standing and sitting in a line, plus the occasional blocking, details that should have been sorted in rehearsal. Although the play is quite short, just 1½ hours, the parts were huge and full credit must go to all four actors, especially on this, the first night, if there was a prompt, I didn’t spot it. Rob Hall came over well as Michel, the rather drab retailer who becomes less and less likeable as the play goes on, and Helena played her part just as convincingly as the frumpy wife. Frumpy, Tara Lacey certainly wasn’t as Annette, the glamorous support act to her successful lawyer husband Alain. She was believable in this complex roller coaster part that went from timid nervousness to all action hero as she rips Alain’s mobile phone away from its constant resting place, i.e. his ear, and tosses it into a vase of water. The scene where Annette actually vomited was done to perfection, and I am still trying to work out how they did it. The mood changes after Michel brings out his prized bottles of 15-year-old rum. By now it is clear the playground incident is not going to be resolved and Veronique soon changes from dowdy to vamp as she swigs from the bottle and drapes herself over Alain. The tone of the meeting along with the language disintegrates quickly and Veronique continues her metamorphosis from mouse to super-rat as she berates everyone present still guzzling the precious bottle of rum. Philip Fine as Annette’s lawyer husband Alain was excellent and admirably got on everyone’s nerves for forever being on his mobile phone, until Annette does her stuff much to her husband’s chagrin but to the delight of the rest of the cast and indeed to the audience. It’s unfair to pick out any of the players as ‘man of the match’ as it were, as all rose to the occasion and the Director, Terry Gallager, picked his cast well contrasting the homely Michel and Veronique well with the sharp-suited lawyer and his trophy wife. Though not a comedy there were some great comedic lines and I am still wondering whether Michel slipping on Annette’s vomit was deliberate or an accident. As the play ends we hear the two boys again in the playground making up and solving their differences, something their parents were clearly unable to do. Nice touch. All in all another ‘must see’ from BCP. Cracking entertainment.
Posted on 2:18pm Tuesday 3rd December 2013
Kingston Bagpuize Drama Group 28th-30th November 2013 Southmoor Village Hall The O'Conner Girls by Katie Forgette For their November production, Kingston Bagpuize Drama Group chose The O'Conner Girls by Katie Forgette. This a tale of woe takes place after the funeral of patriarch Tom O'Conner and his two daughters meet with their mother to sort Tom's belongings and papers. So the scene is set. The play marks the directing debut of group stalwart Emily Eastham who has graced many a KBDG production over the years. To proceed. The curtains open to a set designed by Emily and Mike Lacey. The set was unremarkable then it was supposed to be, the living room of an elderly couple somewhere during Christmas 1997. Considering the saga involved trawling through the mountain of Tom's possessions, I would have liked to have seen a few more boxes on the set. However, enter Tom's wife played by Sally Lacey and the story begins. I have to say the tale did drag a little in the first act. There was a distinct lack of movement when the protagonists simply sat and conversed, the odd short walk around the stage would have benefitted the actors and the audience for that matter. Sarah's daughter Martha (Kate Belcher) and Liz (Andrea Spencer) verbally spar for several rounds on their different life styles, Liz living in California and just divorced from her third husband and Martha unmarried and still living at home. Kate Belcher and Andrea Spencer are both superb actresses. They didn't falter in their roles of the daughters unravelling not only their parents' chattels but also their marriage. The play was occasional brought to life with a bang when Aunt Margie, played brilliantly by Paula Eastman, burst upon the stage broadcasting her opinions and announcing the news that the eligible Dr Stevens,(so convincingly played by Rob Bateman I thought I would have a word with him about my back), had returned to town, nudge nudge, wink wink. In the second act the play did pick up a pace. Andrea coped admirably with a huge part and the revelation that Liz, far from being the success she was perceived, was in fact broke and homeless. Sarah announces she is going to sell the house and go travelling alone to the chagrin of all concerned. Then the doctor in the house comes to the rescue, falls for Martha and Sarah invites Liz to join her on her European tour. All's well that ends well to coin a phrase. Great acting in a play that was inspirational in parts if a little static too. Unfair as it is to pick out one player, Andrea Spencer gets my 'Man of the Match' award for her excellent portrayal of the hapless Liz and for helping making the prompt entirely redundant.
Posted on 2:11pm Tuesday 3rd December 2013
Calendar Girls by Tim Firth The Mill, Banbury, November 2013 Banbury Cross Players again came up trumps with this popular tale of six W.I. members who bare all to produce a calendar in an effort to raise money for a settee in their local hospital in the name of one of their husbands who has died of cancer. It's a truly inspiring story for us all. The play opens with the ladies attending a W.I. meeting singing Jerusalem. Serious for a short time and then transcending into comedy as leading lady Chris (played with relish by namesake Chrissie Garrett) tries to teach her exotic eastern keep fit routine, something she c learly knows nothing about. Directed by Clare Lester the production maintained a healthy pace throughout and much credit must go to her for taking on this daunting task. Chris's pal Annie is the wife of cancer victim John, and was played sensitively but with humour by Jane Shanahan. John (Heward Simpson) faced his difficult and tragic role well. The death scene worked reasonably as John simply stood up and slowly left the stage, but I think fading the lights and bringing them back up to the empty wheelchair would have worked better. A small criticism here. John earlier has a fine head of hair, clearly a wig - that's fine, but later there is a scene where he removes his hood to reveal what is now his bald head due to the chemotherapy. This is a very sensitive scene marred a tad by the sight of John's normal bald head and his remaining hair round the sides and back like most bald guys. He should have either had his head shaved or worn a skull cap. A moving moment lost I fear. Ms Lester chose her cast well, with each actor clearly enjoying their part. Vicar's daughter Cora, played by Susan Martin didn't quite come over as the sassy, hard drinking, swearing, single mother Yorkshire lass but she credit has to be given for her bare-cheeked performance at the piano. Helen Williams in the role of Ruth worked well as the unloved wife who through posing for the calendar re-kindles her confidence in life and blossoms like the sun-flowers so often portrayed in this play. June Ronson was also convincing as the cynical ex-school teacher beaten down by a lifetime in the classroom. Rod portrayed by the talented Nik Lester gave a worthy performance as Chrissie's husband and co-owner of their failing flower shop and Liz Riley in the part of Marie the W.I. branch president rode the roller coaster of her role well as the snooty proud-to-be-Yorkshire lady who had committed the cardinal sin at one time, going to live in Cheshire. I must mention the cameo role of Elaine played by Tara Lacey. This a magnificent portrayal of the adulterous make-up artist was played to perfection nearly over the top giving a touch of farce to this sometimes sombre/sometimes comic piece. Excellent.
Posted on 11:15am Saturday 30th November 2013
A date with the Calendar Girls Calendar Girls is a well known tale, popular and as warm as a favourite blanket, but nevertheless still a brave task for amateur groups to take and for a posse of women to bare all (practically) in front of a full-house of 200+ locals. The story centres around the relationship between Chris and Annie, whose husband John is diagnosed and sadly dies of cancer. Through the wish to raise money for a settee in the hospital where John died, the girls raise the funds and the blood pressure of some when they decide to produce a naked, or nude they prefer, calendar starring themselves. Well directed by Vern Dunkley who doubled up as the character John, Mr Dunkley teased some polished performances from his cast, especially his co-director and wife Lilly Dunkley who played Chris convincingly with a passion and grace clearly enjoying every minute she was on stage. It is often fraught with dangers to both direct and act in a play, but it seemed to have worked rather well here though I wondered about the scene where John passes away and he simply steps up from his wheelchair and walks off. Didn’t quite do it for me. The cast also covered well with the ad libs when the said John failed to come in on cue in one scene. I love amateur dramatics. T The numerous scene changes in the piece should have been much slicker or carried out either in near total darkness or behind the curtains. Having said that the set was simple yet well observed. The hall looked typical of many-a-hall in villages throughout the land. Stark, tired, Victorian even, and the painted backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales was particularly good. Wonder what they are doing with it after the show? Well done Jimpy Church and crew. Unfortunately the real Uffington village hall, like many nowadays, has a high-pitched roof and this adds significantly to the loss of many a line from the cast. Not all the words lost were down to the hall some cast members did forget their lines but in fairness it was a rare instance. Janie Eyre-Brook played John’s wife Annie admirably well. The part calls for an actress who can come across as a strong yet vulnerable woman who although her life has been shattered still keeps her pride and sense of humour. Ms Eyre-Brook did just that. The supporting W.I. members, loud Cora, ably played by Charlotte Holley, shy Ruth (Sam Beynon), Celia (Jo Marshall) and Jessie (Chris Butler) all made sure the pace was kept up with the sparkling camaraderie evident between the ladies. Karen Irving played branch head girl, Marie, and although a little flat in the first half of the production blossomed beautifully later in the proceedings when she has a bust-up with Chris. I particularly liked the part portrayed by James Broadbent as the nervous photographer Lawrence yet clearly relishing the thought of his task of snapping a bevy of near naked women. Excellent. This remarkable play by Tim Firth did move along well and despite an over long interval the very funny script is packed with cracking lines and pathos producing a roller coaster ride for the audience who clearly enjoyed the experience judging by the ovation at the end of the affair. The one scene that didn’t work at all was the finale of the sunflowers blossoming on John’s hill. Instead of the set preparation being carried out behind the curtain and them opening to a spectacular blaze of colour, the audience witnessed the flowers being brought on and set on the stage before the final scene, shame, a chance lost there methinks. The Uffington Players also actually produced a calendar of their cast in costume or rather without them. On sale during the evening with proceeds going to charity, nice touch I thought
Posted on 10:05am Saturday 8th June 2013
The Oxfordshire Drama Network Festival held every year at this time in the wonderful Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon is always worth a visit. This year we went on the Wednesday night to see three short plays presented by local groups and adjudicated by Arthur Aldrich who has been involved with theatre for over 60 years. The first play was ‘Funny Ha Ha’ from Whole Hog Productions, a play written by Becky Cann one of the two performers in the piece, and Matthew Clift, the Director. The story is of two clowns both disenchanted with their lives and eager to end it. They find themselves on either end of a noosed rope and we are treated to their inner thoughts and tribulations. One has Cancer; one has just been fired from the Circus. You get the picture. Not too many laughs. Now the adjudicator loved this production and I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t chosen to return for a re-run on Saturday night as one of the adjudicator’s choices for the Gala Evening. I found Mr Aldrich a very fine man and indeed we discovered we had gone to the same school many years ago in Coventry, there’s a thing. However I found Funny Ha Ha a drag and half way through the play I was hoping they would activate the nooses on the rope and be done with it. The play opens with Clown 1, played by Darren Little, holding the stage alone for around five minutes before he says anything. I for one was convinced he’d forgotten his lines but unfortunately not, he rants and raves in short bursts about the fact he has Cancer and is going to do away with himself. He is eventually joined on stage by Becky Cann in the guise of Clown 2, and together they go through a series of routines some classic clown capers and some not. She is also intending to end it all. What is it about clowns? Funny Ha Ha is well acted by the two performers who as far as I could see and hear were word perfect. Impressive with such big parts. Not at all my sort of play but it was well done and I guess it’s me. The second coming was ‘Perfect Partners’ by Alan Richardson, entered by BreakaLeg Productions. This was much more my type of thing. Set in the 1970’s Perfect Partners is a dating agency, on the skids alas, where for a fee you are matched up with the perfect partner. Unfortunately, the proprietors of the business have their own marital problems that spill over to affect the business in a series of situations including an unwanted interview with a scandal sheet reporter played well by Richard Damerell. Apart from a little uncertainty on his entrance he did give the air of the sleazy journalist seeking a story in this case of Perfect Partners not coming up with the goods as their named suggests in a series of complaints from unhappy customers. Viv Bennet played the main character of Edwina Lovelock in an excellent portrayal of the company boss trying to keep her business afloat in the face of so many failures including that of her marriage. Her erstwhile husband Jonathan was played convincingly by Mike Davies as the erring hubby who had left the ambitious Edwina for the arms of a new lady. Nice bit from Edwina when her voice changes as she answers the telephone, oh so common in real life of course. Julie Kedward played the final character in the piece, that of Susan Carter who had come along on behalf of a friend to see what the agency had to offer and of course realising what a shambles the place is and being warned off by David the reporter soon leaves. Sadly a very small part for Julie Kedward. I have seen her in several plays and know how capable she is as an actress, still perhaps next time. Directed by Deidre Jones, Perfect Partners was an enjoyable romp with a good 70’s set, I particularly liked the trim phone (they used to attract bats you know). The final offering of the evening was ‘The Worst Day of My Life’ again by Alan Richardson and put on the Compton Players. This play was set in a hospital ward, admirably furnished with a real hospital bed and trimmings. Full marks to Props and Equipment guru Ian Hickling. Charlie Brown played is by Nick Roberts. He has convinced the nurse and us that he was a successful businessman, also his wife visitor, Joanne, who doubles as his secretary. Unfortunately for Charlie visiting times are askew and the second visitor is also his wife, Evelyn, his first wife of some 21 years. She soon finds out about Joanne and as you can imagine is not a happy bunny. Joanne played by Brenda Prior looked the part well but her performance was let down by the number of prompts she had to receive-shame. Evelyn on the other hand seemed much more confident but I did feel she should have been a tad more angry in discovering the shenanigans of her spouse the feckless Charlie. Then we find that Charlie isn’t the high flying fashion designer his first wife thinks he is but in fact a vacuum cleaner salesman (nothing wrong with that mind), and his frequent absence abroad is in fact when he is shacked up with Joanne. Then we are treated to the visitation of Melissa the third wife played by Mandy Clark, who sounded, looked and obviously loved every minute of the part and rightly so. Melissa was a self confessed ‘floosie’ and wasn’t bothered in the least that Charlie had two other wives. The final scene where the young nurse Samantha, again well played by Naomi Read, lets slip that she and Charlie are going to be married. You can imagine the climax of the play. His wives hold down poor Charlie whilst the vengeful Samantha approaches him with a syringe the size of a small pneumatic drill. Good production, directed by Charlie East.
Posted on 5:19pm Monday 3rd June 2013
Whodunnit by Anthony Shaffer Banbury Cross Players. The Mill Arts Centre in Banbury 15th-22nd May 2013 Where to start? The latest production from Banbury Cross Players is Anthony Shaffer’s ‘Whodunnit’ a spoofMurder Mystery written in the 1970’s but based on typical 1930’s dramas that used to be standard fare for am dram groups nationwide. It’s a roller coaster of a play, twisting and turning at every opportunity with bluffs, double bluffs, blackmail, murder and disguises. With new plots and dead ends abounding from almost every line, this drama has it all and is adeptly performed by this talented group. The set, the library of Orcas Champflower Manor, was magnificent, designed by Peter Bloor and built to their usual professional standard by his able team. The show opens with a disembodied voice announcing to an eager audience that a murder is to be committed and a series of clues will present themselves during the course of the performance. Following these clues will lead them to the identity of the killer. One by one an assortment of dinner guests arrive at theManor supposedly invited by the absent wife of house owner and lawyer Silas Bazeby, played by John McCormick, who did look a little uncomfortable in his role but in fairness this was the first night of the run. Nik Lester’s interpretation of butler Archibald Perkins was the sort of part most actors would kill for. The character is a mix of ineptitude and comedy with a sinister element throw in when we learn that he had been a gangster in a previous career. Nik Lester coped well and fully justified this plum role. We learn of the butler’s misdemeanours from an oily Levantine by the name of Andreas Capodistriou played by Philip Fine. Philip lived up to his name playing this slippery character who had the ’goods’ on all the guests and seemed to have a thriving blackmail business. He was obviously not long for this world and was despatched rather messily at the end of the first act by person or persons unknown. Here the level of the production dipped a bit when the severed head of the victim appeared to roll on stage but we could still see the original appendage on the shoulders of said victim. Some blood would have been an asset too, not wishing to be grisly you understand, but the plot did mention the copious amount of the liquid at a later stage in the proceedings, but there wasn’t any, alas. Let’s press on. Other dinner guests make their entranceAn old sea dog by the name of Rear Admiral Knatchbull, very well played by Andy Allen, followed by Patricia Lee as Lady Charlotte Tremurrain, a dotty aristocrat who also had a bit of a past. The black sheepRoger Dashwell skilfully played by Peter Griffiths and whose Australian accent I thought fair dinkum. Roger’s fiancé was by his side, Lavinia Hargreaves, ‘a sweet young thing’ who stole the performance for me. A professional and totally convincing characterisation by Tara Lacey that wouldn’t have been out of place in the West End I can tell you. The final diner was an eccentric archaeologist by the name of Edith Runcible again well played by Ann Westcott and who I had, wrongly, down as the killer. The second act opened after the dastardly deed and enter our hero Scotland Yard Detective, Chief Inspector Bowden. Tim Manning obviously enjoyed this part and rightly so. He was extremely capable in this large part indeed most of the parts were sizable and the cast should be commended for the dearth of prompts incurred especially on this opening night. Bowden’s sidekick, Sergeant Standish the bumbling copper, was very well managed by Jem Turner. Shame the uniform didn’t carry the sergeant’s stripes but nevertheless Jem was excellent as the likeable but inept foil for his Chief Inspector. The play progressed at a pace and nothing was what it seemed. The whole scenario was ripped apart and new assessments had to be made as to who the murderer was. All the classic elements of a 1930’s country housemurder are featured in this play including thunder and lightning and eerie music. Full marks here to Maestros John Hicks and Linda Shaw on lighting with Jason Bennett and Mark Neale on sound. By now the Chief Inspector was completely confused along with the rest of us. He resigns the case only to return a little later having reconsidered the evidence andaccuses the killer who soon admits their guilt and heads for the exit only to be thwarted and handcuffed byour favourite Bobby, Sergeant Standish. Hurrah. Whoever in the BCP came up with the idea of producing this play should be commended. It’s a cracker, well done to all concerned.
Posted on 10:06am Wednesday 1st December 2010
Ventured out last friday night to Lain’s Barn to witness the Domino Players take on A Christmas Carol. What finer production for this time of year? Review herewith: A Christmas Carol, the timely seasonal offering from Domino Players centres round old miser Ebenezer Scrooge who refuses to accept the Christmas spirit and generally spreads gloom and misery in his wake with money as his sole purpose for living.
Posted on 9:31am Wednesday 24th November 2010
Review of Banbury Cross Players' Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. For their first offering of the 2010/11 season, Banbury Cross Players chose Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, the highly fictionalised story based on lives of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri.
Posted on 10:30am Friday 9th July 2010
Nearly three weeks since my last blog eh? Why is that? I hear you cry. Well I’ve been contemplating my navel along with much gnashing of teeth and finally came to the decision not to renew my subscription to the Drama Group. Before another scribbling under the heading of Am Dram Man I thought I had better sort things out drama wise. Now bearing in mind I have been a member since 1972 this was no easy conclusion to come to.
Posted on 10:38am Sunday 20th June 2010
Thursday matinee and we’re sat in the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham watching the Calendar Girls. I thought well I saw the film and enjoyed it so let’s see how they do it on stage. The answer is they did it very well. Tim Firth’s excellent and comic script transfers very well to the boards and the show was one of the best I have seen on the stage.
Posted on 5:50pm Sunday 13th June 2010
Well I didn’t get to the Unicorn Theatre in the end to see any of the ODN festival for reasons I won’t bore you with. I understand our play ‘The Summer of my Thirtieth Year’ is now to be put on as part of the Wallingford festival this week. I shall hopefully be able to write a few lines about our performance and at this and the ODN festival soon. We used to get a brief synopsis each week as to what is happening at group headquarters but no more it seems. Surely I won’t have to attend a club night?
Posted on 5:13pm Monday 24th May 2010
As mentioned last week six intrepid souls trekked to Oxford on Wednesday night, pooled our resources to buy a car parking ticket, (how they justify taking this kind of money for parking in the evening I don’t know. The last time I was robbed at least they had the courtesy to wear a mask). Anyway I digress, the point of the exercise was to see Fun Run at the Old Fire Station by local playwright Joe Graham.
Posted on 1:03pm Sunday 16th May 2010
So who missed me? No one it seems well thanks a lot. Two weeks in Tenerife called so that’s where I have been hiding. Sun, sea and……well that’s it really. Narrowly managed to avoid the old Icelandic ash situation, I felt for some folk at Tenerife airport who had been stranded for a couple of days due to no fault of their own, or the airline come to that. On things relating to drama, keen types will know from previous blogs we and a few selected chums are orf to see Fun Run by local playwright Joe Graham at the Old Fire Station this week. As previously mentioned the play is being staged by the Balancing Act theatre company. A fully detailed review of this brand new comedy will be featuring in next week’s blog, so keep paying attention. Fun Run is at the OFS Studio from 18th-22nd May. Due to my much-needed break in the Canaries, retirement is such hard work you know, I missed the drama group AGM but I hear Mike Lacey was voted in as Chairman, congratulations Mike. Whatever else was discussed I haven’t heard but rest assured all facts will be passed on as soon as I know. We are entering a short play into this Tuesday, 18 May. The play is called The Summer of my Thirtieth Year by Mark Rees and is directed by Susi Dalton. All are welcome to come and see the open dress rehearsal at the Hall at 8pm. Entry is free and we should be glad if you would stay and join us for a drink and a chat afterwards. The cast would welcome an audience, which always makes such a big difference to those performing, and we would appreciate your feedback afterwards. Talking about the ODN festival, this year it is on from 31st May until the 5th June. Well worth a visit to the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon. More details on www.oxfordshiredramanetwork.org. Glad to see the election is over at last and we have got the Lib-Dem influence in government, something nobody voted for, the next few months/years will be interesting if nothing else. At least it can’t be as bad as the last thirteen years under Labour. To more educational matters:On the first day, God created the dog and said: 'Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.' The dog said: 'That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?' So God agreed. On the second day, God created the monkey and said: 'Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span.' The monkey said: 'Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the Dog did?' And God agreed. On the third day, God created the cow and said: 'You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.' The cow said: 'That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?' And God agreed again. On the fourth day, God created man and said: 'Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years.' But man said: 'Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?' 'Okay,' said God, 'You asked for it..' So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone. Life has now been explained to you. There is no need to thank me for this valuable information. I'm doing it as a public service.
Posted on 11:45am Wednesday 28th April 2010
Every year I bang on about the ODN (Oxfordshire Drama Network) Festival held at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon. This year the dates are May31st- June 5th. Two or three plays are put on every night and a good time is had by all. The adjudicator puts their slant on the performances after each play and a thing or two is learnt by all. A great way to while away a summer’s evening I can tell you. Further details can be found by visiting www.oxfordshiredramanetwork.org.
Posted on 9:39am Thursday 22nd April 2010
As we took down the set on Tuesday night of the production that never was the question of why the play was cancelled kept surfacing. A I have mentioned previously I have never come across a production that was anywhere near ready to go on three weeks prior to opening night. However the feeling among some members of the cast was hat little could be done to salvage the exercise and it was the Director’s reluctant decision the axe was dropped. So that’s it. End of story.
Posted on 11:27am Sunday 11th April 2010
Still no further word on the cancellation of our spring offering of ‘The Female of the Species’ rest assured dear reader we will get to the bottom of it, my best intrepid reporter is on the case.
Posted on 12:12pm Monday 29th March 2010
Following last weeks whinge about the ODN Quiz, imagine how good it was last Friday night to experience the delights of the John Blandy Boffin’s Quiz in Southmoor Village Hall.
Posted on 11:24am Sunday 21st March 2010
Following my in depth review of ‘Prescription for Murder’ last week I had a very nice e-mail from the leading lady Julie Kemp-Harper. Apparently Julie hasn’t trod the boards since her teenage years until she won the lead in the play by default. So congratulations are indeed in order for such a polished performance. I look forward to the next Old Gaol production with some relish.
Posted on 10:27am Thursday 11th March 2010
As rehearsals progress for our April production of The Female of the Species, my eye has turned to productions staged by other groups in the area.
Posted on 11:34am Friday 26th February 2010
Work on our April production (22nd-24th ), The Female of the Species by Joanna Murray-Smith, continues apace. Rehearsals are now in full swing, lines are being learnt, props are being sourced, and brows are being furrowed! This is a modern play, which was a very successful run in the West End last year, featuring Dame Eileen Atkins in the major role of Margot. Full booking details in a later blog.
Posted on 10:49am Sunday 14th February 2010
Rehearsals have now started for Female of the Species, our Spring production but the group is still stunned by the death of George Pulley. His funeral is not until February 22nd so still a while before the old guy’s finally laid to rest.
Posted on 5:35pm Wednesday 3rd February 2010
This week’s blog is written with a heavy heart as my old mate Chuffer died suddenly on Sunday afternoon. Chuffer, better known as George Pulley, was a member of the Kingston Bagpuize Drama Group way back in the 1950’s and rejoined again in the 80’s.
Posted on 9:50am Thursday 28th January 2010
Drama news from all directions this week. General meeting of the group on Tuesday night, Unicorn Theatre last night and the stop press item is that Chuffer’s back from his escapades in Malta. More of that later.
Posted on 10:15am Sunday 17th January 2010
What an awful week. It started on Monday-there’s a surprise-when one of my sons was taken into the John Radcliffe with a grumbling appendix which they removed Monday night to find an abscess on it. Nasty.
Posted on 7:27pm Friday 8th January 2010
That’s it then only 351 days left until Christmas. Now it’s straight into booking summer holidays and storing Easter Eggs before the tinsel and great Christmas push starts all over again around the end of August. Good grief!
Posted on 9:58am Tuesday 5th January 2010
Thanks to Cynthia L. Tarvin, Litigation Project Manager in Portland, Oregon, for giving me a little smack on the back of my legs, a gentle reminder that the pages really must start turning again in 2010.
Posted on 1:22pm Monday 4th January 2010
Christmas might be over, but the Spirit lives on. Don't fall into the typical paucity of diet and detox after the holidays! January and February are bad enough with out starving yourself of a little libation.
Posted on 12:26pm Monday 4th January 2010
For those of you that were out of town, or might have missed a few papers over Christmas. Here's the information about matching English Wine with English Cheese. Plus we have the winner of a dinner at the Randolph for two . . . .
Posted on 1:34pm Wednesday 23rd December 2009
So we are in to the quiet season now, pub quizzes on hold, no KBDG meetings and Chuffer off to Malta for three weeks (or is it four?).