Strangely enough, I was reminded of the classic 1945 David Lean film of Noel Coward’s ‘Brief Encounter’ during a couple of recent outings to see the play version of ‘Dad’s Army’. The tragic episode called ‘Mum’s Army’ included the beautiful romance between Captain Mainwaring and Mrs Gray which was lifted right from the film with great pathos and no small amount of reverence. Memories of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson came flooding back and so, when I was invited to the high temple of drama (The Angles Theatre, Wisbech) by RATz, I grabbed my wide brimmed hat and my raincoat and set out for the Cambridgeshire bad lands. The other appeal was that this production came hot on the heels of a wonderful ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ and a spectacular ‘Peter Pan’ (the musical).
I am led to believe that the concept of the original film was to remind the many lonely wives of wartime servicemen that they should remain faithful until their heroes returned from overseas…. Which I am sure is exactly what they did. The story is straightforward enough and, set in 1938, involves the developing love affair between married mother, Laura Jesson, and single Doctor, Alex Harvey. They meet by accident in the café at Milford train station, which is common ground for them both as they travel between their respective homes in Catchworth and Chorley and the nearby town. Mrs Jesson’s husband is very much in evidence and not at all away anywhere as are the two children Margaret and Bobbie. The relationship eventually becomes a physical one and ultimately ends in the saddest, most unspectacular way, as the two protagonists decide to walk away in the best interests of everyone except themselves.
The set (built by Phil Griggs and John Fletcher and decoration by Sir Bob Ledger) was spot on. A split set removed the need for sweeping scene changes which would have been a problem for a play that had so very little going on. No distractions were required … and none were evident and I credit the Director with this masterstroke! The main area showed us the station café with the Jesson’s family home stage left. The centre back space was used later for the boating scene which had so much sexual tension I could actual feel my heart rate increasing to what I ultimately considered a dangerously high level! Lighting and Sound (design by Robert Williams and execution by Kevin Shippey and Jonathan Salmon) was subtle, perfect in a way that I can remember nothing about it, and that dear reader is as good as lighting for a play can get. Costumes (the cast) were everything they needed to be and Hair (Cynthia Maxey and Kerry Shippey) could not be faulted as usual. Incidental props were minimal but caused me no offence whatsoever !
Much to my surprise (and delight) there was a significant supporting cast and, whist they didn’t really have anything important to do, they provided a magnificent backdrop to the tragedy unfolding in front of them. They also gave some important historical reference points as well as an overview of the perceived and actual social acceptability’s of the time. The two children, Bobbie and Margaret, were played with some considerable style by Ted and Emma Fraser. For two young youth performers they showed a lot of discipline and allowed us to be reminded of the crushing implication of the main liaison whilst not making us hate the two characters involved. The aforementioned (crucially important) set dressing included some lovely cameos from Gay Hoyle as Usher, Waitress and Mrs Dolly Messiter, James Geddis (see below) as Stanley, Alex Lester as the good Doctor’s friend Stephen Lynn, as well as Johnnie and a waiter.
I have watched Ellen Thrasher a lot on this stage (floor) and whilst I don’t think she has a massive range she always seems to find herself a part she can do really well. On this occasion she had two parts. Beryl Walters and Hermione both of which she played ….. really well! Noel Coward emphasises the circumstance of the central clandestine relationship by showing us a juvenile couple, Beryl and Stanley, together with a mature couple, Mertyl and Albert, both of which have to keep their relationships off the radar for different reasons. As Café major-domo Mertyl Bagot, wonderful Lorraine Carver was … wonderful, interacting brilliantly with the equally wonderful Bob Ledger as Albert Godby. These two provided a little comic relief that helped reduce the pressure cooker of emotions from the main event!
May I just take moment here to take off my hat to (I think) Josh Baker as the cuckolded husband, Fred Jesson. I say “I think” as the part is credited to Mr Baker but the picture in the programme is most certainly not him. Either the photos of Mr Baker and Mr Geddis have been mixed up or… the photos are right but in the wrong place … still following me? …. anyway … if it was Mr Baker who played Fred Jesson he was brilliant. A very small amount of dialogue with each syllable so incredibly important to the story. The temptation to overplay must have been overwhelming but overplay it he did not! A disciplined and controlled performance from a very accomplished performer..
Penultimate paragraph honours proved to be a complicated decision with this production. The two leads were both truly amazing and so incredibly complementary I could not, with all conscience, split them. I recently saw Annie Larkin deliver an outstanding dancing (and singing) performance in the WAODS production of ‘Cats’ and could not escape the fact that Miss Larkin is devastatingly attractive. The part in ‘Cats’ called for overt sexuality of which she has a plentiful supply, but here, on this night in Wisbech, in the role of Laura Jesson, the sex is all implied and so, with the exception of the boating scene (tights Mr Director? Really? … no, no, no for a number of reasons) Miss Larkin was well covered. And yet, with the perfect hair style, the tailored clothes made her look far more alluring (in a demure and unattainable way) than the painted-on cat costume. That said, Annie Larkin is an amazing actress and she could walk into a West End play tomorrow and not look an inch out of place. She was completely confident with her lines and her face seemed to show the torture and torment of her circumstances every time she came on stage. I have also seen Adam Billet here a few times over the years, and whilst he is always solid enough ….. I confess to a massive panic attack when I saw his name in pole position in such a difficult and delicate play… all I can now say is sorry Adam. I was so very wrong in doubting you. As softly predatory Dr Alec Harvey, Mr Billet delivered (what I would consider) the performance of his amateur career. A perfect partner for Miss Larkin, he was equally comfortable with his lines and moves and it is just about sufficient to say that when I left the venue, I could not imagine anyone else playing the part. His manifestations of pathos were particularly impressive, especially as he never allowed the audience an opportunity to pity him, or to judge him too harshly for what he was doing. The casting of the leads was inspired and with so much of what I had seen down to just the two of them ….. a remarkable double act!
I have a feeling someone told me that this was James Wetherill’s directorial debut. Regardless of how much truth there may be in that, I take my hat off completely to him for a superb piece of direction. The scenes were perfectly framed and the performers well placed. The timing was also carefully considered with the food eating extremely well-paced. This was a classy piece of drama executed with precision by a talented cast of players. Well done RATz, it’s turned out nice again!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
Angles Theatre, Wisbech
Thursday April 13th 2017
J. M. Barrie's evergreen classic children’s adventure story is one of those odd breed of tales that somehow straddles a selection of genres. It is a play, a pantomime and, on this particular occasion, an honest to goodness musical. As I headed out into the bad lands of Cambridgeshire (third layby on the left and straight on to Wisbech) I actually had no idea which of the three it was going to be …. And do you know what? I didn’t much care. It was the phenomenally talented (and enormously prolific) Right Angles Theatre Company (RATz) so it was going to be good whichever way the wind blew!
The musical version on offer was with notes from George Stiles, lyrics by Anthony Drewe and a book by Willis Hall and was a version unfamiliar to me. As I reflect upon it now, it was really quite an accomplished piece of work with the characters well (re) drawn, the story well told and full of songs you could whistle all the way home. I noted on arrival that it was a Josef Weinberger license so it boded well. I will not insult anyone by offering to re-tell the story. Suffice to say, boy who never grows up meets middle class girl growing up fast and together they confront Pirates, Indians and a crocodile! That is all you need to know, and probably knew already.
The set (Phil Griggs, John Fletcher and Bob Ledger with beautiful scenic artistry by equally beautiful Bob Ledger ….so good I’ve named him twice) was excellent. A clever two-level affair that allowed a lot of scene changes, without any scenery changes. Lighting and sound (design by Rob Williams and execution by Mathilde Tranter on lights and Jacob Gowler on sound) was imaginative and extremely effective, adding additional depth to the bright colours incorporated in the scenery. Costumes (design by Josie Stevens with “support” by Ellen Thrasher, Tania Hanks and Rosie Turley) were outstanding, and the quality was matched by the extremely large quantity, with all the performers looking good in all the roles they took on. By the same token, incidental props (Mathilde Tranter),
make-up and wigs (Ellen Thrasher, Lewis Stevens and Cynthia Maxey) could not be faulted with Captain Hook’s wig worth the ticket price on its own!
The chorus was way too vast for me to mention everyone, but we had team B, and everyone involved was enthusiastic and very well disciplined. The singing was loud, and the dancing (choreography by Cynthia Maxey) well-conceived and competently executed. So many children often doubling (or even trebling) up as Lost Boys, Pirates and Indians with a couple of Mermaids thrown in for good measure!
In the supporting roles, I loved Chloe Stokes as Nana the dog (and a lost boy), Rheannon Hanks as Liza and Red Indian, Lauren Bird as Lost Boy, Tootles, Rebecca Phillips-Bartlett as Pirate, Cecco, with Aiden Wallace working hard to bring ‘right hook’ man Mr Smee to life. Bridie Fraser and Keegan Hanks did a wonderful job of portraying the two younger Darling children, John and Michael, and I could not take my eyes off Michaela Matthew as Gentleman Starkey as she used her incredible stage presence to dance and act in way that made her difficult not to watch. I was equally enchanted by Lilliana Izzo as the iconic fairy, Tinker Bell, who did a lot of acting without having a single audible line. Her face and body did all the work in a performance of significant quality. Now I think about it, another member of the supporting cast who had to do a lot of acting to make up for the lack of dialogue was Kala Amor (That is a West End name if ever I heard one !!) as the other woman in Peter Pan’s life Tiger Lily. Miss Amor was top notch throughout !
In the more prominent parts, I was completely blown away by Isobel Ward as Mrs Darling. Miss Ward gave a warm and compelling performance as the middle class mother and simply did not put a foot wrong. Her acting was superb and her singing was… just beautiful as she made ‘Just Beyond the Stars’ one of the highlights of my evening. As an aside, when commending Miss Ward’s performance after the show to one Robert Williams, he declared that I had “savaged her” in my review of ‘Guys and Dolls’! My dear Mr Williams, I have never ‘savaged’ anyone in any review but… for the avoidance of doubt (and in a desperate attempt to repair my damaged reputation) what I said was . . .
. . . “He was helped in no small part by Isobel Ward as long-suffering girlfriend, Miss Adelaide, who struggled just a bit with the acting but more than made up for it with a superb singing voice.”
For a man from Wisbech, where a savaging would generally lead to hospitalisation, I would say Mr Williams, this was a little less than that!! I do have to say that very much like Edward O’Connor in ‘Les Mis’ last year, Miss Ward has improved dramatically from a decent performer to a brilliant one!
In the other lead roles, I must spend a minute or two to lay prostrate at the feet of the incredible Lesley Mardle. I have seen Mrs Mardle over at Westacre and was always struck by her mighty stage-presence. In this production, she took the role of Storyteller and brought a level of gravitas to the part that simply lifted the whole production from the Championship, into the Champions League positions in the Premiership. An amazing performer and a mesmerising performance. I was also somewhat captivated by Kiera Samways as the hero of the piece, Peter Pan. The little boy who never grows up was in safe hands all night as Miss Samways delivered the perfect performance. The same is completely true of Catherine Missin as Wendy Darling, who was equally compelling and just seemed to have achieved a level of comprehension and understanding of what the part was all about. She succeeded again and again in showing Wendy’s strength and vulnerability in equal measures and always at the right times. Her excellent singing voice helped her nail completely all her songs with the reprise of “Just Beyond the Stars” reducing me to a blubbering jelly.
Once again, I may be going over old ground when I recall when Robert Williams was ‘just that bloke in black on the lights’. He is (of course) a lot more than that these days, and to him alone I award penultimate paragraph honours in this presentation. He made a lovely job of Mr Darling … but when he returned as the eponymous arch-villain, Captain Hook, he quite simply stole the show! A powerful, yet controlled, acting performance. A technical standard that was inch-perfect, and a booming and incredibly accurate singing voice that filled the Angles Theatre from basement to rafters. Mr Williams was in his element and it was his significant contribution that has made this production a real contender in the adult musical category. A feat not easily achieved with a predominantly kiddies show.
Before I conclude, must not forget to heap a generous amount of praise on Musical Director Marie Cunningham and her 3 piece combo. A deep rich sound that suggested a much larger number of musicians. Barely a note out of place and the perfect accomplishment to this production. All that is left to say is, If you are one of those amateur performers who do actually read the reviews and don’t just skim until you have found your own name, I am confident that having read to this point you will (without looking at the header) already know there is really only one person who could have directed this masterpiece. To Mr Emlyn Moment I simply have no more words of praise left that I haven’t attributed to him already. He is a prodigious genius who can motivate and herd large qualities of juveniles so that they perform like seasoned professionals - always delivering a quality product and a memorable experience. I never thought for a - Moment (pun intended) that he would top his incredible ‘Les Mis’ but my word … he came dangerously close. Well played RATz - cracking!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
JEEVES AND WOOSTER
Director: Billy Garner
Date seen: Saturday 25th February 2017
Since I reached the age of twenty, and yes that was some years ago, I turned my back on the written word in favour of television and film. It has, since that time, been my contention that, if God had meant us to read books, he would not have invented the DVD. However, in the days before I reached my 20th year, I loved books, and more importantly, I loved P.G.Wodehouse! As I took my seat at The Angles Theatre, I was extremely excited to see my two of my favourite fictional characters, brought to life by three of my favourite amateur performers.
The set (design by Robert Williams, construction and management by Phil Griggs and John Fletcher) was perfection. This was a studio style production and the basic, infinitely changeable, scenery was just what was required. The embellishments and augmentations to the aforementioned scenery (Bob Legend .. sorry Ledger) added greatly to the spectacle and incidental props (cast and Theatre) whilst few, caused me no offence whatsoever. The costumes (cast and Theatre) did look to have been something of an afterthought and it did occur to me where the entire focus was on the performers … a little more effort might have been a good investment. However, Aunt Dahlia’s wig (Kerry Shippey) was well worth the ticket price alone!
My opening comments are most relevant as I had read this story and also seen the Fry and Laurie version on the small screen. It is a cracking yarn and this stage adaptation used a storytelling technique which was excellent. Socialite and man-about-town, Bertie Wooster, decides to recount the story to the audience with the help of omnipresent man servant, Jeeves and another butler, Seppings. Bertie remains himself whilst the two butlers play all the other parts. You don’t need to know any more about the plot, only that no comedy stone was left unturned!
Josh Shippey (married by the time this goes into circulation) is a fine comedy actor. His sense of the ridiculous is rivalled only by his father’s. His version of Jeeves was very different to those that had gone before but that is purely an observation and by no means a criticism. Amongst his many other parts, I nearly wet myself every time he turned up as Gussie Fink-Nottle. Mr Shippey was confident with his lines and tireless with his performance.
Matt Beare is very much like Josh Shippey. They share many of the same skills and I like nothing better than seeing them perform together. With Mr Shippey focussing on Jeeves, Mr Beare had free rein with a large quantity of the other characters in the story. He was particularly effective as Spode, the villain of the piece and hilarious as Aunt Dahlia. He simply milked every possible laugh from each of his manifestations and my face was aching as I left the theatre.
In a seven paragraph review it would be easy to dismiss the appropriation of penultimate paragraph honours, but you would do so at your peril. Chris Moment is a very endearing performer and was perfectly cast as the well-intentioned inbred, Bertie Wooster. It is impossible to enjoy Pelham Grenville Wodehouse unless you empathise with his central character and accept all his imperfections. Mr Moment made it easy, being not just enormously likeable, but in my humble opinion, perfectly capturing the very essence of the person he was playing. He is a brilliant comedy actor but on this night it was a lot more than that. His control, timing and the way he waded through mountains of dialogue without a hint of hesitation, deviation or repetition, that completely stole the show. He was always the straight man to the other two performers and the keystone to the whole production.
My profound congratulations and sincere thanks to débutante director, Billy Garner, for bringing me back to Mr J and Mr W. Mr Garner is a professional standard actor in his own right and this cabaret style, high comedy production was the perfect project for him to try his hand at directing. The technical direction was excellent and the creativity and innovation delightful. So many laughs, and so many ideas… and so much energy! The pinnacle of innovation was most definitely the unexpected appearance of Mr Shippey at one end of the theatre, when I was sure he was at the other end! My hat is completely off to all four of these gentleman for an amazing night of comedy that will have me smiling for months to come. Now, where did I leave my Fry and Laurie box-set?
Stephen P E Hayter
(Regional Representative – NODA Eastern Region Area 4 North)
We are grateful for the support from the Wisbech Round Table
Telephone: 01945 47 44 47
The Wisbech Angles Theatre Council • Charity number 278240
September 2017 we will change to
WISBECH THEATRE TRUST • Charity Number 1173321
We are grateful for the support from the Wisbech Round Table