By Michael Cooney
I have to preface my remarks by admitting that when I read the synopsis on the ticket flyer, my heart sank. I had visions of a ridiculous plot, contrived, predictable and non-funny jokes, made worse by enthusiastic amateur board-treaders thinking they could emulate the professionals of farce currently appearing in the West End. How wrong was I – on every count?
To start right at the beginning I was astonished at the quality of the set. I don’t know what Alan Caesar Gordon does for a day job, but he should give it up and run away and join a professional set designing and building crew. Of particular note was the fact that the door slamming worked every time! A herculean feat worthy of an Olympic gold medal.
The beginning of the actual play was slow, but that is inevitable as so much scene setting and character introductions have to be made before the audience can start to ‘get the joke’. James Godwin (Eric Swan) and Haydn Davis (Norman Bassett) carried this grave spot with commitment and clarity. The audience’s silence indicated they were paying attention! James and Haydn maintained their characters with credibility and it was particularly telling that Eric Swan was always a good guy, just out of his depth, and his confessions at the end were the natural course that the play should take. Despite the desperate turns in the plot, James maintained his character type – hence the confessions at the end.
Perhaps at this point I will mention that not once during the entire evening did I miss a line due to poor projection or sloppy diction. Take a bow, the lot of you.
Georgie Kling (Linda Swan) is rapidly becoming the young must-have actress in The Players. “Is Georgie in this production? I hope so, because it will be a good one if she is.” And of course, there she is, perfectly in character and her facial expressions are a treat. She was wonderful as the romantic lead in Beauty and the Beast and quite hysterical as Amelia in The Players’ previous foray into farce last summer with Two Tall Tales. This time, she is the sweet, gullible wife – well for most of the time. Without her utterly plausible ingenuousness, the whole performance would have sagged.
I am in danger now of devoting the rest of this crit to the talents of Sarah Golding (Miss Jenkins). What I loved about this whole farce was that the acting never became hysterical and the characters were always bordering on plausible. This was never more the case than with the gentle decline into total inebriation demonstrated so beautifully by Sarah. This is far more difficult that it appears. And how did she manage to carry her cup of tea and her jaffa cakes, and eat them, talk, move and generally effortlessly entertain – all at the same time? I thought she had reached her acting pinnacle in this performance then, but no. In the final scene we had her little monologue, basically relating the whole plot and its machinations. Perfect and priceless. When you see that type of performance on the stage it makes you think it is easy. It is not! Take a deep bow, Sarah.
However, the lovely Sarah could not have given such a perfect performance without support and she had it in bucketfuls. It got to the point when I was waiting in anticipation for the next actor to come on and give the performance of a lifetime. The whole production just flowed. The old saying ‘nothing breeds success like success’ was never truer. We had Wendy Graham (Dr Chapman) a seasoned character actor with The Players, perfectly cast as the psychiatrist. She perfectly portrayed the archetypal psychiatrist; unnaturally calm and po-faced, whilst chaos reigned all around her. I thought it couldn’t get any funnier until Jane Rawlinson (Sally Chessington) appeared as the bereavement counsellor. I remember Jane as the French feather duster in BATB, a part you clearly enjoyed at the time. I wouldn’t have believed it was the same actor. Very well done, Jane.
If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought you hired Nic Barton (Mr Forbright) from a real undertaker. Again, he never came out of character; even his lugubrious stroll across the stage confirmed his choice of employment. Young Christy Chiltern Hunt (Brenda Dixon) was delightful as Norman’s fiancé. Even although you wouldn’t have put those two people together as a couple, the quality of the acting in this production rendered their relationship believable.
What can I say about Liz Peskin (Ms Cowper) that hasn’t been said before? If anybody is prepared to take all the seemingly unattractive character parts for ‘the sake of her art’, it is Liz, and boy does she deserve the accolades that are always heaped upon her for her performances. She was quite brilliant recently in Stepping Out with the Amersham Players and here she is again, playing a dowdy and terrifying bully of a DSS manager. Reading her biog in the programme I honestly don’t know what she is worrying about following in the footsteps of Judi Dench. Just keep doing what you are doing, Liz!
I’ve left dear Graham Caesar Gordon (Uncle George) to last because, despite playing his part and with confidence and gusto, you could never convince me, or anybody else in the audience, that he was an old man. He doesn’t look like one, doesn’t sound like one, stand or move like one – despite his best efforts. And when he was stripped of his shirt, there were no signs of ageing. No doubt, we are down to the dreaded problem of not have the pool of actors from which to find a man who would genuinely be able to act and look old. I’m afraid it was a distraction throughout the production, particularly his young voice. Until Graham is really, really old in about 30 years time, he is more plausibly cast as a prince than a pensioner. There’s a compliment in there somewhere, Graham, but as the Cliff Richard of The Players, you can never be a Steptoe!
Tina Barclay as the director made an excellent choice in Cash on Delivery. Tine will be very reticent in accepting responsibility and praise for setting the actors in the positions they took on the stage or for any of the very clever and quick in/out of doors – all over the stage – but I know she was responsible for all of that. Not once, as I said earlier, was a line swallowed or not given its correct emphasis. And not once was there blocking or awkward moves; it flowed naturally. All this is down to the director who sees all and makes the correct decisions. Very well done Tina and I do hope you will entertain us again with another farce.
I always say of a sound and lighting director, if you don’t notice anything, they have clearly done an excellent job. As usual, Les Brewer got it right.
You had all the support you needed from your back room team and front of house. No need to offer suggestions for improvement because none are required, just commendations on all the hard work they do to make what happens on the stage that little bit better.
You will gather than I thoroughly enjoyed this evening of unbridled entertainment. I sat with a couple who had never seen one of our productions. They were genuinely astonished at the quality of the entire show. They will go and tell other people about the high standard of entertainment you offer. You can’t give a higher commendation than unsolicited praise.