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posted/updated: 14 Jul 2016 -
Theatrical Feast: David Tristram 'Peas' | David Tristram 'The Extraordinary Revelations of Orca the Goldfish' | Harold Pinter 'The Dumb Waiter'
David Tristram & Harold Pinter
society/company: Banbury Cross Players (directory)
performance date: 13 Jul 2016
venue: The Mill Arts Centre, Spiceball Pk Road, Banbury, OX16 5QE
reviewer/s: Alex Wood (Independent review)

As befits an ambitious and very able company this 'theatrical feast' was a very tasy one - a fitting finale to another successful year.

The evening started with relatively light entree in the form of David Tristram's 'Peas'. A couple meet in a bar. The meeting has been arranged by a dating agency but, on the face of it, they are not a good match. She is an audio typist who loves to dance; he is less outgoing - a professional lookalike artist (Chewbacca from Star Wars!) who enjoys surfing the net. They proceed to identify a long list of reasons why they should not get together, which, together with various faux pas, provide  the laughs in this piece. But, rather touchingly, in spite of their differences, they both leave together...

Elizabeth Riley created a convincing Daisy, a lady of a certain age with quite a lot of confidence on the lookout for a nice man. A good sense of comedy meant that no funny line was missed. She was ideally partnered in this piece by Dave Candy playing Gerry, a fairly quiet and self-effacing chap whose humour tended to be less obvious and more subtle. A perfect foil to Elizabeth's rather more outgoing character in a very entertaining first course.

A very rich, comic and, at times madly surreal main course was provided by another Tristram play, 'The Extraordinary Revelations of Orca the Goldfish'. A couple in a tired marriage each have Walter Mitty -style fantasies which are played out on stage; the transformation from reality to fantasy is sudden and often seamless. Henry becomes a US president making a decision about military action, Alice has sensual thoughts about a French waiter who serves her on a Kenyan holiday. Sometimes the fantasy involves both of them - Henry imagines he is a detective interogating Alice about the accusation that she has nagged her husband to death. The piece has its very, very funny moments and, like 'Peas', had an important point to make about relationships.

This was a demanding piece of work for actors Ray Atkinson (Henry) and Linda Shaw (Alice). Very wordy with lots of movement and quick changes of character, accents and mood, 'Orca' is a dramatic masterclass which our duo accomplished with flying colours. Ray Atkinson's interpretation of Henry as a chauvinistic, unfeeling clown of a husband was just right and I enjoyed the characters he fantasised about. Linda Shaw was totally convincing as Alice, who, like most women in her situation refuse to be cowed by husbands like Henry, developing a sort of shell for survival. I was also very entertained by her fantasies - I especially liked her psychiatrist with a very believable south Wales accent! Cyfaill!

Linda and Ray are to be commended on the excellent and entertaining job they made of this difficult piece.

Dessert was provided by Harold Pinter and his play 'The Dumb Waiter' and what it delight it was. Dark but at times hilarious the play is about two men, Gus and Ben, who, it emerges are hitmen despatched to Birmingham where they are to carry out a killing. Starting out dark and not a little puzzling the play takes a comic turn when a dumb waiter begins to operate and stops at their room with demands for various dishes. Confused and disconcerted the professional killers find this comically difficult to deal with, at one time rather desperately sending various items they had brought for their tea into the dumb waiter as an (inadequate as it turned out) offering to the restaurant which is, apparently, somewhere in the building. But then things take a sinister turn.

I loved this play, not least because of the way it was brought to life by actors Andrew Whiffen (Ben) and Roger Riley (Gus).

Roger Riley caught the edginess, neediness and niaivety of the 'junior partner' in crime, Gus, just right. He's not slept well, he worries about not being able to make the tea, in an almost childish way he wants to go to see a football match the next day. He's a bit stupid. In truth, he got on the nerves a bit. Andrew Whiffen as Ben was also a joy in his characterisation of the senior partner; a strange combination of relaxed but tense at the same time (a coiled spring?), wordly-wise and in control of the job. Both wrung all the comedy they could from the 'dumb waiter' situation, essentially maintaining their gangster characters while getting the laughs.

I was very impressed by the three sets for the plays which produced settings which were very different - a bar, a living room and a 'digs' type bedroom - but based on the same set structure. Excellent. I also liked the human element in the set of 'Peas' - the changing clientelle of the bar.

A very entertaining - not  to say delcious and filling - night for which BCP and directors, Tara Lacey, Rob Hall and Jem Turner respectively, are to be congratulated.


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