For theatre... online, non-professional, amateur


By Jacquee Storozynski-Toll (posted on Christmas Eve)

Well what a disaster! All those unemployed who had temp jobs delivering parcels, and gave them up to perform in social distanced theatre productions have now had the rug pulled out from under them. Having guaranteed a week for Christmas the rules have changed which although is necessary could have been avoided if we had locked down properly in November, then everyone would know what the situation was.

What about small businesses that stocked up for the week and now have no customers and are closed!? No-one can convince me that hordes of people in supermarkets are safer than a couple of people in a gift shop or a florist. It is nonsense. My friend who is an actor in Dear Evan Hansen turned up on my doorstep delivering parcels so he hadn’t returned to acting yet, but I feel so sorry for all the actors who had.

Let’s hope that the vaccine will allow us to turn a corner and we can all get back to acting. I am pencilled for a job in January but I wait to see if it will come off. Greetings to everyone despite all the rules and regs.

Lockdown Diary (Life in Lockdown)

Lockdown Diary (Life in Lockdown)

Posted: 19 March 2020


Oh dear! This Coronavirus has really hit home. There I was thinking that it would be difficult to take over a previous director’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, and it has been cancelled anyway. I knew we were having an uphill struggle when the cast started rumbling on about whether we should be doing it in light of the current climate, and people started dropping out. Then it was all taken out of our hands. The theatre has been plunged into darkness and is not reopening until way past our performance date. Of course we’re not alone; all the local amateur groups have had to cancel. It’s all such a shame as obviously some of the cast will no longer be available if the date is rescheduled.
I am more miffed by the fact that I recently purchased some costumes for Shrew. If I had waited a week, I could have saved the money. It’s a bit difficult to try and recoup the cash if the play isn’t going ahead. It’s also strange to wake up in the morning thinking of all the business you can add to the production and then remembering that it’s cancelled. Of course, it may go ahead next year, but will I still be in the mood for going ahead with it? In addition, the original director may be fit and well by then. However, he has already expressed the view that he has lost interest. The net result is the play will be my production should I green-light it. Then I have the quandary, do I re audition or go with the original cast of whom some were already replacements for dropouts. It is all so complicated.
Luckily most of my West End theatre outings happened just before shutdown. I saw a brilliant production of Uncle Vanya in which Toby Jones gave a masterly performance along with Richard Armitage. I also fitted in Waitress which was a new musical for me. I found the subject matter a trifle strange with a pregnant woman having an affair in the hospital with her gynaecologist. The audience were obviously seasoned supporters as they came in T-shirts with Waitress logos and were singing along to all the songs. A couple of days later I saw the Broadway stars in the UK were dropping out to return home before flights were cancelled. However, I think they may have been too late as they were staying until the Saturday performance and Mr Trump announced the flights stopped before then. Anyway, the theatre has closed now, but if they are trapped in the UK it won’t help.
Meanwhile, I have tickets for Upstart Crow in April, and so far they haven’t gone into darkness, but it can only be a matter of time. When the plague closed theatres in Shakespeare’s time he wrote several plays; not sure I can manage that. We’ll see.

Posted: 17 April 2020


Although this lockdown is having a terrible effect on theatres, as they have to close, there is still an upside. So far, from the comfort of my living room I have watched some free stage productions that the Globe and National Theatre have transmitted via YouTube. It’s great to sit down comfortably, with nobody arriving late and edging past or going out to the toilet. Additionally, there is the advantage of close ups of the actors with nobody’s big head in the way. I have noted over the years that no matter how tall or short anyone is standing up they are always taller than me sitting down.
Not only are the classics being offered, there are also productions from the Hampstead theatre, Chichester Theatre and others. I see that the RSC is actually charging for their downloads which seem a bit ingenuous bearing in mind that the National raised £50,000 by asking for donations when showing One Man, Two Guv’nors. I have seen that show three times and it still makes me laugh. Indeed my drama group, Lindisfarne Productions are intending to perform it next year as the play is now available for amateurs. It is a bit unfortunate that our plan to perform it in the autumn didn’t come off, since we have had to postpone our spring production of Don’t Dress for Dinner until then. That is if everything is back to normal. Anyway, it might be better that it is postponed; ours might suffer in comparison to James Corden’s original as it will still be fresh in peoples’ minds.
I watched the National’s production of Jane Eyre and found the concept very interesting with the use of scaffolding for scene changes. Additionally, Melanie Marshall with no dialogue just providing the songs was in fact playing the mad woman in the attic. However, by the interval I found that it was all a bit more of the same and I lost interest. The staging for Treasure Island I found too dark and there was much too much shouting. The Globe’s Hamlet – with its flexible gender casting – I could not deal with at all. I know that in Shakespeare’s time, the parts of girls were played by young boys, but the sight of Ophelia played by a six-foot tall, skinny bloke was a bit much. When the female Hamlet came in dressed as a clown I gave up. I know that there has to be reinterpretations of the classics but I think sometimes, the directors forget the audience and give full rein to their own creative ideas and it is not entertaining. Theatre should be thought provoking as well as entertaining, but being too clever by half can sometimes be a negative.
In fact the downloaded Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals seem to work much better on the TV. I loved the film version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (with Donny Osmond) and I thought the 2012 recording of Jesus Christ Superstar was wonderful. This musical never fails to move me and has such brilliant songs. I am looking forward to Phantom of the Opera even though I have seen it three times. The first time I had free tickets and having young children I hadn’t been to the theatre for ages. My husband kept suggesting that I sold them but I wouldn’t let go of them for love nor money. The whole production blew me away and the chandelier descending above my head was thrilling. Having seen many musicals and theatre productions since, I have never quite received the same thrill as that first time.
I think that the musical By Jeeves will be on in the future. I also saw that years ago starring David Hemmings and I really enjoyed it, but it was taken off after a short run.
However, I am missing my regular visits to live theatre and much to my chagrin, I am still waiting for refunds from various theatre bookings. The dates I was intending to go have already passed. I hope if there is a rebooked date it is one that fits in with my busy schedule. Meanwhile, I am drifting through the day, looking up old movies on TV, reading and trying to write a play. A friend is organising a ten-minute play festival in September called The Short and Sweet Play Festival.
Apparently it is very successful worldwide operation, but there hasn’t been one in the UK so she is busy organising it. Anyone can enter a play and directors and actors can offer their services. My play is based on a real event when I was on holiday. Sitting in the bar I watched a small-time actor try to convince a young lady sitting alone that he could help her film career. When Charles Dance turned up to take said young lady to dinner, collapse of stout party.
We dined out on that one.

Posted: 7 May 2020


Well, it looks as though this lockdown is going to remain in place for some time yet and theatres are going to remain closed. It is remarkable the way that people have started using video software to still perform.
The theatre community have been undertaking play readings, help with auditions and even dance classes. A local actress along with others has cast and performed Shakespeare plays via Zoom or House Party, all with virtual reality. Even some of our local amateur productions are now being transmitted via YouTube. It is limiting though as when there is copyright involved the shows can’t be transmitted. Southend’s Lindisfarne group is very lucky as they have Ray Cooney as their patron, and he has generously allowed Run for Your Wife and Caught in the Net be transmitted for a limited time. This allows people who missed the production first time round to have a chance to see them. However, we have to rely on those out of copyright such as The Importance of Being Earnest to be uploaded. I would love to see The Accrington Pals that I directed, but as the playwright Peter Whelan only died a year or so ago it is still in copyright.
Additionally, I have enjoyed the NT Live productions, in particular Twelfth Night with Tamsin Greig, who was brilliant as Malvolio. I missed it on stage. Although, I was looking forward to their production of Frankenstein, I am afraid the sight of a man in a nappy rolling around the stage for forty minutes was a real turn off, figuratively and literally. Does that make me a Philistine? The downloads from The Shows Must Go On (The Phantom of the Opera and the brilliant Andrew Lloyd Webber 50th Birthday Celebration with Michael Ball and Elaine Paige singing songs from the musicals was particularly enjoyable.
Another pleasant surprise has been the Globe Theatre transmissions. I tuned into The Two Noble Kinsmen a play written by Shakespeare and John Fletcher. It was a new one on me and I loved it. There was a remarkable performance by Francesca Mills, a restricted growth actress who dominated the stage singing and dancing in mad fashion as the jailer’s daughter. There was a bit of everything thrown in, Morris Dancing, wrestling, spear fighting and a wonderful ensemble of dancing with staves at the final curtain. It must have been exhilarating for the actors taking part.
Meanwhile we’re in limbo. Don’t Dress for Dinner has been re-booked for September when we hope the theatre is reopened. However, we’re still uncertain whether we have a cast as the lead actress had a holiday booked then but still doesn’t know if it is on. Our original September production has been postponed until spring 2021 so all auditions were cancelled and people are chomping at the bit to put forward productions for 2020 but have been told to hold fire.
Meanwhile, local theatres are begging punters who are awaiting ticket refunds on cancelled productions not to take the cash, but to re-book or take vouchers as they need the money. Not good times.

Posted: 30 May 2020


This lockdown seems to be going on and on, despite the announcement of easing. However, apart from getting a tan in the garden it has given me time to write. I have decided to jump on the bandwagon and write a short film screenplay. Before lockdown, half of the local actors were busy making shorts, and entering them into film festivals, so I thought I would join them. Of course I’m not in the Sundance Festival league yet, nor ever will be. At least it is a project to work on.
The other advantage is we now have all the theatre transmissions from NT Live, The Globe, and various other theatres, as well as musicals. Although, I have been disappointed that some of the latter are TV productions not stage shows. It does mean that I have seen shows that I’d missed before, some I wanted to see again, and plays that I probably would never have bothered to go and see at all. As a result, I’ve seen some marvellous things, in particular, This House by James Graham. I’m not interested in politics per se, but thought it might be an interesting watch, and I was blown away. It was such a cleverly constructed play, set in the seventies, when there was a hung parliament. It was based on real events, although the interaction between Labour and Conservative MPs was fictionalised. It also sent me off to investigate what really happened, and to find out something about the Government Whips, played by Phil Daniels, Reece Dinsdale and Charles Edwards.
I was also looking forward to the production of A Streetcar Named Desire with Gillian Anderson. However, although she gave an excellent performance as Blanche Du Bois, I found her affected Deep South accent was unnecessarily too strong. When arguments started with her sister and her brother in law, it became a screeching match, and irritated me so much, that I turned it off. Although, there was a nice, understated performance by Vanessa Kirby as the sister, Stella, and an interesting revolving stage.
Not only have I seen some excellent professional productions, my amateur drama group, Lindisfarne, has been able to transmit some of our own on YouTube. It was quite straight forward when we uploaded our Romeo and Juliet or The Miser as they are out of copyright, but it became more difficult with plays by playwrights such as Joe Orton, Peter Whelan and Alan Bennett as there are legal repercussions. As I’ve mentioned previously, Ray Cooney is the group’s patron, and he gave permission for his plays to be transmitted, but we are on unsure ground with the others.
However, thanks to Samuel French (now known as Concord Theatricals), who has given permission for some of them to be transmitted for a fee, I can look forward to seeing again, plays that I directed. The first one being The Accrington Pals, which we performed in 2014, when everyone was commemorating the start of WWI. There were some brilliant performances in it, and strange as it may seem, I was so happy at the end when the audience left in tears. Even the leading actress stood in tears at the curtain call. I did have a slight argument with the sound man, who wanted to play cheery WWI songs as the audience left, but I won the argument.
As our local theatres are still closed and look like they will be for some time, it appears that 2020 will be a dead year for both professional and amateur productions. Our amateur spring show has been rescheduled for the autumn. However, it is still not certain it will take place as the theatre cannot confirm when, or if, it will open this year. Meanwhile, my production of The Taming of the Shrew has been cancelled and is unlikely to go ahead next year, especially as most of the actors were unhappy that it wasn’t politically correct.
It definitely is an unhappy time for actors, particularly young, professional ones who thought their big moment had come, especially if they were scheduled to appear in a West End show or tour, and are now out of work. Cameron Macintosh has just announced that the tour of Phantom is definitely off, and it will probably be the first of many. Some big theatres may also be folding. The Globe has already announced that it’s in dire straits. However, it would be an excellent thing if some of the big stars with their vast earnings salted away, actually coughed up. They’re quick to get publicity by sticking up videos asking us all to support this or that, by donating money, but it would be good to see more of them doing it themselves. I know Cameron donated £5 for each purchase of the download of the concert performance of Les Mis, but he could have donated the whole amount. Also, he could have paid his staff whilst the theatres are closed, with his millions it would have been a drop in the ocean. Rant over.

Posted: 21 June 2020


Well we are still in lockdown and it looks more and more as though theatres are in trouble. Unfortunately, many up-and-coming actors who had their break just before lockdown, now find themselves out of work, and their big moment may never come again. Already some shows have announced they are cancelled and won’t be rescheduled. Michael Ball, who was due to start performing in Hairspray (postponed until next year) decided to give fellow cast member, Marisha Wallace, a helping hand by having her singing live on his radio show. As a result she has a hit with the song Tomorrow, which gives us cheer in these dark days. Purchase and streaming of the new single will be donated to organisations to help theatre professionals in the US and UK who have been left out of work due to the pandemic.
…The track was self-recorded, entirely from her apartment, and then shipped over and professionally produced.
Locally we still have no idea if our theatres will open, and so can’t plan our productions. We have managed a read-thru, via Zoom, of One Man, Two Guvnors with interested actors. This is planned for next year, but if our spring production of Don’t Dress for Dinner doesn’t manage to take place in the autumn, we might have to push everything back in 2021.We might manage a Zoom committee meeting although, we have no answers to any of the problems.
There is so much online theatre now that I think perhaps, it might be a negative for theatres in the future. If people can see plays and musicals from the comfort of their front room, why go off to the West End?
Local actor David Streames, came up with the idea of performing Tim Wander’s play, The Power Behind the Microphone, as a radio play, it then dawned on all involved, that this could work well in other mediums. The play marks the 100-year anniversary of the first live entertainment broadcast. Marconi’s historic radio transmission of Dame Nellie Melba’s operatic voice was played down the airwaves and through the ether to radio listeners all over the world. Initially, the play was devised as a theatrical production for stage, but with the Covid-19 virus forcing our theatres into darkness, this couldn’t happen.
Other local actors, Robert Daws, Wendy Morgan and Martin Carroll became involved, and a social distance reading of the play took place in Chelmsford Civic theatre. The play was streamed online and is now available on YouTube

Posted: 19 July 2020


Well things are beginning to loosen a little, but although restaurants and bars seem to be able to manage social distancing, the theatres are still shut. Firstly, Boris says they can open with no live performances and musicals without singing, and now he is talking about them opening properly at the end of August. However, that isn’t much use to the shows that have cancelled for the year and have had no chance to rehearse. The studio theatre that my local am-dram groups perform in will have hardly any audience if they space out the chairs and as a result could not afford to put a play on.
Meanwhile, there are still theatre productions to view via YouTube and NTLive. Additionally, BBC4 is now transmitting RSC productions which are always worth a watch, such as The Merchant of Venice and Othello. Although I was enjoying watching these events from my front room, I have found that some productions would have worked much better live. The Midsummer Night’s Dream that I enjoyed had acrobatics, which would have had more impact in a theatre, and although the production of Rattigan’s Deep Blue Sea was very enjoyable, the set of high windows with people walking about on landings behind them was lost on TV.
I had thought when lockdown started that I would sort out all my theatre costumes and props, but as expected that hasn’t happened. Now, there is a slight shift of things getting back to normal the impetus has waned, along with the banana cake cooking and the DIY.
Although nothing much is going to happen in 2020 for local groups, we are now thinking about productions for next year. I decided that after all the Covid-19 bad news and the lockdown, people would want a laugh, so I have put forward Pinero’s The Magistrate. I saw a film of it years ago with Alastair Simm and remembered it being hilarious. I tracked down a script and then found, much to my surprise, that there was a transmitted NT production which is available in its entirety on YouTube. I watched it and found it was just as funny as I remembered, albeit the Magistrate was now played by John Lithgow.
I also looked at possibly doing Priestley’s Johnson over Jordan which I appeared in at drama school. It was a strange production as the director wanted everyone in sexy outfits – I remember playing a teacher and I had to do contortions on a table with the actor Robert Pugh. I wonder if he remembers. I know we were all saying that Priestley would turn in his grave if he knew what we were doing to his play, and then we found out he wasn’t even dead. As it was, I couldn’t track down who was responsible for the performing rights, even though there had been a production a few years back with Patrick Stewart. However, the more I looked at it, I realised that it would be too difficult, as it really needs an ensemble group of players that are all dedicated to chopping and changing parts. That was why it could be done at a drama school. In the normal scheme of things, it would be difficult to advertise auditions for the local am-dram aficionados, telling actors that they can audition for 1st Examiner, undertaker and Head Waiter, as all the parts double and triple up. It doesn’t quite have the ‘that’s sounds exciting’ ring to it.
The Zoom meetings are still taking place with the drama groups having a social get together, with quizzes, and I am still undertaking play workshops. We are writing ten-minute plays and have input from places as far away as India and Dubai. We read each other’s work and make suggestions and then return with amendments and act them out. I think the plan is for us to actually perform them in the end, although I am not sure how that will work with Zoom.
There is even talk of having a socially distanced meeting in the park, but that hasn’t materialised yet. Anyway, on with the motley…

The Charge of the Pensioners (Your News)

The Charge of the Pensioners (Your News)

Jacquee Storozynski-Toll brings us another no-nonsense chapter from her busy am-dram life around the Southend-on-Sea area…

Whoever said that the older generation was the polite one has never organised front of house for a theatre matinee!

The doors open and a stampede of walking sticks come charging in, elbowing everyone, including me on the door, out of the way. Then there are tantrums because they all want to sit in the front row in the unallocated seats which are now full. They kick off big time, then become rude and abusive, because they have to walk a few steps to another row and then worst of all, they have to go out into the foyer to buy an ice cream. You would have thought that they had been sent to the Arctic to buy them.

Of course allowances are made for disabled people and wheelchairs, and the use of a lift, but there is still chaos. I was pleased to see that someone commented on Facebook, praising me for the way I handled the difficulties for the latest show. Meanwhile, I had to go off for a lie down afterwards.

It reminded me when I first started acting in amateur dramatics. Each first night had cheap seats so that elderly people from a nearby residential home could come. If you survived that you knew that you could survive anything. All through the play they would talk loudly, commenting on the action. If a man and woman exited in the same direction, there were ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ suggesting they were up to no good. Then there was the constant stream of people edging out of the rows, loudly pushing through to go to the toilet, usually waiting until the curtain was up to begin moving.

More and more people say that nowadays audiences don’t know how to behave in the theatre but, in my experience, it has always been like that. Once during a West End performance a woman shouted at another audience member, because she commented pleasantly when a man kept going out to the toilet. When it all went quiet the shouting started again bringing others into the debate. Meanwhile the woman who had commented in the first place was in tears.

During the latest Les Misérables concert performance a woman shouted out and made rude gestures at John Owen Jones because he was standing in for a poorly Alfie Boe. That was a bit extreme. Luckily, I wasn’t there as I went to a different show where Alfie Boe was not scheduled to appear. I am not a fan of his, but that’s completely beside the point.

Anyway, as I write this we are now in the middle of performing Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and much to my, and everybody else’s, surprise it is a sell-out. We have to turn people away and I can’t believe it. The group were really worried that it would not be a crowd-pleaser, but we are getting fantastic feedback and brilliant reviews.

In discussions with other local amateur drama groups who, in the current climate, find that less and less people are going to the theatre and are finding it difficult to survive. There is no guarantee that any play brings in the punters. Musical groups in particular are finding it difficult. Playwrights such as Alan Ayckbourn, whose work would always guarantee an audience, have not been quite as popular recently. Thank goodness for good old Noël Coward, with plays such as Private Lives which continue to attract sell-out audiences. There is no explanation as to what sells!

Meanwhile, I tread the boards next week in Richard III. Tickets are going fast. Now who would have thought that would have been popular? Perhaps it’s the thought of all that blood and gore, not forgetting the Haka.

Stuff Happens when you Least Expect It (Your News)

Stuff Happens when you Least Expect It (Your News)

By Jacquee Storozynski-Toll

Isn’t it strange! Just when you’re saying that for the first time in years you have no drama productions in hand and think there is a lot of free time to do interviews, reviews, watch TV and book more holidays, the floodgates open.

The director of a local production of Taming of the Shrew has unfortunately been taken ill and it looks like a long time until recovery. I directed a successful production of this play some years ago and to prevent it being cancelled, I’m stepping up to the plate.

Although, it’s sad that a friend is ill, I am really looking forward to taking it on. The hard part of casting has already been carried out, so I can just get on with rehearsals. However, when you take over from someone else, do you try to continue with their plan, or use all your own ideas?

Rehearsals haven’t started yet and, as I haven’t been party to the plans, I’ve no idea what the director’s intentions were. I don’t want the cast arguing that they were supposed to be doing something differently. It’s a quandary. What happens if he gets better in a month or two and wants his job back and I’ve changed it all? Something to think about!

Meanwhile, my husband, who wanted a rest from directing plays and has invested in some film-editing equipment, has now been coerced to help. He was happily going through filmed archives of productions and transferring them to DVDs. We’ve been surrounded by hundreds of copies as everybody, of course, has requested anything and everything they’ve ever appeared in!

I must say it’s very odd seeing yourself in productions from twenty years ago; sometimes it isn’t welcome viewing. ‘Gosh, I look so young!’ seems to be my usual cry, but then so does everybody else’s. Not that it’s much consolation.

In the meantime, my other drama company is holding auditions for their production of the farce, Don’t Dress for Dinner by Marc Camoletti. It’s only a small cast play, but as usual there is one part that’s difficult to cast. However, all is not lost. I‘ve managed to rope in Sam, a local actress who has found a niche for herself playing sexy parts in local film shorts! I’ve known her since she was five when she was best friends with my daughter. As children they were crazy about acting, spending all their days working out what to wear when they went up to receive their Oscars.

In their teens they appeared in local productions and did TV extra work. Sam even went off to the States to study at the Lee Strasbourg studio, whilst my daughter went off to do a Performing Arts BTech.

What happened? Life happened. My daughter vowed never to tread the boards again after her course finished, and Sam married and opened a vegan restaurant. Strange how things turn out.
Jacquee’s blogs can all be found at: