For theatre... online, non-professional, amateur
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Image: Eliza Wilmot

Rarely have I enjoyed an evening in the theatre so unequivocally. The warmly familiar show itself packs more smile-factor than almost anything else I can think of. And CTC’s practice of using its vibrant, enthusiastic, talented youth theatre alongside very competent non-professional adults works a treat.

Director/Choreographer. Chris Cuming. sets the show in a school library with primary school children reading books so the set is a bit Matilda-like but it’s an inspired idea. The children and teachers are re-enacting the story of Joseph in assembly so the headmaster becomes Jacob, the PE teacher becomes Pharaoh and other roles emerge from the community. As the story starts we move from grey school uniforms into colour (costumes by Liz Milway). And it works splendidly; fizzing with visual and aural energy throughout.

Vikki Jones is outstanding as the teacher/narrator, holding the book she’s pretending to read from, “directing” her charges, singing and dancing well  and making it  all look smilingly, professionally effortless.

Ben Lewis, initially a puzzled bespectacled teenager in his school tie, morphs into a charismatic and ultimately authoritative Joseph and sings with maturity.  Rodger Lloyd has enormous fun with the Elvis/Pharaoh number gyrating his hips and pointing at women in the front row and Lake Falconer finds gentle gravitas in Jacob.

But the real star of the show is the ensemble which moves continuously with volumes of slick, well disciplined exuberance. Cuming really knows how to get the very best from them. Even the finale/curtain call is a choreographic gem.  And let’s hear it too  for Jennifer Edmonds’s eight piece band on a high platform at right angles to stage right. Lovely clarinet work from Graham Dolby and I know the xylophone in “Any Dream Will Do” is just a key board switch but it sounds great.

Of course it wasn’t perfect – there was the occasional bum note and missed entry. This was the opening night after all. A superb achievement, though, by any standards.

I couldn’t help comparing this show with my disappointing 2019 experience of seeing the much hyped version with Sheridan Smith, Jason Donovan and Jake Yarrow which I found forced and oddly unengaging. CTC’s lively, imaginative show is anything but and I know which version I much preferred. Thank you, CTC. This was just what I needed just before Christmas and a real antidote to some of the lacklustre pro shows I’ve seen in recent weeks.

It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life

I’m probably a good person to review this show because I came to it completely fresh. Although Frank Capra’s 1946 film, on which Tony Palermo’s play is based, is well known and dearly loved especially in America, it had completely passed me by. So I had no idea what to expect.

Ten people are putting on a live radio play so the format is a play-within-a-play. Thus we see them emerging from chairs in shadow to stand at downstage mics to deliver their lines. And the story their play tells is that of George Bailey, a businessman in trouble and contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. An angel is sent – think of the ghosts in A Christmas Carol – from heaven to show him how impoverished and different the world would have been if he’d never existed.

Various things impressed me about this adeptly directed (Pauline Armour) production. First, the storytelling which could get very blurred and confusing is crystal clear. Second, the “radio studio” sound effects which we see created upstage by Jessica-Ann Jenner are impeccably synced with the action. Third, there’s a lot of doubling which relies on the sort of vocal versatility that radio requires and these talented actors have nailed it while also maintaining convincing American accents – although because it’s really a stage play that the audience is watching they also don a few hats, scarves and spectacles. Fourth, music is neatly dovetailed in to mark scene changes as befits a radio play. Fifth, it eventually packs in a bit of feel-good for Christmas which is much needed at present.

Howie Ripley as George finds a whole range of moods for him ending with anguished despair and, finally, joy at emerging from the vision and appreciating the life he has despite its difficulties. It’s a nuanced performance. And Bethan Boxall as his wife Mary (among other roles) – who puts me in mind of Michelle Dockery – seems, usefully,  to have several octaves in her speaking voice. I liked the growth of her character from carefree teenager to worried middle-aged mother of five.

Also outstanding, in a strong cast, is Maxine Edwards as Mr. Henry Potter, a sort of Shylock figure, successful in business waiting to snatch anything he can from George. Edwards is totally convincing as she switches from that to the assertive sheriff or young George along with a whole raft of other parts. Kerrin Roberts gives us a nice, camp Clarence – the angel trying to earn his wings by sorting out George.

Arriving without any expectations or preconceived ideas I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy a pretty engaging evening in the theatre. This was actually my first visit to Bromley Little Theatre although it’s usefully local to me. I’ve had it on my list for a while but have been thwarted by pandemics and things. I think I shall probably be a regular in future.

Shrek the Musical

Shrek the Musical

Putting on any school production is a major task, and to do so involving an enormous cast, a full orchestra and to a high standard is a great achievement. Well done, then, to Director Chris Chambers and all the team behind the Trinity School production of Shrek the Musical. It helped, of course, that the school has a well-equipped and comfortable concert hall with a large stage, but none of that would have been enough without a talented cast.

With a cast of around 60 and a large orchestra, it is impossible to mention more than a few names. In the lead role, Ethan Thorne (alternating with Barney Sayburn) has a relaxed approach that suits the character (though saddled with a rather misshapen fat suit)  and a Scots accent that is probably better than that adopted by Mike Myers in the original film. Opposite him as Fiona is Eliza Farrar (alternating with Anna Brovko), who has a sweet singing voice and copes well with the choreography. The double-casting of these two main roles was just one example of the thought put into this production by a school that is well used to performances of all kinds.

As Donkey (no alternate so I hope he keeps well) is Ashvin Jeyanandhan, in a portrayal which was all the more impressive for not attempting to copy the original. He is a confident performer with great stage presence, knows how to sell a song, and gave every sign of enjoying the role, which always helps. The other key role is that of Lord Farquaad, to which Matteo Di Lorenzo brought a nicely understated approach and great attention to detail, as well as some of the best costumes of the evening.

Around these three key performers were a vast number of young people of all ages in parts large and small. Among those who caught the eye early on was Lucy Pritchard as Young Fiona. She totally owned the stage, especially when she sang, and already has the skill to put a song over with verve, vigour and clarity. Also making the most of his chance to sing was Jonah Newlands as Pinocchio, who was not afraid to command the stage. George Nearn Stuart is an excellent dancer as the Pied Piper, although the chorus behind him looked rather less comfortable in their tap shoes. Phoebe Nichols as Gingy has a great blues voice, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Robert Green and Kiaro King) had little to do but did it with style and energy.

If there was a prize for getting the most audience attention from the smallest part, it would undoubtedly be won by Alexander Molony as the more than slightly tipsy Bishop; a lovely portrayal that was kept up even when his moment was over, staying (just) the right side of upstaging everyone else. The whole cast were colourfully costumed and this, together with wigs, was a real strength of the production. Lighting and FX too contributed greatly, and it was good to see school students in backstage roles as well as in the cast.

Leaving the orchestra under Musical Director Ralph Barlow till last seems appropriate since the music is a vital part of a show like Shrek, and of course Trinity has a musical reputation that raised expectations. These were more than met since this was a superb orchestra, almost all the players being students, as disciplined as they were talented. They were the core of the show, and the cast gave it the necessary heart: well done to all concerned. A great achievement.

The retiring collection was in aid of the school’s Malawi Project Christmas Appeal.

  • : admin
  • : 02/12/2021
EverAfter – A Mixed Up Fairytale!

EverAfter – A Mixed Up Fairytale!

Chickenshed doesn’t believe in doing things by halves. A cast of 800 young people – yes, 800 (but not all at once) – and 23 adults demonstrate, yet again, just what this famously diverse, inclusive theatre company can do, even when their work has been pandemic-curtailed for much of this year.

This show which owes a tiny conceptual debt to Sondheim’s Into the Woods, is a reworking of a show which Chickenshed staged in 2006 and it does exactly what its strapline promises. It mixes up fairy tales with lots of song, spectacle and flair.

At the heart of it we have the brothers Grimm and one of them (Lauren Cambridge) is female. Cue for witty, topical comments about gender constructs and patriarchal assumptions. They are trying to write stories, and the dynamic between them is quite fun, but their characters keep escaping. The overarching narrative is Hansel and Gretel who are lost so their father (Ashley Driver) is on a quest to find them despite the machinations of, for example, Rumpelstiltskin (Michael Bossise) and the Queen (Gemilla Shamruk)  mother of the dancing princesses.

Bossise is statuesque, astonishingly adept on his stilts and has a magnificent basso profundo singing voice. He also has a good line in sounding very plausible when of course his character is up to no good at all. Bethany Hamlin as Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother/witch has oodles of stage presence – lots of flounce and venom – and she sings beautifully.

I really like the idea of pairing BSL signers – who are often accomplished acrobats, singers and actors in their own right – to characters so they seem like an alter ego. Demar Lambert, for instance, “represents” Rumpelstiltskin and adds another whole layer to the character. I don’t remember this being quite so overt in previous Chickenshed shows so maybe this is the handprint of Belinda McGuirk, directing for the first time.

Another Chickenshed trademark is to give short single verse solos to lots of children – as well as the adult big numbers –  so we see a lot of talent and teamwork as the show proceeds.

The 23 adults – 12 staff members and 11 students or trainees – are in every performance. The children work in four rotas and I saw the Green Rota in action. And the best moments in this show are when the stage fills up with them, immaculate, dynamic choreography (by a team) ensuring that they form groups, shapes and rhythms like a professional army. Some of the children have special needs of various sorts and it’s a lump-in-the-throat joy to see the slick way they are involved, supported and fully included. Even the curtain call is a work of art with over two hundred people on stage – and I’m told that back stage discipline, always good, is now calmer and better organised than ever because there’s a one way system which everyone adheres to. Professionalism at its best.


Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Image: David Ovenden

What better way to spend a December evening than by being transported to the sunny French Riviera? If another show sees life as a cabaret, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels takes a gambling casino as its setting and a metaphor for the shady, if entertaining, world it depicts. On entering the Bridewell Theatre’s performance area with its black drapes and gaming tables, no sooner have you parted with your coins for a programme than, and, as the band tunes up, croupiers ply you with chips and draw you into their world.

And oh boy, what a band it is! In preparation for the show, I’d played the original American cast recording and, for just a moment, wondered if I was hearing that orchestral track. Chris Nelson’s baton inspires his fifteen-strong band to bring out all the pep and buzz of the original orchestrations in David Yazbek’s delicious score, and the bubbly company follows suit. The production is as musically sound as any big musical in the West End.

The piece itself breaks no new ground. In fact, it’s almost a throwback to the light-hearted musical comedies of the ‘twenties and ‘thirties but, as the recent success of the Anything Goes revival showed us, is just what the doctor ordered for the dismal times we’re living through. There’s even a haunting love ballad, Nothing is Too Wonderful – albeit spoofed – and some wise-cracking numbers which could have been penned by Cole Porter.

Lawrence holds sway as the resident conman in the resort. When he meets another scoundrel, Freddy, on a train he first tries to help him, then makes use of him before deciding there isn’t room for them both in town and challenges him to a gamble. Whoever manages to successfully swindle a woman out of $50,000 can stay. Whoever loses must leave.

Gangsters and other lowlife are, of course, stock characters in musical comedy and, once again, we’re in lovable rogue territory here. In her excellent Director’s Notes, Zoë Thomas-Webb suggests that even ephemeral light-hearted musicals may cause an audience to reflect on aspects of the human condition. If this one has a weakness, whilst entertaining, it doesn’t risk, as the The Producers succeeds in doing, tottering on the knife-edge of outrageous bad taste. Yet the sheer simplicity of her production, in which a couple of chairs can become a railway carriage at the twisting of a couple of waiter’s arms, ensures everything moves deftly and keeps us involved.

To be honest, I’d found the charm of the 1988 film resistible, and even this musical version, first served to us in London in 2014 didn’t totally engage me. But as sometimes happens, a fringe venue and company can bring a special magic, even warmth to the proceedings which, in this case, makes the reprobates more endearing. The production is pure joy from start to finish!

The principal conmen, Rob Archibald as the urbane Lawrence and Joey Henshaw, the socially inept Freddy, are well contrasted and make a fine double act. Archibald brings vocal versatility to the various persona required by his role, his transformation into a Viennese doctor being particularly hilarious, whilst Henshaw’s clumsy teddy bear antics are equally delightful. This is comic playing of a high order. They get good support from: Imogen Johnson as the Soap Queen who isn’t quite who they, and we, are led to believe she is; Louise Roberts as an American socialite and potential victim of the pair (her coup de théâtre at the end (no spoiler!) is brilliant); and Dan Saunders as Andre the corrupt but charming Head of Police in league with Lawrence.

Jen Bullock also shines as Jolene a wealthy young woman, who manipulates herself into becoming temporarily engaged to Lawrence and performs a riveting speciality dance with the ensemble, extolling the dubious virtues of her home state.

Jonathon Grant and Fiona McConachie have choreographed the show superbly and in numbers such as the latter (Oklahoma!) make full use of the deep stage area, not to mention large pink Stetsons – even if, sometimes, the dancing could be sharper.

I was puzzled – and distracted – by a cast/audience member mysteriously planted at one of the tables. Was this a Brechtian alienation device or had another critic been given a ringside seat? I could also have done with better diction from some cast members who spoke and sang a tad too fast for mature ears. Admittedly, many of the songs have quick tempos, but Yazbek’s clever lyrics and Jeffrey Lane’s witty lines are too good to miss.

No matter, it was terrific to be back once again with an enthusiastic young cast and audience at The Bridewell and be reassured that Sedos, despite the problems of the past twenty-odd months, hasn’t let its very high standards slip. The two-and-a half hours sped by in a delightful whirl of mirth, movement and melody.

Strongly recommended!

Juliet & Romeo

Juliet & Romeo

Image: Richard Jinman

So what happens if you give Juliet’s lines to Romeo and his to her thus making her a Montague and him a Capulet? You get a topical, thoughtful  take on the play which really makes you stop and think about why, even today, we often expect females to be more passive than males. You are also forced to reflect on the whole nature of loyalty, violence, knife crime and much more. This interpretation, set in London in 2021 (a positive Covid test becomes part of the plot)  and couched in Intermission’s trade mark seamless blend of street speak and Shakespeare, is effectively a powerful commentary on the play as we know it.

Juliet, for example, is in the garden – feisty and very interested –  while Romeo, more diffidently, is on the balcony.  It is Juliet who is banished at the end (“Your Uber’s waiting”) while Romeo’s sister, Capo, is keen get him on an aircraft and away to film school because that’s what he’s always wanted to do and she wants him out of the way. Then of course it’s Romeo who lies dead when Juliet returns – and the ending isn’t quite what Shakespeare gives us but I was deeply moved especially by the searing anguish of Megan Samuel as Capo.

One of the most startlingly effective ideas in this vibrant production is the chorus. Rather more Greek than Shakespearean a group of eight actors is threaded amongst the action watching, commenting, interjecting usually in very short burst of the original text. They act as an inner voice for characters on stage as well as making observations. It’s tight, neat and impressively synchronised. Asked in the post show question and answer session how they’d achieved it, one of them answered, chuckling: “With a lot of practice!” I also liked the way we get Friar and Lawrence, a pair who run a tattoo parlour as a cover for an illicit drugs business.

The twenty six members of the company role share so that, although they’re all involved there are two cast lists. I saw the Juliet Cast  which gave us Ophelia J Wisdom as Juliet and, my goodness how she develops the character in the “two hours traffic of our stage”. She starts as an everyday teenager and ends as a mature woman. It’s a very convincing performance.

Intermission Youth Theatre works with young people from across London who are helped to find a pathway away from risk or danger of various sorts through drama. Improvisations facilitate devising which Darren Raymond eventually converts into a script.  The standard of work they produce  is remarkable especially, this time, given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband

The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband

A Gourmet Offering from BCP!

Banbury Cross Players are back in business with a bang.

Not content with presenting us with The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband the Players gave us a pre-play Cabaret to set the scene. Partly because of the need to keep distance in line with Covid precautions but also setting the scene the first night full house I attended is set out in tables of six with 1970s-style entertainment provided by some very good young dancers and an entertaining Elvis impersonator/compere in the shape of David Smith. while waiters circulate the room taking orders for drinks.

The link with the play (originally produced in 1993) is that Kenneth and Hilary are a couple who would have enjoyed many an evening ‘down the club’. After 19 years of marriage they now ‘get on’ but not much more than that. He brings home the money and she looks after him, providing a tidy house and good food every day. Probably also at the club Kenneth meets the much younger Laura, who offers the sex which is lacking in his marriage but who is a complete failure on the homemaker front. Kenneth and Laura’s affair goes on until his denials, lies and wounded innocence at home no longer work – most notably after Laura visits Hilary in desperation to tell all.

Intriguingly, the first time we see them is at Hilary’s where she is hosting a dinner for Laura and Kenneth who have been married now for three years. While the host is calm and collected the couple are far from comfortable – mainly because the occasion reminds them that their partnership is less than happy. Kenneth looks forward to one of Hilary’s great meals, Laura wants to go home and an uneasy peace reigns.

What follows is the story of their relationships, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes through monologue, the denouement leaving the two women pondering what to do next…

All three actors in this piece have to work very hard on a sparse set with minimal furniture and, I think, one prop, to make it believable. They do – and it is.

Central to the story is Hilary, played by Linda Shaw. Totally confident as the houseproud, sensible and organised housewife with an accent as Scouse as the Liver Building Linda carries off her part with aplomb, whether it is sorting out the evening’s dinner before Kenneth went to work, her spirited cross-examinations about why he was coming home so late or her increasingly uncertain disbelief and defensiveness at Laura’s revelations about her husband.

It can be argued that Debbie Isitt’s play is a bit of a period piece and that men like Kenneth don’t exist any more but Andy Parson’s portrayal of a lying, conniving and selfish character leaves little in doubt that they do. His quiet but palpable disdain for Hilary, his lusting after Laura followed by his swift disillusion with her, totally convincing.

Laura is an another interesting character. It is her youth that appeals to Kenneth but with that comes a different view of the world to his – she doesn’t feel she needs to be the ‘complete package’ to please her man. And her relationship with Kenneth is failing because she isn’t. Zara Walton made the very most of this part, providing the sensuality Kenneth initially seeks, followed by hurt when this is not enough but finally throwing their partnership back in his face. A modern girl, too independent to be the drudge Hilary became.

The play has pace and rhythm – especially enjoyable is the ‘scene’ in which Hilary and Kenneth’s days are played out in increasingly fast routine-bound order – and monologues/silioquys were clear and well-spoken. Accents were convincing and consistent and I enjoyed the use of mime, which enabled the cast to concentrate on acting rather than managing props – a good decision. This is a very wordy play and, with just two or three first night fluffed lines and one prompt, only a pedant could complain.

Linda, Andy and Zara are each to be congratulated on their excellent performances.

Performed on a simple set with appropriate costumes, good lighting and a clever use of music this is probably the best show I have seen in the several years I have been reviewing Banbury Cross Players. Well done to Director Chrissie Garrett, her cast and crew.

  • : admin
  • : 24/11/2021
Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots

After two long years it’s a real treat to be back in the room with the ebulliently enthusiastic West Wickham Operatic Society. The cast and everyone involved with this show were clearly on a totally justifiable high.

And there is a lot to like about this production of the ever-popular Kinky Boots directed by Kevin Gauntlett who also plays the factory foreman, George, stuck in his own time warp but, like almost everyone else, on a voyage of open-minded discovery. Price and Sons, a shoe factory in Northampton narrowly avoids the buffers by a switch to niche marketing – making strong female boots for men. Most people in the audience know the story. The 2005  film did very well as did the West End  musical version and tour.

Danielle Dowsett’s choreography is splendidly slick and full of visual interest.  She has every single chorus member drilled to be totally present and a dynamic part of the action at all times.  She also gets some fine work out of the chorus of drag queens although, for me, they don’t look glamorous enough. Some of their make-up inches towards grotesque.

Michael Simpson’s lighting makes every scene look good, especially the catwalk in Milan. And the eleven-piece pit band, led by MD James Hall is outstanding.

Amongst the principals, Kemal Ibrahim  – “triple threat” fully sewn up – is a show stealer as Lola. He struts, purrs, and gleams in his nightclub numbers, sings in a range of moods and brings a really poignant sense of vulnerability to the nakedness of finally finding the courage to be his gay, male self. The toilet scene is always the best bit of any production of Kinky Boots and Ibrahim gives us a warm, moving performance here with Stephen Bradley (good actor) as Charlie.

On the other hand this Kinky Boots felt under-rehearsed on its opening night. There were too many missed mic cues, tuning problems in the singing and technical theatre problems including clumsy scene changes – you aren’t supposed to hear the thumps and bumps of things being moved about. And please could this company work a bit harder on diction in general and consonants in particular ? Several cast members are inaudible when speaking and many words disappear during the singing



Dan Goggin’s musical comedy, Nunsense, has spawned six sequels and three spin offs since it first appeared on Broadway in 1985. In all my years as a theatre reviewer, I had never seen the musical Nunsense before, and looked forward to Bembridge Little Theatre Club’s production.

After the warm welcome from the front of house team, who were dressed as nuns and monks, the show itself was a hilarious, irreverent, laugh out loud, madcap helter-skelter ride of a musical. Nunsense was right up my cloister – I loved it.

 At the very start of the show, the nuns explained that they belong to the order of Little Sisters of Hoboken and needed to raise funds to bury four nuns whose corpses were “on ice” in the convent freezer. The other fifty-two dead nuns having been buried, Mother Superior bought a new DVD player and ran out of money to bury the other four, hence the fund-raising show. The dead nuns were the unfortunate victims of botulism, thanks to the Vichyssoise soup cooked by Sister Julia Child (of God). The surviving nuns staged their show at Mount Saint Helen’s Catholic School on the set of the school’s eighth-grade production of the musical Grease, which the Reverend Mother referred to as ‘Vaseline’.

Amongst the many sisters, all named Mary, was an amnesiac nun who had lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head, a former circus performer and a wannabe ballerina. The show began with the sisters singing and dancing to “Nunsense is Habit Forming”, followed by the Little Sisters solo acts which consisted of a quiz, a ventriloquist act and ballet dancing. There was more hilarity as nothing went quite as planned and dramas developed between each of the sisters’ performances.

All sixteen members of cast gave stellar performances. A standout performance for me, was from Libby Pike, as the initially upright Reverend Mother. There followed a hilariously funny routine when the Reverend Mother gets as high as a kite after sniffing an illegal substance and gets stuck after falling off a stool. A master class in comic timing. There was a wonderful send up of Shelly Winters swimming in the ‘Poiseidon Adventure’, as the Reverend Mother flailed about on the stage. The duet ‘Just A Coupl’ A Sisters’ with Sister Mary Wilholm, Maureen Sullivan, and the Reverend Mother was another winner.

Hanna Emily Dixon was hilarious as Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who had suffered memory loss. Her comedy skills second to none (no pun intended), and oh – what a voice! Miss Dixon brought the house down as she led the ensemble in the rousing number ‘Holier Than Thou’, her soulful, powerful, gospel voice was joyful to the last note.

John Abraham delighted as Sister Mary Leo, a novice with ambitions of becoming the first ballerina nun. I loved her dying swan. As Sister Robert Anne, Bryony Bishop gave a hilarious rendition of the song, ‘So You Want To Be A Nun’, complete with a large hand puppet, aptly named Mary Annette. Dianne Aspinall’s rendition of ‘Growing Up Catholic’ was very moving and in total contrast to her over exuberant wild character, Sister Mary Dinah, a streetwise nun.

With such a large cast any set furniture had to be easy to move, especially with such a fast-paced show. The set design and construction team utilised the space. The set was open plan and minimalistic, save for the good use of a nineteen fifties style diner counter and stools, set on a truck. The blocks serving as steps in a recess at the back of the stage were utilised as a bed. The paintings of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and a 1950’s jukebox added the finishing touches.

I had yet to see a musical production by Bembridge Little Theatre club. Thanks to Director Andrew Wilson-Jenner, who assembled this talented cast, Nunsense was a laugh out loud show, with the performances well-received by the audience who whooped and clapped along. The show was energetic with a combination of vaudeville and slapstick, all delivered with superb comic timing.

Choreographer Ruth Anderson ensured the movements were fun to watch, with some lovely ensemble pieces. Music Director Stephen Burton and the band made the tunes seem effortless.

Congratulations to all involved with this wonderful production. A well-deserved 5 stars from Sardines Magazine for Amateur Theatre.

  • : admin
  • : 13/11/2021
The Ghost Train

The Ghost Train

This was a perfectly executed play – “we present it to you today exactly as the script would have us do” – demonstrating that brilliant writing, acting, and direction are timeless. This was the first night and you can tell from the expressions on the faces of this amazing cast as they take their bow that they are delighted.

The Ghost Train is far and away the most successful of Arnold Ridley’s plays. It was written in 1923 and maintains a momentum from start to finish. I can say with deep conviction that this momentum can only be achieved with an excellent cast and director. It was clear at both the beginning and end of the play that the director knew exactly what he was trying to achieve. The departing train sets the scene and throughout the play sudden noises jolt the audience and it happens again right at the end – but it just heralds the joyous walkdown!

The director, Simon Rudkin, is to be congratulated on a perfect rendition of what Ridley intended, charm, terror, and humour, set in a cold, grey atmosphere in a station in the middle of nowhere. This effect is achieved in the first few pages with the attitude of the two couples played by Richard Graylin and Caroline Ash, Tony Sears and Tilly Benson-Reid, and the old spinster, Anne Neville, to their predicament. The stationmaster, Saul, played by John Dobson after a slightly hesitant start, gives a brilliant rendition of why they should leave this god-forsaken place despite it being a five mile walk to the nearest civilisation.

The piquancy of the opening two acts of the play is achieved by the character of Teddy, played by John Martineau. He enters with the phrase, “I say, what a topping little crib!” and maintains an irreverent sense of fun throughout the terrors that ensue. He pokes his head through the ticket hatch to make some inappropriate remarks which in turn adds to the fear generated by the crashing of the hatch later.

Each of the first two acts ends with a shock which the director manages brilliantly. The tension of the play is achieved through the constant sounds and imagery emanating from behind the set. The two windows and a door provide the frame for various effects for which the lighting and sound designers, Andrew Whadcoat and Emerson Bramwell, deserve particular mention.

The play shifts gear in the second act as Miss Bourne, the old spinster drinks herself to near oblivion and Fionna Gough, as the uptight Julia arrives, soon followed by James Burgess and Francis Lloyd as the somewhat flashy and mysterious, Price and Stirling. Fionna Gough maintains a tension for most of the rest of the play as she insists that everyone must leave in a frantic but effective manner.

It would be inappropriate to describe the rest of the play as there are a number of twists and turns that build up to the conclusion. That said it is important to note that the script makes some quite sudden shifts that the director and cast need to be very careful to achieve the right affect. This they do brilliantly, and they turn what could be a rather contrived ending into a tour de force. Special mention must be made of the performance of Fionna Gough in this regard.

Each of the actors deserve a special mention as they all contributed to a well-balanced and effective performance. Richard and Caroline achieve a clever transition of the relationship of their two characters and Richard especially provides a very helpful commentary on proceedings as they evolve. Meanwhile Tony and Tilly manage to provide a very important commentary on the action with Tony providing some critical sharp glances at crucial moments.

Ben Martineau is brilliant in a role which requires some quite clever character acting. The two late entrants, Andrew and Emerson deserve a mention as they provide the context for a shift of gear which works really well. The two small parts performed by Nigel Lawrence and Tom Mastin-Lee are excellent and appropriately unobtrusive.

Altogether this was a superb production and as this was only the first night, I expect there will be some fireworks as the run progresses.