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The Book of Will

The Book of Will

And thereby hangs a tale

It is the 1620s and what remains of the acting troupe, the King’s Men, are bemoaning their lot in a tavern near the Globe.  Will Shakespeare is dead, and as they remember the old days they are interrupted by an over the top Hamlet (Tarek Slater) declaiming a corrupted script.  They realise that if they don’t do something, Shakespeare’s work will be forgotten.  It is a fact that Shakespeare’s plays were at one time something that could have been lost to the world. The problem is most of his work only exists in the memories of actors. What is more, they were only ever given their own parts of the script.  Now versions are appearing all over London that are plagiarised and inaccurate.  How to prevent this is an imaginative idea by the playwright, Lauren Gunderson, who would you believe it, happens to be American.

The concept of the play revolves around the manager, John Heminges (Russell Richardson) and the famous Shakespearean actors Henry Condell (Bill Ward) and Richard Burbage (Zach Lee) deciding to track down all the original versions of the plays.  In high-energy performances, they do just that, with the help of some copies kept surreptitiously by a clerk Ralph Crane (Tomi Ogbaro).

The production takes place in the round with a minimalist set, whilst various characters appear including the Dark Lady of the sonnets and a drunken and roistering Ben Johnson (Andrew Whitehead).

Along the way, Richard Burbage dies, he is the one who acts out his famous roles at the drop of a hat.  He still has most of the parts in his memory, reinforcing the need to find the original versions of the plays. Additionally, the wife of John Heminges dies, the tragedy of which nearly derails the task. How the men finally achieve their aim, is an interesting watch.  The cast sit round the table, writing furiously, quoting speeches, arguing and debating. Shakespearian quotes are thrown out with great abandon, actors race around the stage, characters jump up on the table and hurtle in from all directions.  Although, it is useful for the audience to recognise the extracts from plays as they ring out, it is not essential

When the folio is pulled together, nobody wants to print it.  However, a corrupt blind printer is finally persuaded to do so, as long as he’s kept on the straight and narrow via his son Isaac (Callum Sim).

As the actors debate the various plays, they reflect on life, its tragedies and the futility of unreal drama in the theatre.  However, as Henry Condell states, although the situations are unreal, performed by actors, the feeling is real and that is the important thing.  The play is as much about life as it is about Shakespeare

As a finale, when the complete works are gathered, title are called out, Lear, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in rushes Bottom etc., as characters energetically enter and exit as one character, and reappear as another via quick changes.  The whole production is very imaginative, I especially liked the printed scripts of Romeo and Juliet hung out to dry on washing lines.

In typical Shakespearian style the play ends with a dance, only this time it is to Young Hearts Run Free with some funky moves, and not to forget the most famous line from a Winter’s Tale, ‘exit pursued by bear.’

The playwright, Lauren Gunderson, is one of the USA’s most widely performed playwrights, best known for her adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife. The play is witty and factual, in the same way as Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love and one of my favourite TV programmes the comedy The Upstart Crow. The play, directed by Lotte Wakeham is an ensemble piece and one that could just be talking heads, zips along, bringing an event to life, merging fact with fiction.

It is a most enjoyable evening at the Queens Theatre, Hornchurch and one not to be missed.


  • : admin
  • : 27/04/2023
The Ladykillers

The Ladykillers

Photo: Jonathan Constant

Marx Brothers meets Reservoir Dogs

It’s been a while since I saw a Guildburys show – since before 2020 in fact – so I arrived full of pleasurable anticipation.

And I wasn’t disappointed. As is usual with Guildburys, the set was bold, striking, well-built … if it walked into a pub everyone would turn to look. And the players did it justice. The show started well and built and built with many a laugh, some poignant moments, some slapstick and a few murders.

Claire Racklyeft impressed from the start with a very nuanced and confident portrayal of the sweet old dear telling the policeman (Eddie Woolrich, well done, just right) a story that would make anyone think she was losing her marbles – a great bit of misdirection from the author right out of the gate.

In came the criminal mastermind, Jay Orbaum, with the voice, bearing and assurance of a professional. The two played off each other very well, smooth, false urbanity versus fluttery, confused and how-about-a-cup-of-tea-dear. It was shaping up to be another outstanding Guildburys show.

Then one by one the rest of the gang arrived. Neil James as a major with a moustache and just the right blend of  dashing military elan and nice-but-dim smiling. We discover later that this ‘war hero’ has a touching fondness for ladies wear.  He was not allowed any cross-dressing by the otherwise fearless director, inventive Ian Nichols. But fans of gender-blending need not have felt miffed, because the major was followed by Harry, played by Harriet Powell, a pill-popping just-out-of-jail spiv, and later by Gabi King playing a very menacing mafioso wielding a violin case like a weapon. They were all really good, vocally and physically (excellent grimacing, Gabi).

I have to make special mention of Oli Bruce, which seems a little unfair on the rest of the cast, because they were all excellent, but he had a peach of a part and did it superbly. From his very first line he impressed with his booming, forceful and very funny portrayal of a punch-drunk boxer with hidden depths. His face, voice and body language were outstanding in that role, pretty much perfect, I thought.

So the action progressed, the ensemble making a lovely job of a first-class script until the unavoidable moment when, swag ’safely’ stowed, and escape imminent, the dear old landlady reminded them that they’d promised to give a concert. None of them has a clue about violins and cellos. Once more, body language, voice and face were superbly combined to portray the desperate desire to escape fate. But there was no chance. The hostess had already invited a bunch of her friends, and lo, they’re at the door.

In they swarmed, and it was so funny. What a flapping and clucking and squawking they made as they suddenly filled the stage with music-loving old ladies, some with prominent adam’s apples.     What are our criminal gang going to do? The only thing they can do … strike up the band.

That too was so well done, you’d swear the cast had studied physical humour for years at a top drama school.

I could go on and on describing details, but you’d do better to see the show. I want to describe how good the knife-throwing was, how much it took me by surprise, but that might be a spoiler. So, no more details. Except to say that the parrot has the final word.

I think Guildburys are a truly top-notch theatre company. Congratulations to everyone involved. I’m so glad I went. You should go too.

  • : admin
  • : 22/03/2023
Dick Whittington – and – Sleeping Booty

Dick Whittington – and – Sleeping Booty

The newly reopened Bridge House Theatre in Penge is celebrating Christmas with a pair of pantos – one for children and the other for adults using almost the same cast. I saw them consecutively on the venue’s gala night. And, seeing two pantos in one evening, I can report first that it’s like watching a traditional rep company or being at Edinburgh and is therefore a pretty powerful showcase for versatility. Second, it’s an experience almost as long as seeing an uncut Hamlet. We started at 6pm and finished just before 11pm. If nothing else, it speaks volumes for actor energy.

The first half of Dick Whittington, set mostly in a Penge fish and chip shop, is stronger than the second in which some of the incidents and numbers are a bit protracted. I quite liked the “educated” jokes such as the running alliteration gag and I admired the use of uncompromising vocabulary: “Nubile” and “most verbose of vermin” for instance. That said, the whole show is a bit wordy for young children.

The reactions, though, tell their own story. The playing space at the Bridge House is a simple, informal square, with seats on three sides and no larger than the average classroom. The complete absence of any semblance of a fourth wall makes the children feel effortlessly included. One boy (maybe 9) put his hand up and demanded of Steve Banks (good) as Rattigan, the dastardly rat, “Who exactly are you?” At the end a very small girl (probably under three) took over the space near her front row seat and happily joined in the dancing. It certainly keeps cast members on their toes.

Sleeping Booty – in which co-writer Brendan Matthews gives us a menacing Wagnerian-horned Carabosse  is, of course, a very different sort of show. In a sense “adult pantomime” is a contradiction in terms but it worked for the audience I saw it with who showed their enjoyment with gales of raucous laughter at the many sex jokes, the funniest of which was a series of escalating sweet puns delivered by George Lennan with nicely judged nuance and timing. Lennan, incidentally, is interesting to watch as two contrasting dames. His Dame Sarah is funny and ridiculous without being especially camp. By the time we’re over the 9pm watershed his Queen Constance is up several notches with lots of filthy flirtatiousness.

But the best thing in Sleeping Booty is Alex White delivering a hilarious but understated Bojo. Nothing as cheap or obvious as a blonde wig but he has all the gestures, umming and erring and mannerisms perfectly especially the very serious injured tone. He is also fun as Tom Cook the straight guy in Dick Whittington and I like his singing.

Ellie Walsh is an outstanding actor. She brings oodles of panache and neat dancing skills to a Dick who manages to be charismatic without too much swashbuckling or thigh slapping. And her sweary King Cole, catching eyes in the audience and stomping around crossly is excellent.

I also reckoned Olivia Penhallow’s cheerful cheeky cat (good singing voice) but I was less taken with her work as narrator in the second show. Sarah Louise Hughes screams, shouts and pulls faces, first as a drunken Fairy Good and later as a very spoiled Princess Aurora, among other roles. It’s initially amusing but soon gets wearisome because it’s relentless. She should have been directed to dial it down occasionally.

There is no space at The Bridge House for a built set but it is learning to do clever things with projection on its back wall. Simon Nicholas’s projection mapping gives us, among other things Penge East Station with a moving train, a desert island and a castle with bats.

Luke Adamson and Joseph Lindoe have done a marvellous job in getting Bridge House Theatre up, fitted and running again in its new upstairs space. It would have been a challenge at any time but they’ve achieved it against the pandemic. I wish them all the best for the new year and look forward to seeing more shows there soon – whether “received” or home produced.

Omid Djalili – The Good Times Tour

Omid Djalili – The Good Times Tour

This review is a giant step away from our usual fayre but, thanks to the growing Omicron variant (and the mass panic that comes with it), invitations have materialised from all corners of the entertainment industry. So, here we are; stand-up comedy.

At least the talent in question, Omid Djalili, is also a real-life actor, who, incidentally has featured in some impressive and top-rated films. Omid Djalili is arguably now the go-to Middle Eastern pastiche when it comes to casting films. These include the likes of Gladiator and The Mummy as well as home-grown movies such as the acclaimed The Infidel, in which Djalili took a starring role where a devout Muslim finds out he was adopted and his real parents were Jewish. In fact, the comedian presented us with a 5-minute showreel at the outset, followed by “I don’t like to talk about it!”

Omid Djalili is famously known for being (self-proclaimed) “Iran’s only stand-up comedian.” He constantly refers to his roots, parentage and his motherland’s view of the West (America mainly – “Death to The West!”). His parents actually came to the UK in 1957, so he was born over here, rather than immigrated. He brilliantly refers to his Kensington upbringing although in a slightly “embarrassed” way.

In a routine titled The Good Times Tour, Djalili discusses the pandemic at length in front of the Eventim Apollo’s packed auditorium (It’ll always be the ‘Hammersmith Odeon’ to me – mind you Hammersmith has completely changed since my boyhood days) in fine detail; lockdown, toilet paper, work… Indeed this extensive UK tour has been rescheduled from 2020.

I was fortunate to attend with my Iranian father-in-law (Tehran) who couldn’t believe how packed the venue was last night – “…and with so many non-Iranians!”

Djalili is very funny and has forged himself as a top-flight comedian over the past twenty-ish years. Nevertheless, during the routine he was extremely happy to stop and pay a major tribute to the late Sean Lock who passed away earlier this year, and who gave Djalili his big TV break back in 1997.

The great skill with Djalili is his ability to connect with his audiences (as well as make them laugh). To this end it was a joy to have the comedian return to his first-ever routine which was set in a cinema auditorium surrounded by his family when we come across an 11-year-old Omid Djalili. One word: ‘Slaphead’.

Perhaps you’ll need to catch this tour!

Dates & tickets:

Circus 1903

Circus 1903

Circus 1903 company. Photo: Dan Tsantilis

When you assess a show professionally you are supposed to judge it as being decent, weak, good or outstanding for a production of its type. Well I haven’t the faintest idea how to star rate this one since I’ve never seen anything remotely like it before and therefore have nothing to measure it against. This was the first circus I’ve been to since childhood and that was so long ago that I remember plumed horses and roaring lions all of which is now illegal in the UK, thank goodness. I’ve seen occasional circus acts in, say, panto or the piazza at Covent Garden but never the whole caboodle. Well, after much thought I’ve decided it’s a four on the simple grounds that I enjoyed it very much and it includes some stunning performances. I have only a couple of minor reservations of which more shortly.

In a sense Circus 1903 is a play-within-a-play. We’re meant to be in an American touring circus of which there were many (remember Barnum and Bailey The Greatest Show on Earth) in the early 20th Century. The year is 1903 and in the first act they are setting up, rehearsing the show and training the elephants: two life-size puppets by Mervyn Millar and Tracy Waller are a theatrical tour de force. They are beautiful – moving, in every sense – and totally convincing. The second half is more or less a performance, with glitzier costumes, beginning with a parade and ending with a finale.

It’s noteworthy that none of the spectacular acts is British or even American. Most are from South America or Eastern Europe. And they are mind-blowingly, heart-in-mouth good. As I watched them I was forcibly struck that what this work needs is three things: phenomenal trust, bodies trained to behave like iron and decades of practice. The “Daring Desafios”, for instance are a quartet of grinning tattooed young men from Brazil who launch themselves to enormous heights from a teeterboard turning double and triple somersaults in the air. The cheerful camaderie they exude belies the skill of the coordination which is like a very fast four man dance.

We also get Roberto Carlos from Mexico juggling, Natalia Leontieva from Russia doing impossible things with spinning hoops and Olava Rocha Muniz and Denise Torres de Souza, also   Brazilian, in a “Russian Cradle”. The latter involves very daring arial work with nail biting mid air throws. The highest (literally) spot for me was two brothers from Colombia on a “wheel of death. It’s a huge structure like a giant egg timer made from metal tubing and mesh and it’s flown slowly down to stage level. One man in each oval space makes it spin – ever faster as they walk, skip, jump and sometimes climb round the outside of it. The top man standing upright almost has his head in the flies. It’s quite an act.

So all in all a fine show. Recorded music is composed and arranged by Evan Jolly who borrows from all sorts of genres including some traditional circus numbers and some atmospheric classical. It works quite well in the first half but becomes far too loud and relentless in the second. The performances are excellent, Adding that level of noise as an enhancement is almost an insult to the acrobats who don’t need their work psyched up like this.

My other reservation is that I really don’t like squirm-inducing gags involving audience children brought on stage and made to look silly and there’s too much of that in this show although David Williamson as ring master is fairly gentle with them. Even I have to admit, however, that it’s very funny when a child is invited to thrust the traditional plate of shaving foam in her own father’s face and does it with glee.

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Launch photo: Paul Johnson

Sublime in 2019 to disaster in 2021!

Lame, Tame and almost devoid of any atmosphere. This year’s panto review from Croydon…

What a difference a year or two makes.

Twenty-four months ago The Fairfield Halls brilliantly sprang back into life in the venue’s concert Hall and presented Imagine Theatre’s digitally designed set as Cinderella thrilled its audiences with a little help from its stars Tim Vine and Ore Oduba. This week Imagine Theatre opens Beauty and the Beast but not in the luxury of the concert hall, the pantomime has been moved back into the Ashcroft Theatre – complete with its traditional proscenium arch. This time the stars are CBBC’s Dick and Dom as well as Derek Griffiths – arguably all from yesteryear. What’s more, this year’s pantomime – which lacked a plethora of expected special effects –  just isn’t very funny. In fact, compared to the other pantomimes I’ve been to in the last fortnight, tonight’s festivities in Croydon were second rate.

It all started upon arrival at so-called press night. I fully understand that the new Omicron variant halted any hopes of a potential press reception but not to have any kind of welcome at all was just plain weird. In addition, the lack of any kind of show programme (until I was sent a digital version via email two hours after the event) and the staff that were there behaving like a chaotic event of some kind had just occurred – didn’t kick the evening off in style. Two years ago I couldn’t move without bumping into a smiling producer or venue manager. This year, they’re nowhere to be seen.

Poor Dick and Dom – whom I interviewed at the launch – were full of energy and really trying their best. But when the script isn’t good enough you can only go so far. I remember Derek Griffiths (whom I also interviewed) from Play School and Play Away before seeing him as the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opposite Michael Ball at the London Palladium, and, ironically, as the Candelabra in the West End’s original Beauty and the Beast from Disney. In December 2021 he does tend to look like he’s merely turned up for work. But it’s really not our stars’ faults. I’m sure Ant and Dec would gabble or talk over each other’s punchlines without good direction.

The trouble is Croydon’s Fairfield Halls is a big deal and audiences will expect to be blown away – just like they were two years ago. I’m very sorry to say that the ATG venues, with all the inventiveness and tradition all mashed up together win hands-down.

Of the rest of the cast, the lack of any children onstage this year is something to overcome, and with an ensemble of just three (plus Fairy Fairfield!), you’re always going to struggle. I need to bite my lip a little here for fear of getting personal but suffice to say I overheard other members of the audience saying that they thought Nic James’ Benedict Bourbon brought the best-drawn character to the party (he’s the Gaston figure who chases after Belle.)

I really hope that BH Live – the company that runs the Fairfield Halls – is prepared to grovel on all fours to bring back the snubbed Evolution Pantomimes who were breaking the venue’s box office records before the venue mysteriously closed for three years. We need the brilliance of Paul Hendy’s writing and direction. Sorry, Eric, your panto has gone to Potts!

Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus

It’s vintage Bennett and just as funny as when it was first staged in 1974 especially in the hands of Patrick Marber and his cast of nine accomplished actors.

A surreal play, it’s farce without the clutter.  It makes no attempt at realism. The set consists of a coffin, identities are continually mistaken, characters burst into song and often deliver soliloquies in rhyming couplets. Twice we get manic tango to the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem. There’s a running gag about size (Dan Starkey as Sir Percy Shorter and that’s what he is) borrowed from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a great deal of misunderstanding about a pair of false breasts.

We’re in the home of an unlikely doctor in Hove and almost everyone is randily yearning for sex with someone inappropriate. There’s something appealingly innocent about this at a time when me too, political correctness and a woke world lie decades into the future.

It’s play about rampant desire at the heart of which is an outstanding performance from Jasper Britton as Dr Arthur Wicksteed. He undermines his character’s non existent professionalism with a mere lift of an eyebrow and entertains with fake gravitas. Catherine Russell is splendid as his sadly ridiculous wife longing to be loved and fulfilled by almost anyone. But they also bring some depth to the piece in their reconciliation scene towards the end of the play which is actually quite moving.

Ria Jones as Mrs Swabb the cleaning lady does a lovely job as the quasi narrator. Very Welsh and making outrageous but perceptive comments she really makes the role her own. And since Bennett played this role himself in the original production it’s a pretty hard act to follow. There’s a nice nod to the playwright’s presence in this production when Matthew Cottle, as Canon Throbbing, intones a few lines of verse a distinctively Bennettian voice.

The play includes some memorable lines such as “Sometimes I think Freud died in vain” and “In Memphis, Tennessee, fourteen babies have been born since this play began” – all delivered with wit and panache. And of course – like all the best dramas – it ends with a paternity revelation in The Marriage of Figaro tradition.

Catch it if you can. It’s a couple of hours of real escapism.



There are some excellent things in this Aladdin. Cavin Cornwall, whom I fondly remember at Caiaphas in Open Air Theatre Regents Park’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, is the best Abanazer I’ve ever seen. Styled as a slimy estate agent in a very loud striped suit he minces, wheedles, cackles and commands the stage every time he appears. He also has hilarious legs – very slim in tight trousers, completed by show off pointy shoes and attached to an actor who has a John Cleeseian knack of making them funny. Then there’s that basso profundo voice. Yes, even the six year old I took with me said she thought he was the best thing in the show.

Siobahn Athwal gives a witty performance as both Genies – with different voices, two costumes, a lot of quick changes and a crack about theatre having been through two terrible years and therefore  unable to afford two actors. Emma Ralston is entertaining as Frankie, Aladdin’s sister who replaces the Wishy Washy role and Rosie Cava-Beale sings beautifully as Princess Amirah. Toby Miles as Aladdin is a fair singer once he gets going and he can certainly dance and act convincingly.

I was also impressed by the use of projection including the Horsham photographs which form part of the set and the flying carpet sequence which uses images to create the illusion of movement. And putting the (very good) four piece band stage left in a band stand, steps to which form part of the set, is an original idea which makes deals with potential timing issues and makes the music feel coherent. It looks pretty too.

But  –  and of course there has to be one if not several – Morgan Brind’s script is witty but far too wordy and some of the songs are too long. The long narrative preamble is not a happy start when you have an audience full of very young children. There are a lot of good jokes tucked away but most of them are also thrown away. I have rarely seem comic timing so woefully mismanaged by so many actors in a pantomime. There is, for example, a sequence of quite clever fish puns which ought to produce a lot of laughter and groans. In fact it’s raced through so fast that most of it is lost. Of course there’s a place for word play in a panto but children need a lot of visual humour too and there’s very little slapstick in this show which has no slosh scene. The only time the children really got excited in the performance I saw was during the ghost scene (Yetis in Iceland in this instance) –  just five minutes in a two and half hour show. The result of all this was that many children in the audience were very restive although “my” six year old was more engaged in the stronger second half than the first. If panto doesn’t fully work for children then it’s missing the point.

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

To get a maximum five stars the pantomime needs to be brilliant; this year’s pantomime at New Wimbledon Theatre is quite brilliant! All credit should be given right across the board, from Ian Talbot’s direction to Aaron Renfree’s choreography… from Alan McHugh’s script to Ian Westbrook’s design… and from The Twins FX’s visual effects to Michael Bradley’s five-piece band. But perhaps top honours should really go to the cast led by the amazing Shane Richie who, two days after press night, completely owned New Wimbledon Theatre’s half-full audience.

Supported by his long-term collaborator, Peter Piper, every hilarious twitch, look and glimpse from Richie appears to be completely natural as the ex-EastEnder plays the role he was born to take on. Whether he’s choosing the best-looking ladies in the audience (or not!) or he’s slapping Peter Piper’s bald head (ad-lib?) or realising Iain Stuart Robertson’s wonderfully northern dame (he’s really Scottish!) is really ‘a bloke’ the effortless way he leaves the audience in stitches just has to impress.

You can see why Peter Piper works so well with Richie in scenes such as the tongue-twister where Sarah (Robertson), Dick (Richie) and Captain Cockles (Piper) desperately try not to say the s-word. Incidentally, this is the only scene that repeats completely, in whole, from Tuesday night’s press night in Woking. Tonight’s raw comedy wins the battle – if such a battle even exists.

Another thing I’ve only just noticed is the absence of any children on any of this year’s stages – obviously as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Usually the ensemble features children as does the traditional act II song-sheet, but not this time. However, It doesn’t appear to matter as the spaces are being filled with deft skill.

Perhaps the true ensemble nature of Alan McHugh’s clever script is the secret of the show’s success. In fact the plot of Dick Whittington probably takes the longest and most diverse journey (literally) of all the pantomimes. Another example of Richie’s power over the audience comes as another slice of excellence from the writer. As in Woking on Tuesday, one scene features snippets of songs used to great effect, climaxing with Robertson screaming at Richie to ‘Let it Go!’ Both audience and the ex-landlord of the The Queen Vic know what’s coming. Richie pauses, looks at the audience, smiles, slowly walks centre-stage, throws out his arms and we hear those immortal lines from Idina Menzel. The scene is wonderful, as it was in Woking.

Richie’s West End colleague (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), Hiba Elchikhe, makes a great love interest for Dick – boasting a great voice – without making the large age gap seeming weird. Shona White and Rachel Izen play good and evil as Spirit of the Bow Bells and Queen Rat respectively. She has the best-looking rats I’ve ever seen by the way. Finally the lithe and versatile Briana Craig makes her panto debut in style in the only non-speaking principal role of the show – Kitty Cat.

The icing on the cake was the song-choices used. From In the Navy / YMCA to I’m a Believer, they were all well chosen. That and the support from the young, eight-strong ensemble who never put a foot wrong all night.

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