This was to be my second visit as reviewer to Players Theatre and I was looking forward to renewing old acquaintances from way back and also because I had recently directed another of Eric Chappell’s plays and wanted to see more of his work. I remembered well “Rising Damp” and the antics of Leonard Rossiter, but, apart from those trips down memory lane, it is always exciting to see a play for the first time.
Alec Firth is having an affair with his assistant Liz and has organised his domestic life so that he is unable to accompany his wife Maggie on her foreign trip, due to business commitments at a conference at Hay-on- Wye, so that he can go off on holiday with Liz to Spain without making Maggie remotely suspicious. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty because to his doorstep, in dizzyingly, rapid succession, come his mother Phoebe, who has discharged herself from an Old Peoples Home; his son Jamie, who has broken his ankle; and his daughter, Mandy, who is heavily pregnant and is not planning to marry the baby’s father. I have seen many farces over the years and, surely, here is fruitful material to rank with them.
When the curtains opened we saw a cluttered room full of books, magazines etc most surfaces full of stuff of one sort or another. Doors SL and R, both used frequently, to the front door and the rest of the house, and to the back, wherein is situated a sun-bed, used by both Alec and Liz separately – unseen – to top up their tans preparatory for Spain. A window US artistically showed next door. Customary furniture including settee and easy chair, table etc was strategically placed, giving cast plenty of space for movement which was both realistic and plentiful creating sustained interest for the audience.
Six talented actors each gave their characters a natural realism which made us believe we were involved in a real life situation, rather than one where we were watching actors pretending. Billed as a situation comedy, we watched with glee as our hero had to deal with “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that thwarted his plans to “play away” for a few days, only to see his quick-thinking solutions suffer the same fate as if all the fates were arrayed against him.
In plays like this it is easy for actors to go O.T.T. To your credit this never happened; your actors completely understood the situation they were supposed to be in and knew their lines so well that being convincing seemed to come easily. Evidence of good direction. John had master minded all that went on and had prepared his cast well. He had obviously given much thought to the preparation of the story and led his cast through all the possibilities and scope for the humour. Rehearsals must have been a joy to be involved in. Your actors were in that situation, lines flowed and the situations developed and were confidently dealt with. Moves were smooth and well constructed and pace just raced along. Cast worked as a team – essential in this sort of play – and five of them were family members anyway in the story – and they worked with, for, off and against each other without appearing to be acting. We all know that acting is pretence but our job as actors is to convince our audience that the story we are telling them actually happened. I know that it is not as easy as it sounds and I am over simplifying matters. I agree but basically it is true and as we go through life we are all actors at some part of every day of our lives. The preposterous situations your cast found themselves in the play were not funny to themselves and we believed them because, by their splendid playing, they convinced us that what happened was totally unpremeditated. Hence the success of the production, so well done to everyone and to John who guided you through it all. Apologies for the lecture.
Lee McGregor played our hero, Alec Firth. Virtually on stage the whole time Lee had masses of dialogue to memorise and numerous unpremeditated situations – all potential obstacles to his nefarious plans of a few days in Spain with Liz, his current topic of interest. Never flagging once either in the pace of his dialogue, or in the pace of his prowling about the room, he kept the story rolling along as breathtakingly as the instant solutions to his doom-laden intentions, none of which were destined to work anyway because greater powers had decreed so. Super relationships- realistic and life-like with all the other characters – views expressed with his son and daughter – poles apart as was the case with his mother, except that with her, she couldn’t understand his views, while it was the other way round with Jamie and Mandy. Brought back personal memories for me with my grandmother, who brought me up, and alternatively with my two sons. Brilliantly written but too close for comfort. A quite memorable performance, underlying which was a warm feeling for everybody.
Charlotte Mangan played Liz, the love interest, with unconfined joy except for when Lee broke the bad news to her. That was only momentary because the alacrity with which she whipped off her dress to reach her sun bed costume was a highlight. One could easily see why Spain was in the offing because there was an expertise in all she did. Efficient, bright, exuberant, adventurous – she showed great techniqueand gave a very competent, delightful characterisation.
Barbara Ritchie brought all her experience to bear as Lee’s wife Maggie. Loving, thoughtful, not happy to be going away without Lee, but tolerant enough to see how important business commitments were. She showed us the responsible, loyal wife if slightly ingenuous and trusting at certain arrangements, very believably, and there was truth and integrity in her entire characterisation. Her reaction and contribution to the “happy” ending sent us all home satisfied.
Margaret Williams played Phoebe, Lee’s mother who arrived after discharging herself from the old folks home. She took command of the stage and we soon realised that Spain was a non-starter. Grumbling about everything and everybody, her face as she reads the Sex book picked off the table was worth the ticket price alone. Full of sayings inimitable to her age group and yet one could read her affectionate feelings underneath all she said. Playing the old lady who contributed to Lee’s problems and yet who we all, cast and audience both felt a very soft spot for her. Her sense of timing and use of facial expression was quite sublime.
Robert McGregor played son Jamie and, whether Alec realised or not, was a son to be proud of. Their verbal exchanges were a positive delight. His mastery of his crutches was both athletic and experienced. Never once out of character, he was believable from his first entrance and indisputably so throughout. A very well – thought out characterisation – very true to life with an innate biting sense of humour. Well done.
Sarah Howsam was Mandy, the imminently pregnant daughter. A delightful characterisation. She knew her own mind and was destined to be a super mother, such was the impression she gave and we believed it.She acted the impending birth well and her entire performance showed much thought, belief and heart. Well played.
Congratulations to John Price on his production. He provided a slice of life, comic but with feeling and coaxed from his cast, performances of comedy and belief with more than a touch of realism , which they so obviously enjoyed playing and which their audience appreciated also. Some of it too close for comfort? – No we were only pretending.
Well done to all involved in any way.
Many thanks for your hospitality and warm welcome.