WRITE UPS AND REVIEWS

“Shut Your Eyes And Think Of England”

Louis Richards writes:

Teamwork shone through once again in The Court Players production of “Shut Your Eyes and Think Of England” which was performed at The Memorial Hall, Rangeworthy.  New members were introduced into the cast allowing those more established members to carry out other behind the scenes duties which are nevertheless equally important and make for a successful production and thriving group.

When Mr. Pullen (Bryan Tuffnel) comes to the office on a Saturday to finish the books for audit, he's astonished to find his employer, Sir Justin Holbrook (Neil Tarbox), in the penthouse flat with a call girl named Stella played by Paula Vicary.  When Lady Holbrook (Barbara Smith) arrives unexpectedly Holbrook passes the girl off as the second Mrs. Pullen.  His Highness Sheik Marami (Kevin Stephens), a wealthy Arab, is expected and England's entire existence depends on Holbrook signing a lucrative financial agreement with him.  The strain of his previous night’s encounters leads to Holbrook’s sudden collapse and Pullen having to impersonate him.  Dave Masters as Civil Servant the Rt Hon Sir Frederick Goudhurst continually upped the stakes with offers of a knighthood, then a peerage to Pullen for his continued silence.   The arrival of the real Mrs. Pullen (Pauline Beevor), the Sheik’s unlikely Jewish solicitor Mr Rubenstein (Tony Mohammad), who was initially mistaken for Holbrook’s GP Dr Cornish (Martin Summers), leads not only to an inscrutable web of muddled identities but also of misconstrued locations.  Mrs. Pullen no longer fights off the Sheik’s advances but now prefers to make off with him to his desert palace instead of Bournemouth with her ‘boring’ husband who now permanently assumes the identity of Sir Justin with all that entails, including his highly attractive Lady.

The cast were fortunate to play on such a well-designed and constructed set by Dan Long and Dave Williams which was every part a London penthouse flat even down to the projected London skyline backdrop. Several prompts and slow cuing on occasions did not appear to detract or deter the audience’s enjoyment of the play.  John Chapman and Anthony Marriott’s late 1970’s script was probably not as relevant today as it was then.  Having said that there were still some very funny and witty lines.  The Memorial Hall is one of the most friendly and welcoming places to visit and The Players are to be congratulated for their fundraising efforts for The Great Western Air Ambulance Charity.  Well done to everyone involved.  The production was directed by Allan Clarke ably assisted by David Churchley.

 

 “Humpty Dumpty”

Directed by: Bryan Quinlan

Assisted by: Jackie Ross

Frankie Telford (NODA Rep) reports:

When you hear Humpty Dumpty you think of the nursery rhyme ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall’ and all we know of him is that he breaks and cannot be put back together again, so where was this story going to take us, I wondered.  The answer was all over the place.  Fairy Souffle grants our hero 10 wishes, and as always in these situations some of the wishes are thrown away without thought, so we are taken to a variety of locations including Nursery Rhyme Land, into space with a wish to go ‘out of this world’, and to the circus.

Technically there were some excellent moments in the show, and combined with well-constructed sets helped create atmospheric scenes. Fairy Souffle’s arrival was unexpected and the Cloud Cuckoo Land scene was impressive with good use of gauze and lighting.  The basic set design had been well conceived giving different levels and the ability for swift set changes.  There was also an array of well-painted backcloths, which had been painted ‘in house’.  The bright colourful costumes were well coordinated, fitted well and were character appropriate, especially in Nursery Rhyme Land where each rhyme was instantly recognisable.

This Pantomime gave the opportunity to include many on stage and to show a wide range of talents and levels of experience, with a large principal line up; a chorus who worked hard as Villagers, Courtiers, Market Traders, Tourists, Nursery Rhyme Land Folk, Space Travellers and Circus Folk; a team of Dancers; and a group of Village Children.

The role of Humpty Dumpty had been split between two people, at the beginning he is referred to as ‘the boy’ and was played by a very talented young man.  Later when he returns to the wall in Over-Eggingham it was an adult Humpty.  This character developed well as the story unfolded, not the easiest of roles sitting on a wall for ages.  Fairy Souffle complete with egg whisk wand, tried hard to keep him from wasting his wishes, was a typical ‘good’ fairy, kindly and helpful.  Egg-Nog The Bad, with his foul pong, had the audience booing and hissing at his dastardly deeds.   Ditsy Do-dither, was a lovely pantomime dame, bringing much fun to the role, and having to look after her egg farm and keep her children in order.  Hannah Lewis played Topsy Turvy, Ditsys’s not very bright daughter, who has lots of ideas for making money including Topsy Turvy Tours, but gets into scrapes, very energetically.  Upsy Daisy, Ditsy’s other daughter, was much calmer and more reliable than her sister and helped her ‘mum’ on the farm.  The three of them had some humorous scenes and worked hard, the tongue twister scene was exhausting, and they had a ‘smashing time’ in the kitchen.  General Mayhem and Reggie Mental were hilarious as the Kings Men.  They were always getting things wrong, their comic timing was excellent. 

Marmaduke, the Kings only Horse, as due to mix up his favourite horse had been shot, danced well with good coordination.  He had certainly developed a good character and added to the fun.  King Egbert was a suitably regal and well liked monarch, who’s daughter Princess Petal, with a good nature, wanted to make sure Humpty’s shell was clean and ended up with him as her love interest.  Both the youth and adult choruses worked very hard in all their various guises, supporting the action, all well rehearsed.  The dancers and other cast member executed the suitable and interesting choreography provided by Ellie Spicer confidently.

There was a mixture of pre-recorded and live music for this Pantomime, The recorded music was of a good standard and well cued.  The live music from Trevor Pierpont and Rob Bamford, on piano and drums, was well played and energetic giving good accompaniment to the singing.  Songs had been well taught and everyone sang to the best of their ability, it was refreshing to have natural voices.

The script by Alan P Frayn provided an interesting and fast moving storyline, with well thought out ‘front of tabs scenes’ to allow time for set changes. It had lots of jokes, and slapstick, and gave many opportunities for audience participation.  Director, Bryan Quinlan had used the script to full advantage, making the most of the humour.  He and his cast had overcome several difficulties, which had arisen through illness.   The whole team had worked well together to provide a colourful and entertaining pantomime.  One unexpected highlight was the appearance of Charlie Bear, the mascot of Great Western Air Ambulance, the groups’ chosen Charity this year, he delighted the younger members of the audience who all wanted to have their photographs taken with him.

 

“Humpty Dumpty”

Louis Richards writes:

The rafters of the Memorial Hall at Rangeworthy were ringing with laughter during the recent Court Players production of Humpty Dumpty.  Despite several setbacks with illness to key people over recent weeks, with families and friends from other groups being drafted in to help at the last minute, the players produced another memorable pantomime. 

Alan Frayn’s script transports us from Over Eggingham, to Cloud Cuckoo Land, Nursery Rhyme Land, Outer Space and a circus.  Little Humpty is encased in an egg shell by the evil, bad smelling Egg-Nog (Kevin Stephens) and then sat on the village wall where he becomes quite a tourist attraction.  Following the egg’s fall we see Alex Tarbox making his debut as Humpty Dumpty who didn’t care too much for being part of that silly old nursery rhyme.  Lorraine Millward floats down from the clouds as the Fairy Souffle trying to be Humpty’s conscience and advising him to use his ten magic wishes wisely.  As much as they tried all the king’s horses – there was only one dancing Marmaduke (Paula Vicary and Jackie Masters) and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again – probably because Dan Long as General Mayhem and Sam Palmer as Reggie Mental were more interested in alternative marching with plenty of jazz hands and being slightly hard of hearing! 

Mark Gregory as King Egbert lost and then retrieved his crown while his daughter Princess Petal (Leanne Pratt) was keen for the egg to be clean and finally marries Humpty.  The comedy was provided by a steady and smiling Laura Glynn as Upsey Daisy, an energetic and hard-working Hannah Lewis as Topsy Turvey and their mother Dame Ditsy Do-dither played by Richard Lewis.  The three engaged well with the audience and provided groaning old gags, topic humour, a ‘smashing’ treat in the royal kitchens and a very tricky tongue twister which left everyone exhausted. 

The youngsters in the audience were thrilled with a special guest appearance of Charlie The Critical Care Bear of the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity who the players and audience were supporting.  All in all a traditional and thoroughly enjoyable evening's entertainment.  Well done to all cast and crew.  The production was directed by Bryan Quinlan.

 

Panic Stations 25th, 26th, 27th February 2016

Director: Mark Gregory

Assisted by: David Churchley

Frankie Telford (NODA Rep) reports:

The Court Players were highly delighted, as this play, by Derek Benfield, had sold out three weeks before they opened, and they had a waiting list of people who wanted tickets.  The programme notes said that it was set in ‘an old and run down cottage in the country’, and the well-constructed box set matched that description beautifully.  A type of half-timbered effect had been created with wooden supports and plaster, an exposed stonewall at the back, ceiling beams, a lovely fireplace, doors and windows and a staircase at the back.  Pictures, which were crookedly hung, along with hooks missing from the curtains, so they did not hang properly, enhanced the air of dilapidation.  This provided an admirable backdrop to the mayhem and confusion, which was about to ensue, with the idyllic retreat planned by Chester Dreadnought being invaded by his in-laws, local handyman Abel Bounty and his wife, amateur historian Miss Partridge, the lovely Carol who Dreadnought met in the local pub and thinks he has invited her to share his ‘love nest’, and the Army, as unbeknown to him the cottage is the target for a military exercise organised by the nearby army training camp. 

The set was well dressed and furnished to help create the ‘country feel’.  Props had been well sourced, with realistic looking firearms and all those suitcases.  Everyone wore their costumes well and they were appropriate to each character.  The set was lit to advantage, with a good fire effect in the second act, and there were well-cued sound effects, the bombardments not being too loud.

The play needed a strong cast to cope with its wordiness and the precise timing required in a fast moving farce, and this one did not disappoint.  They had developed well-rounded characters who all interacted beautifully with each other.  Mike McDonald played handyman Abel Bounty, to understated perfection.  Chester Dreadnought, the hapless but quick thinking owner of the cottage, who dug himself deeper into trouble every time he opened his mouth, was well portrayed, but there were a few memory lapses.  Carol, the local girl who had mistakenly taken his advances in a local pub as an invitation to move in, was delightful.  Wife, Patricia was obviously used to being surrounded by confusion, and was very forgiving.  Lady Elrood, her mother, was suitably upper class and unflappable taking everything in her stride, and when we met the eccentric Lord Elrood, who charged around brandishing a shot gun and shooting everything insight, we understood why.  Miss Partridge, the very Welsh amateur historian, who could ‘feel’ the history in everything, turned up thinking the cottage was uninhabited, and just carried on doing her own thing, the scene where she was eating her sandwiches totally oblivious of what was going on around her was lovely. 

Sergeant Everest was suitably in charge of trying to remove the occupants of the cottage ready for its destruction, until when explaining the manoeuvres to Chester they realise he has the map upside down and the cottage is safe after all.  The wonderfully down to earth Mrs Bounty, who had ‘been doing upstairs’ all morning, was an excellent foil for Mr Bounty and her scene with Carol was a delight, so well timed and hilarious.

This was a most enjoyable play but there are a few small points that I think might have improved it.  The plastic sheeting in the window centre back was distracting as it kept wobbling, either nothing in the window or a more rigid material would have been better, and towards the end of the play groupings could have been better, as there were some awkward straight lines in front of the downstage right window, when there were large numbers of the cast congregating. 

Having said that, this was a well-rehearsed and directed play, it had excellent timing and mostly the pace was maintained, and although there was ‘corpsing’, I have to say much to the delight of the audience, it recovered quickly and did not lose momentum.  Director Mark Gregory had worked well with his talented cast to produce good quality entertainment to cheer up a cold February evening.   Well done everyone.

"Blood Brothers" (Play Version)            15th to 17th October 2015

Director: Bryan Quinlan

Frankie Telford (NODA Rep) reports:

I looked forward to this production, as it is one of my favourite plays.  Originally written by Willy Russell for Merseyside Young People’s Theatre Company it explores what happens to twins, linked by their birth but separated by their very different upbringing.  Also the way in which those in authority treat people from different social backgrounds, the advantages wealth can bring and the effects mental instability has on a person and the lives of others.

The set had been constructed to give the permanently set Johnstone House stage left, and the Lyons House stage right, which were decorated and dressed to represent the different way of life for each family.  Each ‘house’ had a flat with a front door in it, which was folded back when the action was taking place inside the house. The concept of this was good, but in practice it did slow the pace and I found it a bit of a distraction.  There was an open area between the two houses, and various projections were used at the back of this area to create different scenes, such as in the factory, and out in the country, with the main projection being of the Royal Liver Building, setting the action unmistakably in Liverpool.

The lighting designer had some good ideas but they did not always work. The down light centre stage, gave a dramatic effect, but this was lost on the narrator as you could not see her face.  The peak of her cap blocked the light from it.  The sound effects were appropriate and well cued.  The costumes had been well designed, again highlighting the difference between the two families.

The play had been well cast, with some good character development.  It is not always easy for adults to play children, they often go over the top, but those playing the roles of children were convincing.  They reminded me very much of my seven year old grandson.  As Eddie, Mickey and Linda  ‘grew up’ they managed to keep elements of their younger selves and matured appropriately; they were helped to maintain their social difference by both dress and accent.  Despite the Narrator’s description of her as “a woman with a stone in place of a heart”, Mrs Johnstone was a warm, motherly character who portrayed good emotion at the difficulty of parting with her baby, but thought it was for the good of the rest of her children, which is how the character comes across in the play.  Mrs Lyons is a mentally unstable character, and the instability and paranoia were developed beautifully as the play progressed.  The narrator told the story well, giving more of the impression she was always watching and listening, and adding to the mounting tension.  The rest of the cast supported the main characters well, again becoming convincing young, squabbling children, and taking on the other various characters when required.  The audience really enjoyed the fact that the same actor played the milkman and doctor.  The role of the Policewoman was small, but the contrast when she spoke to the two mothers was lovely, really emphasizing the social divide.  Everyone maintained their accents well throughout.

I enjoyed the singing, the cast provided an excellent backing group for Mrs Johnstone in ‘We went Dancing’.  Also the addition of subtle carol singing when Eddie came home from University for Christmas was a nice touch.

Director, Bryan Quinlan, had worked hard with his cast, helping them to create believable characters who interacted well with each other, portraying the humour, emotions, complex relationships, tensions and drama that the superb writing of Willy Russell brings to this play.  The cast kept the attention of the audience throughout by contrasting the light-heartedness and humour of the earlier scenes, with the mounting tension and tragic conclusion.  Well done everyone.

“Cash On Delivery” by Michael Cooney         11th to 13th June 2015

Director: Allan Clarke

Frankie Telford (NODA Rep) reports:

I looked forward to a return visit to the Court Players.  The play by Michael Cooney was advertised as ‘The Hilarious Farce’ I had reservations having seen several which have not lived up to the title ‘hilarious’.  I need not have worried, I do not think I have laughed so much in along time.  The main storyline is that Eric Swan, aided and abetted by his Uncle George, has fraudulently accrued thousands of pounds through misappropriation of NHS appliances, such as surgical stockings and wigs, and benefit fraud for the last two years, since he lost his job and the subsequent problems he has when trying to stop cheating.  Obviously it is not as simple as that and involves mistaken identities, various people being locked in rooms to avoid coming into contact with others, people dying (or do they?), cross dressing, marital problems and last but not least the problem washing machine.

All credit must go to the whole cast for coping with a complicated and wordy script and such a physically demanding play.  The initial delivery of lines seemed a little slow, until you realised that a devious plot was unfolding and everything needed to be explained very carefully to be able to follow the events.  After wife Linda has left for work, Eric Swan makes a phone call reporting the demise of one of the ‘claimants’.  Events rapidly disintegrate into mayhem with the arrival of Mr Jenkins, the DSS inspector, other council officials and the undertaker to name but a few.

The play had been well cast and everyone had developed strong characters, and were confident and competent and clearly enjoying themselves.  Everyone was so dependent on the strength of the rest of the cast for the play to succeed.  I have to say I really did feel sorry for poor Mr Jenkins who was on the receiving end of so much dirt and suds, and Uncle George who must have been black and blue by the end.  The whole cast are to be congratulated on keeping their characters and not dissolving into hysterics, particularly the formidable Ms Cowper with all she had to endure.  The play rattled along at a good pace and the timing was excellent giving the audience time to laugh before the next hilarious line was delivered.

The set was solidly constructed which is necessary for any play but particularly with this farce with all the comings and goings.  There were four practical doors which when open revealed a continuation into the ‘next’ room, a lovely window and an arch which led to the stairs.   It was well furnished and had a good array of suitable props.

The lighting had been well designed to give a well-lit stage and the sound effects were well cued.  I have to say I did feel the sound effects were very noisy, I know the washing machine was important but the sound almost drowned out the dialogue at times

Farce is a difficult genre for any company to work in, particularly a non-professional one but director Allan Clarke had worked hard with his talented cast and had produced a masterpiece of fine comedy, which left the audience really enjoying the nonsense which was unfolding in front of them.  Congratulations everyone on an excellent evening’s entertainment.  Thanks to everyone for making us so welcome - we did enjoy it.

“THE LAST RESORT” By Chris Owen 4th to 6th December 2014

Director: Jane Levan

Graeme Savage (NODA Rep) reports:

Typically, I had just begun writing my report for “The Last Resort” as I had received the news about Jane's passing.  Under the circumstances, I have not felt it appropriate to write a full report, but have reflected on what a wonderful tribute that production has turned out to be for Jane - if her final production turns out to be one which has rejuvenated and reinvigorated a company which has gone through some difficult times and made some brave decisions, then I personally feel that is what “The Last Resort” should be remembered for.  It was a very 'Jane' production, and it was good to see her not only pushing many long standing members out of their comfort zones, but also to have brought in new faces and integrated them well to show us a vibrant ensemble onstage.  It was a pleasure to see so many people really enjoying themselves onstage, and of course to know that you had three completely packed houses, and it would be fitting for this to mark a new era in the long history of The Court Players.

“OLD KING COLE” By Paul Reakes 14th to 22nd February 2014

Director: Bryan Quinlan                                                              Choreographer: Gail Gunn

A twist on the usual traditional panto stories, Old King Cole was an interesting choice for The Court Players and their Director to tackle.  Richard Lewis as Royal Cook Dotty Dumplin soon developed a good rapport with the audience and if each appearance was suitably accompanied by a large dollop of corn, ‘her’ costumes were breathtaking!   Both Principal Boy Florian (Antonia Parker-Smith) and Girl Debbie, played by Alice Bidder, had strong voices and good stage presence, but the script didn’t allow them nearly enough time in the spotlight!  Hannah Lewis, as Princess Pariah, provided a masterclass in stagecraft, from her intricately designed make up and use of costume, via her resonant vocal tone and beautifully balanced character, through to her utter command of the stage, complemented by a cackle laced with evil intent, pitched perfectly for the younger members of the audience!  Children also appeared on stage, particularly the 3 Fiddlers: Katie Gibson, plus Elyssa and Lydia Vosper, who possessed clear voices and expressive faces, but such a pity that they weren’t encouraged to develop their characters more, especially in the irreverent urchins’ anthem from Les Mis!  The foil to the genial Old King Cole (Paul Binding) was Martin Summers as his Brother: Prince Peski, an interestingly hen-pecked baddie, while Ann Mettler as Lady Dragonia struck fear into us all with her caustic delivery!  In tackling the small rôle of the Herald, Sam Palmer’s comic timing certainly hit the mark and added to the feelgood factor!

A strong Chorus and troupe of Dancers provided lively support, but with a very competent trio of Musicians on keyboard, drums and violin (a necessary, yet particularly effective addition to the overall sound), I would love to have heard and seen fuller versions of the well chosen selection of songs.

Technical wizardry, plus effective Lighting and Sound effects were cleverly employed to facilitate the ‘magic’, giving young Alex Riddle, as Little King Cole, the chance to show he is a star of the future and congratulations to the Backstage crew, who were neither seen nor heard!  While Sets were colourful, the Wardrobe team must take first prize for a stunning costume plot and I must comment on the extremely warm welcome from the Front of House members, who were still smiling at the end of the evening, as was the audience, who had enjoyed a feast of family fun.                                                                                                            LB


“THE FARNDALE AVENUE HOUSING ESTATE TOWNSWOMEN’S GUILD DRAMATIC SOCIETY’S PRODUCTION OF MACBETH” by David McGillivary & Walter Zerlin Jnr. 10th to 12th October 2013

Director: Debby Ashton

Graeme Savage (NODA Rep) reports:

The Farndale series of plays have received something of a cult following amongst amateur dramatic societies, and it is easy to understand why, as the audience is given a glimpse behind-the-scenes at the true battles facing the performers in getting a production from ‘page to stage’.

Using the conceit of a performance for Townswomen Guild Drama Festival Area Finals, The Court Players threw themselves enthusiastically into their intentionally shambolic production of Macbeth, with last minute changes of cast, witches in wheelchairs, missing props, sometimes too many props and much more crammed into a surprisingly short running time.

The concept of the play-within-a-play, and particularly one which falls apart as spectacularly as this one, is one of the most difficult to get across to an audience, and this was a valiant effort even if not all of the gags quite hit their intended targets.

The key to making a success of productions such as this, like the better known Noises Off, is strong stage management and precise lighting cues, and here the stage crew, led by Jerome Way, excelled as the stage became littered with superfluous props, costumes and lights and sound effects made their appearance (or non-appearance) at the most intentionally inappropriate of moments!

Carole Vincent as Thelma, who takes the lead role of the Scottish King, excelled and led the rest of the cast with confidence.  Carole’s delivery of the Shakespearean dialogue was also very confident, and ensured that the audience could follow whatever remained of Shakespeare’s original.  For me, it was a shame that we weren’t given more of a chance to hear how the cast could genuinely cope with this, as the little we saw was impressive, reflecting their recent experience with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Sarah Floate’s Messenger also brought a nice energy to her scenes during her brief appearances, standing out in a company of whom none could be faulted for their enthusiasm and commitment.

Unfortunately, I feel that comedy has to be rooted in reality to really work, and for me, too much of what happens to the Farndale Ladies’ production is too far-fetched and just too silly to really work as a production.  This also seemed to affect the other performers, as the rest of the cast become lost in a flurry of costume changes, abortive entrances, muddled lines and cut scenes (from Shakespeare’s original).  Whereas Noises Off takes a lot of time to set-up the characters off-stage personas and reasons why a show can degenerate into a shambles, this production seemed to be in too much of a rush to get to the next gag or set-up, and I didn’t feel that we could relate to their situations.  Some of the running gags – the continual forgetting of Mr. Peach’s name, the repeated early entrance of Kate’s Hecate and the performers acting on the wrong side of the set, just because it was set the wrong way around – felt too contrived and delivered too heavy-handedly.

It is difficult to judge the direction of a play like this, which is intentionally supposed to fall apart, but the pacing and overall approach felt too one-dimensional for me to really work - it’s important to remember with productions like this (and as I discovered with my own recent production of Acorn Antiques) that none of the Farndale Ladies set out to be bad actors, but just happen to be so.  I felt at times that too many of the cast were simply delivering gags, rather than having found characters who were getting things wrong or frustrated with the shambolic Farndale company.  I would much sooner see a company encouraging an audience to find things funny for themselves, rather than overplaying gags and punch lines, becoming almost cabaret-like in its execution.

I have seen and enjoyed the Farndale Mikado, so it’s not that I don’t ‘get’ the material, but whereas other plays with similar situations feel like a show genuinely falling apart before your eyes, this Macbeth felt more like a sketch show, jumping from one gag to the next, with a couple of recurring catch phrases.

Overall, I will admit that I didn’t particularly enjoy the production – the script not really allowing a talented company to really show us what they can do.  However, the cast were clearly working hard, and enjoying the opportunity to do something ‘different’, and the opening night audience enjoyed the over-the-top characters and situations, which were just a little too removed from ‘real-life’ for me to do this company justice.  As ever with the Court Players, my thanks to your Front of House team for being so welcoming and a pleasure to visit.

 


“ANNE OF GREEN GABLES” by Sylvia Ashby, from the novel by L.M. Montgomery 13th to 16th February 2013

Director: Dee Way

Graeme Savage (NODA Rep) reports:

Turning the village hall into early 20th century Canada, with its rolling plains and village fairs is no mean feat, yet once again the Court Players of Rangeworthy showed remarkable ingenuity with a simple yet effective set, and some larger than life characters to convey the adventures of Anne, the mischievous yet well-meaning title character.

Katie Gibson showed a great maturity as the Young Anne (if that isn’t an oxymoron), with a confident and polished performance which belied her young age.  Her chemistry with the effervescent Sarah Floate as Anne’s best friend, really lit up the first act as the two youngsters got into many scrapes and Diana helped Anne settle into her new community.  The play is a series of episodes and adventures, and these chapters really didn’t help the pacing of the play – The process of ‘Anne has an idea, Anne gets into (well-meaning) trouble, Anne has argument with parents who don’t really understand her, they resolve problem and Anne promises not to get into trouble again, until the next scene, when we repeat the process…’ gave the whole evening a bit of a repetitive feel, like watching several episodes of a TV adaptation in one sitting.  While this works well in a novel, where the inner feelings of the characters can be explored in much greater detail, it didn’t translate to the stage quite so well for me, especially through the final few scenes, where we were given more than one false ending.  The pace also wasn’t helped by the large number of prompts which some of the senior members of the company still seemed very reliant on.  However the younger members of the cast, along with Antonia Parker Smith as their modern-thinking teacher Miss Stacey, really helped to bring the story to life with great energy which mellowed nicely and really conveyed the passing of time as they grew up, particularly in the developing relationship between Older Anne (Leanne Pratt) and Gilbert Blythe, played understatedly but confidently by Charlie Ashton.

The set worked very well for the small space, and with Anne’s room and the kitchen able to be cleverly hidden with partial use of tabs, avoided too many lengthy scene changes, yet still clearly represented the locations without being too minimalist.  Likewise, costumes and props appeared to be well-sourced, and at least from a distance all seemed to be appropriate for the early 1900s setting.  At times, there could have been a little more use of colour in the lighting, which may also have helped to represent the passing of time and the changing of the seasons, but the space was well, if starkly, lit, and the actors knew their marks.  All of the performers spoke with clarity, and made a good attempt at the Canadian accents – even if at times they lapsed, it was a good effort, and we could certainly hear every word even at the back of the auditorium.

 


“THE SMALL HOURS” by Francis Durbridge
19th to 21st May 2012

Director: Jean Capstick; Asst. Producer: Hannah Lewis

Graeme Savage (NODA Rep) reports:

A startling opening on a plane sets the scene for this modern drama of smuggling, murder and mistaken identity.  Aside from the opening, the whole of the action takes place in the living-room/office of the hotel, and as always with the Court Players, great care had been taken to create a believable set – light, airy and welcoming, and well-furnished.

Despite the lively opening, the story itself quickly settled into a fairly formulaic drama, and at times felt padded out and repetitive, particularly during the second half.  The director had made some small tweaks to the script to bring it up-to-date, and also to suit the cast available to her, and in the main these worked well – the character of Ronnie now being played by a girl added an extra dimension to what now seemed to be her infatuation with her rescuer, and Antonia Parker Smith’s performance played up to this very well.

In the main role, Pete Harris did well to carry much of the action, very rarely leaving the stage.  However, there were times when I felt his delivery was a little too repetitive (not helped at all by the repetitive nature of the script) to show his growing frustration with his increasingly desperate situation.  Pete does play the victim very well, but it would have been nice to see a little more progression through the play.  As his wife, Rosemary Pearce gave an equally strong and confident performance.  All the supporting characters were very clear with their dialogue, and made the most of their sometimes stereotypical characters, in particular Carole Vincent as the put-upon PA and Scott Gibson’s violent businessman.  At times, the direction seemed a little too fussy, and the characters moves and movements a little too mannered and unnatural, although I did feel though that this wasn’t helped by the very cyclical nature of the script.

The Court Players are a company who in the past have relied on a lot of prompts, giving the impression of being under-rehearsed – this was not the case at this performance.  A lot of work has clearly been put into eliminating the need for prompts (I only spotted two, and in such a wordy piece, this is an excellent improvement), which immediately gives the production a far more professional sheen, which has sometimes been lacking.  There is a lot of talent at Court Players, and technically they have always impressed – once again, in this production, the lighting and sound effects were both subtle, but also impressive given the limitations of the venue.  If the improvement in the players own performances continues, and the changes to the group’s production and rehearsal schedule help to invigorate the members and audiences, then this group has great potential, and I look forward to seeing this develop over the next few years.

 


“CALAMITY JANE”
February 2012

Director: Bryan Quinlan Assisted by Beverley Stewart                                           MD: Trevor Pierpont

Choreography: Beverley Stewart, Carole Vincent

Frankie Telford (NODA Rep) reports:

It was a pleasure to make a return visit to this enthusiastic group. I wondered how they would cope with the complexities of set demanded by this well-known and ever popular show. The answer was BRILLIANTLY. Every inch of this small stage was used to advantage. The Golden Garter was a permanent set, with Calamity's cabin and the Fort inserted in front, and beautifully painted cloths brought in for others. I loved the Black Hills cloth, with the full moon, once it had 'risen'. The Golden Garter had the expected trappings of a saloon in the Wild West, swing doors, bar, tables and chairs, with a lovely chandelier. It also had a small area at the back with a cyclorama and foot lights in front, which provided the 'stage' for Francis Fryer and Katie Brown, and also acted as a projection screen. All the scene changing was conducted smoothly and efficiently. The technical team for this group produce effects, which rival those of much larger societies. We followed the journey of the Deadwood Stage on the screen, which arrived for everyone to alight and enter The Golden Garter, excellent timing. You were enveloped by the excellent sound effects; the horses appeared to be galloping closer, the gun shots were suitably loud, and we heard Bill chopping wood for Calamity, although some members of the audience thought there was a disturbance in the Hall when it first started. The lighting captured the atmosphere of each scene. The costumes were in keeping, with the added bonus of some authentic Western costumes: with make-up and hairstyles adding to the overall picture. The piano and percussion delivered the music sympathetically, and provided covering music for the scene changes. The choreography and movement were appropriate for the limited space, with a lively 'Can-Can' from the dancing girls. The group does not profess to be an Operatic Society but tackled the songs with energy. It was obvious that the more experienced members of the group were sharing their expertise with those who were less experienced and all working as a team. The show had been well cast and everyone performed enthusiastically. Several members of the cast gave notable performances. Tina Mayor as Calamity Jane brought boundless energy and enthusiasm to the role. She was always totally in character responding to all that was happening around her with wonderful facial expressions, with young performers Ed Berry as Francis Fryer and Antonia Parker Smith as Katie Brown giving extremely mature performances.

Well done everyone involved in this most enjoyable production.


“CALAMITY JANE” 14th to 18th February 2012

Directed by Bryan Quinlan and assisted by Bev Stewart.

Frankie Godding writes:

The night before we left London my eighteen year old daughter Sophie was doing her very own 'Calam' impression on a mechanical 'bucking bronco' in the Slug and Lettuce bar in Wimbledon.  Luckily I wasn't there to witness it.  I was, however, at the Golden Garter Saloon the following evening, where Rangeworthy's very own Calamity Jane was being just as much a tomboy and doing it very well!

I have been coming to see the Court Players since the 1960's and can clearly remember their productions of 'Oliver' and 'My Fair Lady', and was pleased to see that the same enthusiasm and vigour was still there.  From the first rousing chorus of 'The Deadwood Stage' the audience knew they were in for a happy, family friendly evening of entertainment.

What did I like best about the production?  Not having seen the musical before in either film or stage version I had no preconceived ideas of what I wanted to see, and so as far as I am concerned Tina Mayor's neat performance as Calamity Jane was just right - warm yet spiky and thoroughly likeable.  Wild Bill Hickock was manfully played by Paul Binding - I especially liked his beautiful rendition of 'Higher than a Hawk'.

The younger members of the group were definitely not overshadowed by their peers,and special mention must be made of Antonia Parker Smith and Ed Berry who both gave truly dynamic and memorable performances.  Well done!  Gordon Jones' cameo role of the charming Rattlesnake was a delight to watch!

The chorus and dancers all had their own individual characters and were very likeable.  I thought the simple staging and harmonies of 'Black Hills of Dakota' especially charming .

The costume department must be congratulated - for such a large cast the attention to detail was amazing.

We left the hall with a smile on our faces, which at the end of it is basically what it's all about, and I would like to thank the Production Team and cast for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

I do, however, have one complaint.  Both my daughter and I cannot stop singing 'Windy City' and it is driving us mad!  Any suggestions?!!

 


“THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST” by Oscar Wilde
May 2011

Director: Gordon Jones

Graeme Savage (NODA Rep) reports:

To see Importance of Being Earnest performed in the round was quite an experience, and certainly kept the actors on their toes during the opening night. Without the use of backdrops, simple set decoration of a couple of period chairs and a small table set the scene for Algernon’s flat in Act One, and kept the stage relatively clear for the perpetual movement required by the actors to involve the audience on all four sides. While this constant too-ing and fro-ing meant that there was little time when the performers did not engage with the audience, it did become a little distracting, to the performers as well as the audience.

The pace was a little slow to start off with, and was not aided by the unusually high number of prompts required. While this could be put down to the usual first night nerves, it did impinge on Wilde’s witty banter, which needs to really rattle along, especially in the opening moments between Rob Marlow’s otherwise excellently louche Algernon and Mark Gregory’s bumptious John Worthing.

After the first interval, during which the stage was turfed to create the Garden scene, the pace lifted considerably with Rosemary Pearce’s Cicely and Dee Way’s delightfully dotty Miss Prism, and Eleanor Trapp’s Gwendolen really coming into her own as she and Cicely ‘ganged up’ on the boys in the final act. The pace again slowed a little in this third act, when all should have been steaming along to the dramatic denouement. However, despite needing prompts, the actors diction and storytelling was clear throughout, not easy when spending so much time facing away from a large part of the audience.

The costumes were excellent, and credit to the designer for the simple yet effective sets – especially the turf. At times the lighting was a little stark – again, lighting a play ‘in the round’ is a rare challenge, but a little more colour, particularly in the garden scene of Act Two, and a little less lighting of the audience may have added to the theatricality of the piece, and put the actors a little more at ease, as the audience may then have seemed less imposing!

 


“SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVERN DWARFS” by Alan Frayn February 2011

Co-Directors: Eleanor Trapp and Bryan Quinlan

Dance Routines: Eleanor Trapp, Hannah Lewis, Dee Way              MD: Lorretta Hedges

Frankie Telford (NODA Rep) reports:

This was my first visit to The Court Players but their excellent reputation had preceded them.  The Hall was a buzz of excited expectation as I arrived and the audience was not disappointed.  I have to confess I am not a great lover of Alan Frayne Pantomimes, he tries to include too many elements of Pantomime in each one and uses the same jokes over and over again, and they are usually far too long, but this was different.  You had kept it to a reasonable length, had added some topical updating, and included elements, which were drawn from the strengths of your Society.  I was impressed by the ambitious sets and special effects on the small stage, all the front of tabs scenes were conducted in front of wonderfully painted backcloths, which were on rollers as there is no height for flying.  The magic mirror, diamond mine and the dwarf's cottage were all so good.  Along with so many of your audience I really enjoyed the film sequence chasing along the road in costume, it was very funny.  To see such a range of ages in the cast all working together so well, was testament to the diverse skills, brought to the production by co directors, Eleanor Trapp, in her first directing role and Bryan Quinlan with many years experience behind him.  The principals were well cast and gave solid performances, with the younger ones showing good stage presence and maturity, particularly Prince Ferdinand.  The senior principals strongly supported the whole company.  Queen Avarice was not quite black enough in her portrayal, and she needed to have a more regal stance, perhaps being corseted, to convey physically her aloofness and superiority over the common folk, and her obsession with being the most beautiful woman in the land.  The young chorus sang and moved well, creating some lovely pictures; the choreography was well within the capability of the cast.  There was an interesting choice of music and the musicians were sympathetic to the young voices, never overpowering them.  The musical number 'If I were not upon the stage' was so well timed; it was beautifully executed and must have taken many hours of rehearsal to achieve, well done.  I really enjoyed my visit to The Court Players and Snow White. Congratulations to everyone on a superb production.

 


“OLD TIME MEMORIES” 7th to 9th October 2010

Directed by Bryan Quinlan and assisted by Hannah Lewis.

Louis Richards reports:

For their autumn production The Court Players moved away from a scripted drama to us an evenings entertainment in the guise of “Old Time Memories” – a nostalgic revue that also included a scrumptious fish and chip supper.

The audience were invited to take a trip down Memory Lane with recollections of Wartime, Victorian Melodrama, Songs from the Shows, Comedy, Dance and Music.  The evening was full of pure entertainment featuring many favourites of yesteryear with the audience participating in the songs and sharing the laughter of the hilarious sketches. 

The production showed the versatility of the group and it allowed those who usually take back-stage roles to come to the fore.  It also showcased the promising future of the groups Youth Theatre as well as the hidden talents of some of the elder members.  The spontaneous encore of the Master of The House finale was well deserved.

 


“A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED” by Agatha Christie and adapted by Leslie Darbon
June 2010

Directed by Mark Gregory

Louis Richards reports:

The versatile, long standing Court Players served up an evening of mystery and intrigue with their recent production of Agatha Christie’s “A Murder Is Announced” at The Memorial Hall Rangeworthy.  Letitia Blacklock and her longstanding companion Dora ‘Bunny’ Bunner live at Little Paddocks in the village of Chipping Cleghorn.  On the morning of Friday 13th their attention is drawn to an advertisement at the bottom of the personal column of the local Gazette: “A Murder Is Announced and will take place on Friday 13th at Little Paddocks at 6.30.  Friends please accept this the only intimation.”  Is it just a joke or something more sinister?  Tension and nervousness develops as they try to figure out who could be the murderer.  Nerves turn to fear with Miss Marple’s timely reminder that if there is a murderer then there has to be a victim!

That evening several inquisitive friends arrive to join Letitia, Bunny and their guests.  At 6.30pm precisely the lights go out and three shots are fired.  When the lights go on the body of a mysterious man is found shot dead.  Inspector Craddock (Pete Harris) arrives to interrogate the gathering as each, of course, has a motive and therefore a suspect.  Who is telling lies?  Who benefits from the estate of a deceased Miss Blacklock?  Is that person really who they say they are?  When the dotty Bunny, ably played by Dee Way, succumbs after eating a slice of “Delicious Death” the audience are led up another path of deception.

Sam Palmer, suitably emulating her famous on-screen predecessors as the super sleuth Miss Marple, finally pieces the classic Christie puzzle together and provides the final solution in a dramatic confrontation scene with Jean Capstick who gave a superb performance as murderous Miss Blacklock.

With suitable 50’s costumes, a well-dressed set, good lighting and effects not forgetting the inspiring and suspenseful music, this production certainly did not disappoint.

 


“THE RAILWAY CHILDREN” 16th – 20th February 2010

Directed by Bryan Quinlan

Gerry Branton (NODA Vice President/SW Councillor) reports:

Judging by the well-earned applause this production proved thoroughly enjoyable for the appreciative audience.  This really is an enchanting piece, evoking as it does glimpses of a more innocent way of life lived at a much slower pace than today.  The Court Players are to be congratulated on the fine sets and the ease with which the station moved effortlessly into the living-room, and the general ambience of a country station and its environs, including a sinister tunnel.  Brilliant!  Care had been taken with effects, props and costumes, so creating another glimpse into life in the early part of the last century.

Casting of the Children, Roberta (Hope Howard), Phyllis (Antonia Parker Smith) and Peter (Ben Townsend) was impeccable, with each bringing a distinct character to their respective roles, whilst the Perks’ children added a fresh dimension to the story, so giving us an insight into the social differences of the time.  There was always a keen sense of fun when John (Ed Berry) was around, reminding one of the “Artful Dodger!”  The adults, whilst important, tended to take second place to the children, as they do in the story, with the exception of Mother, charmingly played by Rosemary Pearce and the all-important role of the Porter Perks, which showed Richard Lewis giving a bravura portrayal of the bluff, country rail official, with a soft centre.  Other adult roles complemented well, especially Paul Binding as the Old Gentleman.  The occasional filming of him peering from the train helped to bring the original story vividly to life.  Well done also to the troupe of Hare and Hounds, following a paper-chase. 

It is always amazing how groups cope in small working areas, yet produce stunning productions and this production was another example of this theatre magic.

 


“A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM” October 2010

Producer & Director: Gordon Jones; Co-director: Rosemary Pearce

Graeme Savage (NODA Rep) reports:

The Court Players always impress with the atmosphere that they can conjure up in an otherwise unremarkable village hall, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream did not disappoint, as the creative team transported us back to a beautifully lit, yet simply represented Athenian court, and the surrounding woods.

A cleverly concise adaptation ensured that what may have been sacrificed from the poetry was more than made up for with one of the clearest and funniest productions of a Shakespeare comedy that I have seen for a long time – too often, Shakespeare’s humour is missed, or drowns in the worthiness of the language, but Gordon Jones & Rosemary Pearce’s assured direction ensured that was never the case here.  This was also aided by a lack of ‘gimmick’ in the production – a traditional production, with simple classical costumes, rather than going for a more contemporary, modern or edgy interpretation, kept the audiences focus clearly on the characters and their own situations, instead of bogging us down with modern references or unnecessary baggage.

However, this does put added pressure on your cast, as the language and fairly simple plot is clearly exposed, yet the company rose to the challenge with relish. All seemed to be enjoying the poetry, and in a large cast, special mention must be made of the four ‘young lovers’, particularly Antonia Parker-Smith (Hermia) and Edward Berry (Lysander), and Amelia Trunk as Puck – all young teenagers, who gave very mature performances, far beyond their years, and were certainly unfazed by the unique challenges of Shakespeare’s text.  Of the older members of the company, Paul Binding (Oberon) and Christine James (Titania) particularly stood out, and the Rude Mechanicals lived up to their name with a hilarious and lively rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe, in which Sarah Cole’s Snug/Lion was a delightful piece of comic minimalism!!

It is always a pleasure to see a company with such a wide age range working together, supporting each other and learning from each other (as much the older members from the younger ones, as vice versa!) and this was clearly in evidence throughout the play, and gave the evening a real buzz.

Once again, The Court Players have taken a bit of a risk, but from a creative point of view it has certainly paid off – Shakespeare may seem conventional to many, but the harsh reality of the current economic climate means that many will shy away from what they think may be difficult to understand.  All I can say is that those who stayed away missed a real treat, from a company that does their community proud. I hope that they will continue to be able to entertain Rangeworthy and the surrounding villages in this way for at least another 50 years.

 


“ROBINSON CRUSOE AND THE PIRATES”
by: Alan P Frayn

50th Anniversary Gala Performance 19th February 2009

Directed and Produced By: Bryan Quinlan

Rich Newman (NODA Rep) reports:

This Gala performance celebrated 50 years of the Court Players.  The audience was full of friends and families and group members past and present.  We were privileged to have with us also, Mrs Joanna Shipp who was a founder member. 

The audience quickly got behind the cast which was easy as the talented cast soon got the show rolling. There was a great sense of excitement.  Each performer took every opportunity from their role and had nicely crafted individual characters.  It is a shame to pick out individuals in a real ‘team’ show, but I will just mention Richard Lewis as Margarita Jucilita, Eleanor Popham as Nutty Nicky and the menacing Paul Binding as Cut-Throat from a very strong cast. 

A special mention must go to the excellent costume and set building teams.  The clever use of gauze and the projection of fish and the seashore were most effective.  The show had all the normal ingredients you would hope from a panto.  I noticed the shorter versions of the many song featured. Sometimes the Panto tendency is to perform the verses over and over again and this can be tedious-not here though!  It was lovely to see the age range of the youngsters involved. The ability shown here certainly safeguards the future. 

The show ended aptly with the song ‘Best years of our lives’ and from the response and feeling tonight between members past and present, it is a statement that is probably very true.  Here’s to the next fifty of best years of your lives.  Thank you for letting me share in this very special evening.

 


"A BEQUEST TO THE NATION" By Terence Rattigan October 2008

Directed by Gordon Jones

Graeme Savage (NODA Rep) reports:

A 3-hour Terence Rattigan play about 200 year old naval battles and relationships, in which there is little action and almost constant dialogue, is a difficult piece to pull off.  In The Court Players production, however, director Gordon Jones’ obvious passion for the subject and period had clearly invigorated his cast to give an engrossing and entertaining insight into the life of Nelson, his wife and his all-too-public mistress.

The simple but effective lighting and virtually monochrome set showed off the wonderful period costumes, but also put additional pressure on the actors, and they rose to this challenge superbly.

Peter Harris gave a sterling performance as Nelson, torn between his country and his women.  The moment his façade dropped, revealing his full awareness of the public laughing stock that he is in danger of becoming, was very well played.  Rosemary Pearce was captivating as the drunken, yet besotted Emma, particularly during her crucial scenes at the start of act two, which are virtual monologues.  They were perfectly complemented by Jean Capstick as Lady Nelson, a subtly pitched interpretation of the abandoned, yet forgiving and devoted wife.

In a strong ensemble cast, James Bennett as George Matcham Jnr particularly stood out, doing full credit to Rattigan’s beautifully written young boy naively making his first steps into the romantic and sexual politics of adult relationships.

This play does make more demands on the audience than many, but those who make the effort are fully rewarded.

 


"CAUGHT IN THE NET" by Ray Cooney June 2008

Directed by Allan Clarke

Barbara Sasin writes:

"Caught in the Net" by the master of farce, Ray Cooney, was a huge success for the talented and dedicated Court Players.  Performed on an excellent split-set, with sturdy doors that stood up to all the slamming they were subjected to, the audience were treated to a hilarious and most enjoyable evening.

The plot concerns the complications caused by the two-timing taxi-driver, John Smith, played by Bryan Tufnell, with wife Mary (Tina Mayor), living in Streatham, and his other wife, Barbara (Carole Vincent), living in Wimbledon.  When his daughter, Vicki, (Annie Burns), from one of the families, and a son, Gavin, (Rob Marlow) from the other family, meet in an internet chat room but are unable to meet in person, John Smiths' already hectic life swings into top gear as he tries to keep his double life a secret.  Richard Lewis, as the lodger Stanley Gardner turned in a virtuouso performance, aided by the arrival of his dotty Dad, played by Jerome Way.  There is a happy ending, however, and the cast are to be congratulated for mastering the techniques needed to give such a professional show.

The person responsible for getting the Players to the standard they achieved is the Director, Allan Clarke, a very experienced director of farce.  Congratulations to him and all the Court Players for a truly memorable show.