Tag Archives: Ben Roddy

Up ‘n’ Under

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 1 November

John Godber’s early (1984) play about amateur rugby in his native Yorkshire has been revived by the Gordon Craig Theatre’s artistic director Catherine Lomax.Ben Roddy’s direction keeps the action moving while giving space to the different characters’ soliloquies, delivered straight out to the audience.

Designer Connor Norris has created an apparently sparse setting – goal posts backing moveable pieces which transform the scene between locker-room, pub, playing field and gym – which also embraces the sides of the auditorium. There are some excellent lighting effects from Dawn Meadowcroft, including shadow-puppet style silhouetted sequences.

Central to the story is Phil Stewart’s Arthur, who tries to galvanise the no-hope Wheatsheaf Arms team into something which has a chance of beating local top-boys Cobblers Arms. In this he is aided by gym instructor Hazel (Gemma Oaten), whose efficiency eventually wins the lads’ respect.

Those lads are Phil (Adam Shorey), Frank (Matt Collyer), Tony (Duncan McInnes) and Steve (Chris Aukett). Aukett also plays Cobblers Arms manager Reg, whose bet with Arthur triggers the whole plot. If Arthur’s dilemma takes entre stage, that is not to belittle the often subtle characterisations of his mis-matched team, or  Oaten’s portrait of womanly assurance.

Four star rating.

Up ‘n’ Under runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 4 November with matinées on 2 and 4 November.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2017

A Party to Murder

(reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on 19 September)

A play within a play is one thing. A double play within a play is quite something else. Marcia Kash and Douglas E Hughes’ thriller A Party to Murder, currently revived in a new touring production by Talking Scarlet, is also a double (if not treble) hommage to Agatha Christie. Confused? That’s just what the playwrights and director Patric Kearns intend you to be.

So sit up at the back of the audiorium and pay close attention. We’re in the main room of a luxurious house in the middle of a lake. Remind you of a particular Chritsie story? Except that this lake is somewhere between Canada and the United states. The year is 1988.

A group of six Christie afficiendos have met to play out a murder scenario. They have all paid to be part of the game; whoever guesses the correct suspect can choose his or her own prize, which mustn’t amount to more than the total sum in the kitty.

If you don’t know the plot – and this is certainly one stage thriller I’ve no encountered before – then I won’t spoil your suspense by taking you furher. The designer is Geoff Gilder, who gives us a room with built-in surprises; David North’s lighting is as atmospheric as Kearns’ elaborate soundscape, but that all-important secret door needs to be better able to conceal what does on behind it when it’s shut.

Ben Roddy as Charles, the organiser of this somewhat macabre party, contrasts well wih Oliver Mellor’s wheel-chaired Willy. John Hester plays businessman Elwood with Michelle Morris as his posturing model wife McKenzie. The other two women as Natasha Gray and Claire Fisher as siblings Valerie and Henrietta, who have just as many secrets to hide as everyone else on stage.

The performances are good, and the cast knows how to alternate moments of frantic verbal or physical activity with slower, quiteer ones. They all sustain their north American accents impeccably throughout.

It all engages attention while it’s happening in fron of us, but is perhaps not a play to linger in the memory and make one yearn to see what other ways of staging it there might be. Pehaps it’s no surprise that it isn’t often revived.

A Party to Murder runs at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff until 24 September wih matinées on 22 and 24 September. It also play at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon on 27 and 28 September.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016