Tag Archives: Southwold Summer Theatre

The 39 Steps

(reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 9 August)

This new production for Suffolk Summer Theatres has been devised and directed by Mark Sterling from the Patrick Barlow tongue-in-cheek version of the John Buchan novel brought memorably to the screen by Alfred Hitchcock.

Though it may seem like a whole sequence of “based on…”, this staging does add a further dimension, with its introductory sequence from the film, multiple use of projections and some Hitcockian hommages – the music-hall is MacGuffin’s and the moorland chase has a pair of hobby-horse planes with their pilots plotting north by north-west courses.

The four main actors – Clive Flint, Joe Leat, Amy Christina Murray and Simon Stanhope – are supplemented by ASMs Kitty Dunham and Laurence Leonard who not only move the triangular pillars and furniture but join enthusiastically in the second act’s highland reel. They fully deserve their appearance at the curtain call.

Stanhope is our dashing hero Richard Hannay who, finding himself in London at a loose end, goes to the music-hall and thereby secures himself a perilously adventurous future. Murray whisks on and off a sequence of wigs and accents as the femme fatale whose appearance in Hannay’s flat triggers off the whole story, the feisty but not unflappable Pamela, the susceptible crofter’s wife and others.

“Others” sums up the multi-faceted Flint and Leat perfectly. Flint manages, with swift headgwear, coat and skirt changes, a positive galaxy of characters from Mr Memory and the crofter to railway officials, policemen, landladies and one of the duo of rain-coated, slouch-hatted, dark-glasses spies. Leat’s Professor Jordan provides a hilarious sub-Hitlerian tirade and one half of a Flanagen & Allen turn.

The 39 Steps continues at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 13 August, transfers to the Southwold Summer Theatre between 15 and 27 August and to the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds from 6 to 10 September.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Cash on Delivery

(reviewed at the Southwold Summer Theatre on 1 August)

It may have been premièred 20 years ago, but a lot of Michael Cooney’s farce Cash on Delivery slides easily enough into 2016 attitudes. The central character is Eric Swan (Darrell Brockis), who is actually unemployed but desperate to keep this from his working wife Linda (Claire Jeater). She does have concerns about her husband, but they’re not financial ones.

The Swans have a lodger, layabout non-earning Norman (Bob Dobson), who has somehow managed to acquire a fiancée Brenda (Melissa Clements); they plan to get married at the weekend. There’s also Uncle George (James Morley), who is neck-deep in dodgy deals – not to mention Eric’s pyramid of social benefit fraud schemes, which is about to topple over.

The catalyst for all this is DWP inspector Mr Jenkins (Richard Bates), a man who does things by the book. In his case, the book is dictated by the formidable Ms Cowper (Erin Geraghty), not a boss to tangle with. Eric having claimed that one of his multitude of claimant persona has died, this has also brought bereavement counsellor Sally Chessington (Imogen Slaughter) to the house.

Slaughter gives a delicious portrayal of just the sort of slithery sympathy-oozing apparatchik no-one in real grief would want within a hundred miles. Brockis builds up the tension and the comedy skilfully as Eric’s complex of fraud nears collapse, matched by Dobson’s wide-eyed attempts to disentangle himself which simply result in him being drawn ever deeper into the proliferating deceptions.

Then there’s unctuous undertaker Mr Forbright (Paul Hegarty) and bemused psychologist Dr Chapman (Michael Shaw). The main furnishings of 344 Chilton Road, Mile End in Andy Powrie’s production designed by Maurice Rubens are a man-sized chest (almost an actor in its own right) and a number of doors to be slammed, locked, flung wide open at the most inopportune moments.

Cash on Delivery runs at the Southwold Summer Theatre until 13 August and transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 16 and 20 August.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Murder By The Book

(reviewed at Suffolk Summer Theatres, Southwold on 19 July)

Writing is a solitary occupation; it can lead to depression and self-denigration. On the other hand, it has been known to develop into megalomania. The thriller by Duncan Greenwood and Robert King has as its central character a successful thriller writer whose lucrative part-time supplement to his earnings comes from writing vitriolic reviews of his competitors’ novels.

His secretary goes along with all this; his even-wealthier actress and somewhat libidinous wife has had enough. Divorce has been mentioned, but this has financial implications. It’s all a neat set-up for role-playing of many sorts, though Phil Clark’s fast-paced production never manages to make the characters anything other than pasteboard puppets.

Leyla Holley plays Imogen, a woman whose histrionics spill over from stage to drawing-room. Costume designer Miri Birch places us firmly in the Mary Quant/Biba era. Amy Christina Murray makes a pert Christine with Joe Leat as the exceptionally nosy next-door neighbour whose “Hurray Henry” façade is not quite what it seems.

Selwyn Piper, the concocter of mysteries at the centre of the drama, is Simon Stanhope with Clive Flint as his publisher John Douglas. They all take it as seriously as this sort of comedy-thriller requires, but – for me at any rate – it never quite jells. Perhaps you should blame the weather.

Murder by the Book runs at the Southwold Summer Theatre until 30 July and transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 2 and 6 August.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

Don’t Dress for Dinner

(reviewed at Southwold Summer Theatre on 6 July)

The Robin Hawdon adaptation of the modern French farce by Marc Camoletti proved to be a popular start to this year’s season of productions by Suffolk Summer Theatres. A last-minute substitution in the key role of Bernard due to illness aaw Darrell Brockis performing script-in-hand but still making the part his own.

Director Ron Aldridge and the season’s designer Maurice Rubens provide the necessary number of doors required by this fast-moving genre. Miri Birch’s costumes are clever, with a degree of satiny slink for Claire Jeater as Bernard’s wife Jacqueline (as set on an extra-marital affair as her husband) and a witty maid-to-mistress outfit for Imogen Slaughter as cook extraordinaire Suzette.

Slaughter provides one of the funniest characterisations of the evening, provoking a well-deserved exit round of applause. Michael Shaw bumbles engagingly as Robert, Bernard’s bachelor friend who arrives for a country-house weekend with possibilities – and finds himself overwhelmed by them.

The two men also sport an interesting collection of shirts and nightwear as three women on the warpath (poor Melissa Clements as Suzanne is something of a patsy in all this) find new uses for soda siphons and velouté sauce. I suspect that some momentary sags in the frenetic goings-on will be ironed out during the course of the run. As it stands, Brockis deserves a curtain-call all to himself.

Don’t Dress for Dinner runs at the Southwold Summer Theatre until 16 July and transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 21 and 30 July.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016

September Tide

(reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 26 August)

Daphne du Maurier is a writer whose name fills theatres – as well as emptying bookshop shelves. September Tide is set in the uncertain period following the Second World War when young men were liable for National Service, alcohol and certain foodstuffs were in short supply if not still rationed and England was having to accustom itself to a world which might look backwards with nostalgia but could never be quite what it used to be.

We are in Cornwall where Stella, a widow with grown-up children but still immensely attractive and charismatic, is eagerly awaiting a visit from her newly-married, London-based daughter Cherry. Cherry is a free spirit – something which she may have inherited from her mother, if not from her late sailor father – and you could describe her relationship with her new painter husband Evan as semi-detached.

If you know anything about du Maurier’s own life story, including her near-obsession with Cornwall, you can detect autobiographical elements as this three-cornered drama unfolds. The revised script is by Mark Rayment and Phil Clark’s production located it firmly in its period with no attempt to whittle away the moral issues propounded or their solution. The resolution is perhaps for us in the 21st century an overly romantic one, but attitudes to many things have changed over the past 50 or 60 years.

Eliza McClelland makes an appealing heroine as Stella, matched by Chris Clarkson’s domineering Evan a man as selfish as only those who are certain of their own genius can be. Light relief is provided by Jill Freud as Mrs Tucket, the indispensable “help”, and to a lesser extent by Michael Shaw as Robert, who hopes that Stella will one day agree to marry him.

Then there’s Rosanna Miles as Cherry, so insouciant on the surface but actually as uncertain about what the future holds as her elders – not to mention her hard-drinking husband. Too many of her lines, which are vital to the plot, seem to be thrown away – but that could just be the Jubilee Hall acoustics. Her younger brother, home on sick-leave from the Navy with a broken foot, is played by Harry Emerson.

September Tide runs at the Summer Theatre, Southwold until 12 September.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

The Titfield Thunderbolt

(reviewed at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh on 10 August)

There was a time, more than half a century ago, when East Anglia’s market towns, as well as many across the country, each had a Station Road which lived up to its name. Then Dr Beeching swung his axe… now there are still plenty of Station Roads, but no station, let alone trains, to justify their nomenclature.

The famous Ealing film comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt was scripted by TEB Clarke and has been adapted for stage presentation by Philip Goulding. This new production by Mark Sterling has a wonderfully ingenious set by Maurice Rubens – whoever said that small-scale theatres can’t do spectacular? There’s a channel running across the stage to represent the railway track behind which the waiting-room and ticket office open in doll’s house fashion to reveal a vicar’s study and a pub bar area.

Nor is a train lacking – we actually see two of these, not to mention a somewhat decrepit bus operated by wide-boy Vernon Crump (Clive Flint). His son Harry (Rikki Lawton) is sweet on the vicar’s niece Joan (Amy Christina Murray) so afflicted by the classic duty versus love tug-of-war. The Reverend Sam Weech (Harry Gostelow) has his personal cross to bear in the shape of Joan’s retrobate father, his own brother.

The Weechs’ determination to save Titfield Station is matched by local landowner Lady Edna Chesterford (Sarah Ogley); after all, it was her ancestor who ensured that his property should be served by train. Crump senior aside, and he has a whole bag of crafty tricks in his capacious pockets, assorted men from the Transport Ministry descend with briefcases stuffed full with their own particular agendas. This being a very English comedy, there are no prizes for guessing what the end will be. The fun is in watching how that happens.

As I indicated, the set and its furnishings, including projections which take us through the countryside, are the real stars. The cast members do very well to hold their own against such opposition, bearing in mind that they are types rather than fully rounded characters. It’s episodic, which is due to the original film script, for which I suspect the copyright holders might be to blame.

But it’s a breath of rose-tinted nostalgia with never a whiff of analysis about it, and none the worse for that. And there’s even a couple of song-and-dance numbers arranged by Dick Walter and choreographed by Sidi Scott called The Ferroequinologist’s Lament. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely a word previously alien to my vocabulary.

The Titfield Thunderbolt runs at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 15 August and transfers to the Southwold Summer Theatre between 17 and 29 August.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

Out Of Order

(reviewed at the Southwold Summer Theatre on 5 August)

Westminster – that’s Parliament, by the way, not the Abbey – exerts a strange facination for us ordinary folk whose closest approach to its arcane mysteries is usually just through the ballot-box. We all know that odd things can go on in its corridors of power, let alone in various offices.

So Ray Cooney’s farce Out Of Order has been keeping audiences chuckling for several decades. Guest director David Harris has mounted his new production for Suffolk Summer Theatres with what one might describe as mainly the theatres’ resident repertory company – just what you need for a piece which requires ensemble playing of a high order.

The plot concerns junior Minster Richard Willey (Michael Shaw) who should be attending a critical debate, as he tells his country-living wife Gladys (Kate Middleton), but is actually holed up in the Westminster Hotel expecting an evening of unbridled sex with Jane. There is already a slight problem; Jane Worthington (Rosanna Miles) has a husband Ronnie (Rick Savery) and is secretary to the Opposition Leader.

Problem the second reveals itself in the person of a body (Harry Emerson) wedged between the balcony and the sash-window (keep an eye on that window – it plays a major if noisy role). Who can help our lovers? Probably not the hotel manager (Christopher Elderwood) or the waiter (James Morley). Instead Willey summons his PPS, the thoroughly repressed and mother-fixated George Pigden (Chris Clarkson).

Mrs Pigden’s nurse-companion Pamela (Eliza McClelland also arrives on the scene. Cooney runs every possible permutation on the ensuing situations, all with the deadly but hilarious logic which is the essence of farce. Harris stirs the mix adeptly as everyone in turn seems to find themselves either in the cupboard or the bedroom, on the balcony, in a wheel-chair (don’t ask!) and usually with or without their usual clothes. Guaranteed to raise yor spirits, whatever the weather outside the theatre.

Out Of Order runs at the Southwold Summer Theatre until 15 August and at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 18 and 22 August.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

Anybody For Murder?

(reviewed at the Suffolk Summer Theatre, Southwold on 20 July)

You know that a thriller with Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner as its writers is going to offer audiences a clever and slick couple of hours entertainment. This comedy thriller is no exception; but you do need to concentrate to keep the tangles of the plot from knotting themselves inextricably in your brain.

The plot in question involves two couples, the girl-friend of one husband and a beached-up writer of murder mysteries. Max Harrington, by his own admission a second-rate research chemist, and his wife Janet have bought a farmhouse on a minute and very remote Greek island. If they ever thought to live “the good life” there, that dream has already crumbled into dust. Just like the farm’s soil.

Neighbour and thriller writer Edgar Chambers has found inspiration as lacking as the Harrington’s farm’s fertility. Perhaps ouzo in large swigs might help. Meanwhile Max fancies getting rid of Janet in favour of the delectable Suzy Stevens. Then the Ticklewell couple materialise. Mary is vaguely related to Janet; her husband George is (to put it politely) a not very efficient lawyer.

They have brought news of a legacy, but who will get the lion’s share of the million or so dollars depends on which of the two women is the closer blood kin to the deceased. This is where everything really becomes complicated, with thrills and spills generating alternate laughs and gasps from the audience.

Director Ron Aldridge keeps it all on the move with Maurice Rubens’ set, especially the stairs, almost becoming a player in its own right. Sarah Ogley, a sort of cut-price Lady Macbeth in the making, generates much of the comedy with Harry Gostelow’s lanky, much-put-upon George her perfect foil. Rikki Lawton makes Max sufficiently personable to make his relationship with both Pamela Banks’ not-just-a-dumb-blonde Janet and Amy Christina Murray’s sexy Suzy credible.

And then there’s Clive Flint as Edgar. Edgar is a type many of us will have encountered in those places where expatriates gather. An author who is never going to make the big-time but gets by on royalties and churning out another pot-boiler whenever money for booze runs short. As far as the plot of Anybody for Murder? is concerned, he’s just slightly a red herring, but a very funny one.

I won’t spoil it for you by revealing how it all works out. Find that out for yourselves.

Anybody for Murder? runs at the Summer Theatre, Southwold until 1 August and at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh between 3 and 8 August.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

How the Other Half Loves

(reviewed at the Southwold Summer Theatre on 8 July)

You can never take an Ayckbourn play at its face value. How the Other Half Loves was his second major commercial success in 1070; David Harris’ production which opened this year’s Suffolk Summer Theatres season sensibly keeps the 1969 setting for this typical blend of sharp social satire, surreal elements and a wryly compassionate look at what motivates people to behave in certain ways in situations partly of their own making.

The emphasis, as Ayckbourn likes to place it, is very much on the female condition. We meet the Fosters – lady-who-lunches Fiona and company manager Frank – and the Phillips – company man-on-the-make and new mother Teresa – share Maurice Rubens simultaneous living rooms.

These characters have enough complications between them without really needing the Featherstones – country mouse Mary and Welsh new employee William. That’s when the sexual, social and work permutations really start to create their own momentum. If you know Southwold’s summer Theatre, you know that the stage is quite small, though Rubens’ ingenuity works a miracle of visual stretching.

Small is the last word you could use to describe the acting with the balance between over-the-top (OTT) and naturalism beautifully balanced. Rosanna Miles is in turns funny and pathetic as Mary, the mouse who does eventually unsheathe her well-concealed claws. Eliza McClelland flounces and pirouettes in her chiffon and high heels to hilarious effect (the costumes are by Miri Birch).

Then there’s Teresa (Terri to her husband and friends). Marriage hasn’t turned out to be the bed of roses she probably expected a year or so ago; her husband is an autocrat, her son is at the teething, sleepless and whimpering stage, so everyday chores like housework and cooking are being relegated to a secondary status. All of which Kate Middleton makes utterly credible.

Bob does not like what his fun-loving but acquiescent wife has becomes one tiny bit. As Chris Clarkson amply demonstrates, the man is selfish and a bully. Physically Bob may meet his match in Rick Savery’s Will – but in many ways each is as thoughtless and liable to jump to conclusions as the other. Thoughtless, in the other hand, is not an adjective you can apply to Michael Shaw’s Frank.

Yes, the man is so absent-minded and easy to distract that you wonder how on earth he has reached his senior professional level. But there’s a steel core under all that fluff and his tenacity both provides the comedy as he becomes helplessly involved in marital and social turmoil of which he was partly the cause. When he turns the tables… but you really ought to see for yourself how it ll works out.

How the Other Half Loves runs at the Southwold Summer Theatre until 18 July and transfers to the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh from 23 July to 1 August.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015