Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 1

My reviews of the first three plays of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Ottershaw Players presented Charity Begins… by Bettine Manktelow

A light comedy, set in a local charitable organisation. Strong characterisation and very good teamwork from Nicky Breslin as Teresa and Kay Doyle as Mel. Alison Byers played Angie well, though some variation of pitch in her frantic performance would have paid dividends. Anne Niven as Mrs Castle-Kettle was fine, though her ‘grandeur’ did seem a little forced.

Kay’s facial expressions were a delight and her browbeaten, unconfident demeanour was in great contrast to Nicky’s brash, sweeping manner. Both of these ladies really sold their characters to the audience convincingly.

I found it a little distracting that the characters were encouraged to speak some of their dialogue out front, rather than addressing each other in a more naturalistic fashion.

Overall the pacing of the playing was excellent, though I felt that it dragged slightly about halfway in, when Mrs Castle-Kettle was talking to Mel while Teresa was on the telephone. It felt as if that section needed to be a lot snappier, maybe with overlapping dialogue.

An excellent box set, simply but effectively dressed.

In all, it was a funny, well-paced and confident performance; the ideal start to the festival.

Splinter Group presented A Visit From Miss Prothero by Alan Bennett

This thirty year-old radio play is full of quirky “Northern” speech patterns, as you would expect from Mr Bennett.

The simply setting (brown leather chairs, electric heater, 1930s sideboard) was compact and portrayed a warm, homely environment.

Barry McCann played Mr Dodsworth with a calm confidence and assurance. Here was a man happy in his retirement, content with his lot. Juliette Doyle as Miss Prothero was a little less convincing, unfortunately. Slight lapses in her accent and a couple of stumbles over her words meant that she lacked a little pace in places. However, unlike the adjudicator, I did enjoy her characterisation. Her flinty, sour face was a perfect contrast to Mr Dodsworth’s warm friendliness.

The first half of the play was excellent. Marvellous interplay between the two characters as Miss Prothero brings Mr Dodsworth up-to-date with events at his old workplace. The 2nd half of the performance suffered from the lack of pace mentioned above, when the stream of work jargon needed to be fluid and slick. I also think that we needed to see a glimpse of warmth from Miss Prothero as she breaks the news that Mr Dodsworth’s beloved work practices have been abandoned.

A note about the sound effects which were perfectly timed and played at precisely the right volume. The opening effect, where the music (Un Homme et une Femme) moved from the auditorium, onto the stage, while becoming tinny, as if from the cheap, plasic hi-fi on the sideboard was incredibly effective and set up the opening of the play in the best way possible.

In summary, this was another good performance all round, with some excellent comic moments. I’m glad I saw it.

Owzat presented Lysistrata by Aristophanes

I’m afraid I have very little positive to say about this. In fact, I was impressed by the way the adjudicator managed to make his criticisms of the production both constructive and encouraging. I simply found it tiresome.

The opening scene (four or five women, draped in flimsy garments, moving around in a sensual manner) was, I assume, supposed to be erotic. Unfortunately, the lack of conviction in most of the actors’ movements and their looks of total boredom made them just look like trafficked sex workers in a cheap Soho clip joint.

Most of the cast were unable to project their voices with any strength and those that could delivered their lines in a flat monotone which simply did not suit the material. Those actors with strong voices tended to gabble and speak so quickly and indistinctly that it was impossible to follow what they were saying.

Luckily the sound operator also seemed to be bored of the dialogue: he would often play loud, inappropriate music over the action so that we could listen to that instead – mercifully drowning out the actors!

Characters seemed to wander on and off the stage, with no intention to their movements and with little attempt at characterisation. I’ve no idea whether this was a fault with the acting or the direction – probably a bit (lot?) of both.

As the play went on it became more and more of a modern, ‘spoof’ version or the story, veering away from the more serious intent of the start of the show. If this had been the intent all along and it had been carried off with some panache, it may have been a far more entertaining presentation. The two big musical numbers near the end (mimed dance routines, like something knocked together by those groups of 11 year old girls in the corner of the playground) should have been shorter and better rehearsed.

Sorry, but I found little to entertain or inform here. There was a great deal of laughter, and even a smattering of applause, during the play, which I can only assume came from friends and relatives of the cast – amused to see people they know on-stage wearing two-foot phalluses and expounding badly signposted single-entendres.

Owzat? Run-out by a mile, I’m afraid!

More reviews tomorrow of tonight’s show…

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective. For the purposes of today’s entry, you should also note that I am a member of Ottershaw Players.

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