Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.
Guildburys presented After Midnight, Before Dawn by David Campton
Arriving at the auditorium we were greeted with a moodily lit, tight square of wet straw, 3 or 4 yards square, representing a seventeenth-century prison cell, occupied by 6 prisoners, condemned to hang for witchcraft. The smell of the straw pervaded the theatre which really helped to draw the audience into the action.
The play deals with the tensions between each of the characters as they try to understand why they are in this situation. The main antagonist is a calm woman who claims to truly have knowledge of the devil and attempts to goad the others into swapping their religious beliefs for an expectation of freedom.
Having 6 people in such a small space was a challenge for the director which he handled very well. He and the cast worked hard at all times to create interesting pictures and shapes. He was helped to some extent by a very atmospheric lighting (I was reminded of Rembrandt paintings at one point – so kudos to the costume designer too), though we needed more light on the actors’ faces, which made it hard for us to follow their words and intentions.
The cast were very confident with their words, though at times some of them could have slowed down their delivery for the sake of clarity; there were moments when I wasn’t sure what was being said.
This was a powerful and gripping drama, which could have been electric if the climactic moments had been handled with a more controlled pacing, rather than at break-neck speed, but still it was a very good opener for the evening’s entertainment.
Park Players presented Specialty by Sue Viney
This new, previously unperformed play (the first such of the fortnight) was something of a mixed-bag. The play’s author played the main character, Ella, an elderly woman holed-up in her old house, seemingly awaiting the three burglars who turn-up to turn-over her residence, only to be thwarted by ghostly goings-on.
Miss Viney was excellent, as one would hope she would be, speaking her own words with confidence and style. The opening section and the ending were both nicely staged and artfully handled by the lead character.
Once more the staging was let down by a lack of light in places – this seems to be a theme in the festival this year!
The burglars were all played well, though I did often have problems hearing one of them – more volume please! Their characters were written as being by turns comic and genuinely menacing and I found that the players tended to point up the comedic aspects to the detriment of the piece. Play them as genuinely nasty characters and the comedy will come about naturally (c.f. The Ladykillers, as noted by the adjudicator in his summing-up).
Overall a very promising piece that, with more rehearsals and some script-tweaking, could be a really funny and genuinely spooky play.
Desborough Players presented Inheritance by Jill Woods
Could the third play of the evening be a disappointment for the third day in a row? Sadly, I’m sorry to say, it was.
I’ve seen this play before and it’s not a strong piece. Three sisters meet in the bedroom of their dying mother, hoping that it won’t be long before they receive a monetary windfall which will enable them to turn their lives around. And that’s about it, no real twists or surprises to talk of, just a fairly mundane story.
The set was uninspiring and looked like a charity shop furniture warehouse rather than a lived-in bedroom, and the layout of the space made it impossible for the actors to do little other than stand in lines talking to each other.
Jane Cairns, playing Margaret, was the most believable of the 3 main actresses and I had no trouble believing that she had been looking after her bed-ridden mother for a long time. Georgia Warner (Fay) was, unfortunately, very quiet indeed. There were times when I could barely hear her words, which was a shame as she seemed to have a pleasing and natural delivery. Jean, played by Jacqui Keenes, slightly overdid the upper-middle class pretension which her character had to show, though I enjoyed her spirited rendition of The Deadwood Stage.
The lighting was adequate (at last!) though the final black-out could have been handled more sharply.
Back to the drawing board with this one. Re-design the staging and get the actors to play it more naturalistically to stand the best chance of making the play more interesting.
Tune in tomorrow for Day Four
I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.