Thurrock Court Players presented Laughter in the Shadow of the Trees by James Prideaux
Only two plays on this, the middle Saturday of the Festival and, unfortunately, the first of them wasn't very good.
The omens were good for this play as the set was very nicely done. A garden scene with a bench, realistically painted fir trees and effective papier-mache tree stumps, which all looked nice from the auditorium.
Unfortunately, this group was under-rehearsed. Two of the three actors took lots of prompts and were very unsure of their lines. Maybe John Scowen as Martin could be forgiven as his character was supposed to have Alzheimers? But his sudden changes of temper and outbursts of anger were well done.
Jayne Jones as Felicia was very restless, hardly staying still for more than a few seconds, and tended to speak out to the audience, instead of to the character she was addressing. Faults like this should really have been addressed by the director.
When both parents did get into a section where they knew their lines, they often came out by rote, too fast and with little meaning behind them.
Only Zoe Lyall as Jan gave a really assured performance and her scene alone with her father, and the final monologue which ended the play were very well executed.
So, a real shame that a play which looked promising was executed poorly.
Wessex Youth Theatre presented Warrior Square by Nick Wood
After saying yesterday that youth productions could be less than satisfactory, along comes another group to prove me wrong!
This was a three-hander with two of the actors - Katie Dancey and James May (not the famous one!) - playing at least 5 parts between them. This is the story of an eastern European family, driven from their home by an unspecified conflict and being forced to deal with the hopes, fears, opportunities and dangers of starting a new life in England.
A few simple fabric-covered blocks and some simple props on a black stage were all that was required for this team to bring the story to life.
Mehreen Shah played the daughter of the family incredibly well, with her lively, open face easily portraying a young frightened Muslim girl growing up to be a confident newly-English teenager.
James May played the son, his father, his uncle and a fellow refugee. As well as maintaining his accent well, he also differentiated the characters very successfully, with just a change of hat or jacket as support.
Outstanding for me was Katie Dancey as the stoic and loving Mother. her transformation from grief-stricken at the loss of her husband to finally accepting her situation and deciding to start living for her children again was put over very well indeed. She also portrayed a football-loving schoolmate of the children very effectively.
If I have a criticism of the production, I would have to question whether the various scene changes could have been made even more slick and fluid. There were occasions when the actors left the stage only to return immediately under cover of a blackout, when a simple change of lighting state and an alteration of position would have worked even more effectively.
This us just a minor quibble though, as this whole play was definitely one of the highlights of the week.
Monday is a day-off at the festival. More reviews for you on Wednesday morning...
I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.