A play by Peter Quilter
The Nightingales, a comedy by Peter Quilter set in the 1950s, is the last play of the 78th Season of Plays at the RLT.
The story tells of variety pianist Jack Nightingale as he receives a surprise visit from his parents Charlie and Beatrice. A pair of retired thesps, they insist they are to stay for an indefinite length of time – much to the annoyance of Jack, his variety partner Maggie and housekeeper Geraldine.
During the first act, I did find the plot a bit slow to get going. It all seemed very gentle, light and unclear as to where things were headed; a criticism of the play itself rather than the performances. However, during Act Two, I did enjoy watching the characters come to life, their situations unfold and the humorous and witty exchanges spark in front of us.
The cast and the production team gave a sterling effort. Robert Warburton as Jack was solid, believable and pinned the whole piece together; I really enjoyed his exchanges with his parents. Bridget Sly as Geraldine was quirky and comedic as the adorable housekeeper. Peter Thomas and Joan Young were great together as Jack’s old parents with relationship issues. Tracey Stafford as Maggie got the best laugh with a great line (I couldn’t say what!). The ending between Maggie and Jack was beautifully done and left us as the audience feeling very hopeful.
I thought the set design was perfect; the red wall as a backdrop was very striking and the attention to detail really created an atmosphere of a rich, performer’s pad. The lighting and sound gave the piece the sense of realism that we come to expect at the Little Theatre. Hats off to Barry Nicholls, the producer, and the team for putting together a slick production.
All in all, this wasn’t my favourite script, but I thoroughly enjoyed some strong and sweet performances and a few laughs. Well done.
Reviewed by Victoria Evans, May 2019.
When the Wind Blows
A play by Raymond Briggs
“When the wind blows…”, – the nursery rhyme doesn’t end well, and nor does Raymond Briggs’s story. The official message on the screen that comes down at the beginning of Donnamarie Stamp’s production makes clear the imminent threat of nuclear war and the need to ‘Protect and Survive’.
Then the curtains open and there is normality: Hilda and Jim Bloggs, an elderly couple, at the start of an ordinary day… until Jim reads about the situation in his newspaper. “Blimey!” They are loving, bickering, and trusting, believing in the powers-that-be as they build a shelter and prepare for a nuclear attack in the spirit of World War II (which they remember with nostalgia).
While we laugh at the ludicrous governmental instructions, at Jim’s malapropisms and Hilda’s misunderstandings, and their naivety, we are made aware of the horrors to come by the interspersed official announcements and the ominous rumblings. This black humour continues even after the interval, when we see the devastation caused by the Bomb.
The meticulous kitchen/living room/garden set, with its cupboards, fridge, sofa, pictures, ornaments, etc has become blackened and scorched (even the plants in the garden). The set-builders were given a difficult task and, once again, showed their craftsmanship. The backstage crew work tirelessly throughout: the props list and changes must be endless! Lighting and effects are many and, as usual, technically perfect.
The performances (a two-hander is very demanding) are tours de force. Barry Nicholls shows Jim to be determined to do ‘the correct thing’; gentle with his uncomprehending wife, the only time he raises his voice is when he has to force her into the shelter: a believable portrayal of a dogged man. We know from experience that Lesley Warburton is very good, and this time she is superb: her voice and body language convey a cliché of a housewife, concerned about her cushions and curtains, ignorant of the world, scolding and helping her husband at the same time.
Donnamarie’s inclusion of official announcements, the music at the start and end, and the pace of the production, with its bustling beginning and slow, sad conclusion, give us a sensitive interpretation of the story and its strong political message. She has directed a hugely talented team and given RLT audiences a play to remember.
Reviewed by Christina Jones, March 2019.
A play by Gareth Armstrong
Gareth Armstrong’s Fondly Remembered features four former colleagues, all theatricals, who meet to arrange the memorial service of a recently deceased, once very close, colleague of whom they have mixed memories. Despite its dark subject matter, the play is actually quite light-hearted with the relationships and back-stories between these old friends at the forefront of the action. I say action, but this is in fact a play that is more about the words and the slow unfolding of the characters’’ mishaps, misdemeanours and memories.
There were many moments of subtle surprise, for example, when the vicar (played very convincingly and warmly by David Cox) reveals he only found God after a highly successful career in the city and that it is his Porsche parked outside!
I thought the direction by Alan Mitchell was slick and unfussy, which made for comfortable viewing and the casting was perfect.
As well as the unassuming Tom the vicar (who by the way, gives us a real feelgood ending to the play), we also have a cranky has-been actor, Don, (played very believably by Simon Warner) with a bee in his bonnet about pretty much everything. Some of his put-downs are great! There’s our flamboyant Barrie who can’t stop alluding to his much younger, richer, Russian husband (played with the perfect amount of camp by Julian Roberts). Then we have Zoe, a stereotypical theatre luvvie, played expertly and comically by Gaby Hardwick. I loved her constant malapropisms! Finally, Cressida is the OCD-esque stage manager, who rallies the troops and organises the events; a character excellently portrayed by Millie Satchell.
A special mention to lighting and set. I loved the stained glass effect at the beginning of the show and the realism of the set was outstanding. To make a dreary, back-room of a church look so realistic is no mean feat; from the damp patches and the curled edges of the paper on the noticeboard to the stacked chairs and hints of old Christmas decorations, I really appreciated the attention to detail.
Reviewed by Victoria Evans, January 2019
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
A play by Jim Cartwright
First and foremost, this is a must see; a wonderful show from start to finish, produced expertly by Donnamarie Stamp with a superb cast. The play itself is beautifully written by multi-award winning playwright Jim Cartwright.
As the curtains opened, the audience had a great set to feast their eyes upon; a living room, fully working kitchen, an upstairs and as revealed later in the play, a section of wall that opened to show outdoor scenes. There was a sense of realism with the clutter in the Kitchen, the 80s décor and props, the lighting effects which showed several power cuts very convincingly and the sound effects and music. This was a real collective effort by the whole production team to make all of these effects work so well.
I was thoroughly impressed by the whole cast too. LV was the perfect role for Lesley Harris who, with a stunning singing voice, was able to perform so many songs in so many styles; her final performance being an impressive treat for the audience. On top of this she played the timid victim excellently. Frank Stamp as Ray Say was absolutely convincing as the manipulative, small-time manager. He was sleazy but sweet, determined but thoughtful. I thought both his brutal show-down with Mari and his final scene were brilliant; gritty, emotional and brave. Sarah Mullins as Sadie, the almost mute neighbour was hilarious! To make a character with very little lines such a great one takes skill, so hats off! Alan Pattenden as Mr Boo was a perfect casting; his scenes as the club host were very rousing. Scott Ord, playing Billy, had his debut on the stage and I thought he did a lovely job. The relationship between himself and LV was really sweet. John Mitchell played LV’s late father, and although this was a small role, it was a significant one and I actually cried when he stood in the audience overlooking her final club performance. A great touch.
I have saved Joan Young till last as she played the part of Mari Hoff, the boozy, selfish mother of LV, to an absolute T. What a triumph! I could easily imagine Joan on a professional stage. Every line was delivered with punch, pace and passion and she embraced the character from head to toe. She made us laugh, cry and screw our faces in disgust, all in one speech! I loved watching her perform and Joan, along with the rest of the cast, the wonderful set and production qualities, made this one of my favourite shows.
Well done RLT.
A play by David J Harrison
Waylaid by David J Harrison is a play, on the surface, about three different walking parties, part way through their hike of the Pennine Way. They have stopped at ‘The Hall’, a privately-run hostel, to bed down for the night. However, this is actually a comedy farce about love rivalry, mistaken identities and sweet revenge. I thought this was written expertly by a local writer with a great set of characters, a plot with twists and turns, and a lot of laughs. Well done to Frank Stamp who produced the piece, and all the technical and backstage team, for bringing it all to life so successfully for the audience.
The play opened with a silhouette of a hiker in the doorway of the hostel, in a heroic pose, and along with the Star Wars theme music, this instantly set the mood for a fun night ahead.
First of all, we met William Hooke and Sam Knight, brothers-in-law who are on the walk raising money for charity. The sour relationship between these two is quickly captured in a humorous way; David Underwood plays William perfectly; with a sense of self-righteousness and chauvinism. Frank Stamp plays Sam with a wonderful sense of wit and warmth. We then met the stoic owner of the hostel Mrs Keele who was convincingly and perfectly played by Angela Ingall who portrayed this hard faced, strong naval lady and then later, I loved drunk Mrs Keele even better!
Another pair of walkers to arrive were Erica and Liz, a friendship played well by Donnamarie Stamp and Maxine Goldstone. Erica quickly realises that William is an old flame who left her for money, she and Liz then conjure a plan to seek revenge and this is where hilarity ensued! The plan included the loveable Dick and Dora, played adorably by David Cox and Gaby Hardwick. A long standing, married couple who have never had a night apart, their showy love and sickly-sweet words to each other were really funny. A highlight was the appearance of Dick in matching nightwear to Dora (all part of Erica’s plan). To complete the cast of hikers we also had Chino, played by James Gill who made some of the funniest moments really stand out for the audience.
Eventually, the plan comes together and all the wrongs that William has done to his ex-flame and his brother-in-law are put to right as he sits in his boxers, tied to a chair. The cast leave the stage, William declares that it can’t get much worse, cue a drunk Mrs Keele in a fetching nightgown ready to seduce the tied-up William. A great finish to a witty and clever play.
Reviewed by Victoria Evans, March 2018.
The Perfect Murder
A play by Peter James
Is there really such a thing as a perfect murder? The stage adaption of Peter James’ best-selling crime thriller, The Perfect Murder, playing at the Retford Little Theatre, asks that very question. This was a plot so full of twists and turns, you would be forgiven for thinking you were at Alton Towers. I thought I knew what was going on, and then bam, another plot twist threw everything into a new, hilarious focus.
The plot centred around Joan and Victor Smiley, a couple married for twenty years, who had lost all love for each other. Their relationship was portrayed expertly by Donnamarie and Frank Stamp; it was complicated and believable and their sharp snaps and retorts had the audience laughing as they bickered in the way many married couples do. As this was a dark comedy, they were able to mix moments of humour, with moments of drama and fear; the climactic end scene being a triumph.
Victor took out a life insurance policy on Joan years ago and had been plotting her murder, along with his Croatian prostitute, Kamila Walcak, played very convincingly by Tracey Stafford, ever since. Meanwhile, we discovered Joan was having an affair with Don Kirk (hilariously and loveably played by David Taylor). The moment we discovered this twist, part of the back of the stage slid open to reveal a hidden upstairs bedroom – this was ingenious and prompted a gasp of amazement in the audience! Well done set team for creating such a creative space. We also had detective Roy Grace, played with ease by Julian Roberts, who uses Kamila’s psychic gifts to locate murder victims. The relationship between these two was quite sweet, which made the outcome all the more unexpected.
I thought this was a great play, acted with humour, pace and good characterisation. I enjoyed watching the plot unfold and being surprised by both the story and the stage and technical elements. Well done to everyone involved and especially to producer Robert Warburton for putting on such a dynamic piece.
In case you ever have the opportunity to watch this play, I don’t want to ruin the ending, but who has murdered who by the end? The answer is most surprising!
Reviewed by Victoria Evans, January 2018.
A play by Thornton Wilder
With four big location changes, a cast of 16 and a plot full of physical humour and fast paced dialogue, The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder was a real challenge for producer Liz Williams, but meet the challenge she did!
Being the first night, I could almost feel the nerves bouncing around the auditorium in those first few scenes, and it took a few pages of the script for both the actors and the audience to relax. Once they got into the flow, it was great fun to watch and the witty, clever script was allowed to flourish.
The plot followed a wealthy merchant of ‘Yonkers’ in New York in 1800 who decided to employ a matchmaker to find him a wife. The matchmaker finds herself involved with his two clerks, a couple of young ladies, a head waiter, a cab driver…to name but a few. In the end, after many farcical goings on, Vandergelder the merchant (played charismatically and humorously by Dave Cavell), falls for the Matchmaker herself.
Two new faces on the RLT stage were James Mackinder playing Barnaby and Anna Phillipson playing Minnie, both of whom brought energy and charisma to the piece. They really engaged with the audience, were confident and threw everything into their characters. Ermengarde was played well by Keri Duffy and her mannerisms and voice really captured the girl’s naivety. Sarah Woodwards is always a strong performer and she didn’t let us down with her portrayal of Mrs Levi. Some of my favourite moments were during the ‘double act’ scenes between Barnaby (James Mackinder) and Cornelius (Mike Pinkerton), I thought these two performers sparked off each other, and I am sure as the run continues, this will grow even more. A special mention to Hayley Brook who played Miss Van Huysen and Phil Underwood who played Malachi, both of whom gave very convincing performances. Derek Green and Tracey Stafford also gave strong performances and with some hilarious cameos played by Mal Pike, Mark Thornton, Peter Lindley, Angel King (who played the violin expertly), Betty Teanby and Sarah Carter-Bowden, this was a cast to be reckoned with.
Bravo to all the technical and construction team as they too had a huge challenge in making the piece work smoothly. It was impressive to see how the set was re-vamped for each change of location. Personally speaking, I am not a fan of long waits while set changes occur, but with the use of music and the curtain, they worked well.
A good farce, well performed. Well done to all involved.
Reviewed by Victoria Evans, November 2017.
A play by Donald Churchill
The Decorator is a classic English farce with a plot, courtesy of actor and playwright Donald Churchill, that promises to keep the audience on the edge of their seat and their bellies ready for a good old laugh. Producer, Joan Young, managed to provide the audience with a great evening of entertainment; a fun story with physical humour in abundance, good comic actors and technical aspects which ensured everything looked and sounded fitting.
The play is set in an upper-class London flat during one day in August 1985 and as I always find to be the case at The Little Theatre, the set and the attention to detail, depicted this very well. My only criticism of the set design is that quite often the furniture got in the way of the action; there were too many big moments acted out behind the sofa!
Apart from this however, I really enjoyed performances from all three cast members: Sarah Woodwards who played Marcia, the adulterous wife who desperately needed to hide her infidelity; Mark Thornton, who played Walter, the decorator himself, who we later discover is an actor as a very convenient side line and Stephanie Lee who played Jane, the wife of Marcia’s secret lover, who arrives to spill the beans.
The pace and humour passed between these three actors expertly and I felt in very good hands as I watched the plot unfold. Highlights for me included Marcia’s reaction to her ‘new’ husband’s moustache, Walter’s Othello speech in his affected actor’s voice and Jane’s seduction of said ‘new’ husband.
I know how difficult it is to make lighting look naturalistic while still lighting the actors favourably, so hats off to Peter Round and Stephen Walker for achieving this. Also, the sound provided by David Cox and Dean Woolley was seamless and I loved the piano music; I was convinced at first that Marcia really was playing the piano! Well done too to the stage management team; I appreciate all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make a show go smoothly, and smooth it was.
Overall, The Decorator provided a good night’s entertainment as proven by the audience, who were laughing and chuckling all the way through.
Reviewed by Victoria Evans, September 2017.