An Abingdon, Oxfordshire, Drama Group                .
NODA Review
When We Are Married  by JB Priestley                  .
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BreakaLeg Productions             .

Thank you to Deidre Jones for the very kind invitation to review the latest presentation from BreakaLeg Productions the J.B. Priestley classic When We are Married. It is always such a pleasure to attend a production by this talented and always evolving company in the wonderful setting of the picturesque Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon.

The crux of the story is of course that twenty-five years ago, Alderman Joseph and Maria Helliwell,,, Councillor Albert and Annie  Parker and Herbert and Clara Soppitt are married on the same day in the same chapel and by the same person. They have now gathered at the Helliwell home to celebrate their joint silver wedding anniversaries. These staunch West Riding chapel folk, who are local pillars of the community, have summoned the new chapel organist Gerald Forbes to reprimand him for courting an unidentified young lady (who happens to be the niece of the upstanding Alderman Helliwell). To their consternation, as the conversation to rebuke him unfolds it transpires that he recently met the person who conducted the triple wedding ceremony, and who, because of a technicality, was not authorised to do so. Pandemonium breaks out when the three couples discover to their horror they have been ‘living in sin’ for twenty-five years. The couples reel from the news and try to decide how they feel about the twenty-five year commitment they've made to one another and even question whether they should have been, or even if they should remain, married.

This was a cast of strong principal players with some excellent supporting performances particularly from newcomers Lauren Carter who gave a spirited performance as the cheeky maid Ruby and Georgia Brennan-Scott as the love sick niece, Nancy. These two young actors really made an impression with their confident and believable performances. Just one small point to remember that good diction and projection are very important even in a tiny theatre like the Unicorn. There were times when I struggled to hear the early dialogue although this greatly improved as I imagine both of you grew in confidence. You both managed your very different accents with aplomb. Well done!

Chris Harris appeared towards the end of the play as the Reverend Clement Mercer with an amusing turn as a slightly dotty vicar.

David Farndon gave an assured performance as Gerald Forbes the new organist who delivers the bad news which I thought he did with considerable relish! David has a clear and precise manner when delivering his dialogue which suited the character perfectly. He certainly looked like he was enjoying playing this role very much. Very good diction and projection was also firmly in evidence.

Jo Sokolowski almost stole the show as the hard bitten plain speaking house keeper Mrs. Northrop. This was a great characterisation with plenty of good comedy timing and some very funny facial expressions. A well maintained accent rounded off a memorable performance. She almost got a round of applause as she stomped off after rowing with her employers and telling them exactly what she thought of them.  Congratulations!

Edmund Bennett played the tipsy photographer from the local paper with considerable skill never allowing the depiction of being drunk to slip into caricature.  Some dialogue was delivered rather quickly but this may have been part of the characterisation or the fact that he had considerable trouble making the decidedly wobbly tripod stand up!! I was impressed with his tenacity and it indeed remained upright! A very well maintained and convincing accent and some good comic timing all added to this impressive performance.

Mike Varnon impressed as the prudish, self-important know-all Alderman Joseph Helliwell.  This was a strong and convincing portrayal and his consternation at the news that he may have not be married was tangible. Mike used the stage well and was always aware of his positioning and the interaction with the other actors was good. I liked his accent, which sounded very authentic, an outstanding performance!

Viv Beckett was also on good form as his long-suffering wife Maria. This was an excellent portrayal.   Maria’s frustrations, pretentions and barely concealed anger were beautifully realised in this sensitive characterisation.  Viv’s diction and projection were first class and she used the stage well - as if this was, and had been, her home for many years.

Rich Damerell was very good as the cantankerous and complaining Councillor Albert Parker. He captured the essence of this faintly unpleasant and disagreeable man perfectly. I noticed that Rich has great powers of projection and really the delivery of his lines was a joy to listen to. He interacted well with the other cast members and the ‘chemistry’ with his ‘mousey’ wife was very well handled. This was a completely convincing characterisation of which I thick Rich should be suitably proud.

Councillor Parker’s mousy and timid wife Annie was played well by Ellen Phelips. This was a well-judged characterisation and the way she turned the tables on her over-bearing husband was a joy to watch.  The icy rift that opened up between them was captured beautifully. Ellen looked very much the part and used the stage well.  I would have liked there to have been a little more projection as some dialogue was lost but this did not detract from an overall splendid performance. The accent was well maintained and was very believable.

 

Herbert Soppitt was played by the dependable Jim Cottrell.  This was a wonderfully under-played interpretation of a hen-pecked husband, definitely under the thumb of his wife, Clara.  Jim’s comic timing and dead pan facial expressions were spot on. He also surprised us (and maybe himself) by suddenly showing us a new side to the character as he stood up to his bossy wife. I really liked this performance and Jim obviously had a ball playing this character. Excellent diction and good projection ensured we heard every word.

The nagging and over-bearing wife Clara Soppitt was played well by Mirja Boyd.  She was the perfect match for Herbert and they must have had great fun during rehearsals. Mirja captured the bossy and prudish Clara with precision. A very convincing accent with good diction and projection rounded off an accomplished performance.

Completing the thirteen strong cast was Sarah Enticknap as Lottie Grady a lady of dubious credentials and one whom Alderman Helliwell would have definitely preferred to have remained in the past as she arrived to spill the beans about a triste in Blackpool. Sarah was very good and commanded the stage with her strong presence.  Sarah captured the character well and maintained a believable and consistent accent. Again good diction and projection were strong features of this performance. Well done!

Director:
Director Deidre Jones did a wonderful job with some memorable performances from her largely experienced and very capable cast.  The action was well paced with just a slight lull in the proceedings when Ruby and Ormonroyd are left to discuss the ensuing confusion as he becomes increasingly inebriated. The entrances and exits worked well and the characterisations were strong and well delivered. I thought the Northern accents were particularly convincing (being a Northerner myself!)
The confines of the Unicorn meant that every space and movement had to be carefully planned and thought through which had certainly been the case in this production.

Sound/Lighting
Mike Davies on the sound desk wasn’t kept too busy but the chosen music was entirely suitable for the production perfectly evoking the period while Reg Berry’s simple but effective lighting design added atmosphere and gave the production the desired ‘look’ and ensured all the necessary parts of the stage were illuminated.

Make-up and hair:
The hair and make-up looked very good and in keeping with the period of the production. I feel it might be have been wiser to have all the ladies in period wigs to give that overall ‘Victorian’ look.

Set Design:
The set looked very effective and being a one set play there were no complicated changes to be made between acts.  I’m always amazed at how the BreakaLeg production team manage to utilise the very small amount of available space to such good effect.  The period setting and dressing of the set looked impressive and the depth and perspective made for a realistic appearance. The various entrances and exits cleverly using the Unicorns tricky topography worked well and created a realistic feeling of a Victorian middle class home. The period ‘gramophone’ was the icing on the cake!

Props:
The props assembled by Angela Fitzgerald (who also doubled as stage manager so a very busy lady indeed) looked in period and were handled with dexterity by the cast.  The pouring and consuming of drinks on stage can be a mine field of potential disasters but the quite regular consumption of ‘port wine’ was handled very well indeed.  I liked the fake cigarette being ‘lit’ from the ‘candles’ - most effective.  The gramophone was a particularly striking addition to the set decoration as well as being a very suitable and effective looking ‘prop’.

Costumes:
The costumes co-ordinated by director Deidre Jones and Freda Scott looked very good and were mostly representative of the era.  I thought that Lottie’s skirt was maybe a little too short for the period. The gentleman all looked splendid in their various costumes though I would probably have given Gerald a more formal and less ‘showy’ cravat.  Shoes looked good and all the costumes fitted well.

Programme:
The programme was well laid out with some interesting facts about the author and the play itself as well as the usual cast biographies.  I like the cast rehearsal photographs with annotated names.

Finally, thank you BreakaLeg Productions and everyone associated with the production for a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment and I look forward to hopefully being invited to your next production.

With very best wishes,
Rob Bertwistle

Regional Representative     
District 12     
NODA     
London

 

 

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