Plays ’n’ Chips enables new or inexperienced members of Broadstone Players to take to the stage, so the usual criteria for casting, and thus audience expectations, don’t apply. On this occasion, two of the evening’s three one-acts also had first-time directors.
The evening begins with Martin Downey’s Out for the Count, a Dracula spoof. Such plays might seem ideal for newcomers but they contain a greater challenge. In order to parody, you need first to be able to do it straight – and with self-belief. This particular performance lacks pace and confidence, jokes becoming laboured, forced or lost. Learning to play comedy successfully is not easy for the beginner, but a fair number among a good-sized audience found plenty at which to laugh.
Of three newcomers, Andrew Murton (Professor Hertz Van Hyer) seems, despite one or two well-taken prompts, relatively at ease while Anna Rigby (Lucy) became increasingly so: both should now grow in confidence. Nathan Hickson, as Rennet, draws something of a short straw for his début, being required to crawl about and giggle manically. More confidence with the physicality might make the ‘funny voice’ funnier. All three would benefit from more assertive playing from the more experienced cast-members, among whom Michelle Barter (Mina) and Val Smith (Constance Sewer) give reasonably confident performances while Fiona Richards (Bridget) sustains her Irish accent and brings greater liveliness to the stage. Moves and dialogue seem laboured, however, and it would benefit from firmer, more demanding direction. A reduction in the tendency, particularly evident here, to play too many lines straight out to the audience would also help.
Post-supper, much appreciated and enjoyed, come two two-handers, both by Jean McConnell. Last Post introduces a much more reflective mood, at times poignant, at times … well, I won’t give it away! The introspective opening could challenge the confidence of some more experienced actors. Newcomer Jane Adams meets the challenges with apparent ease. Assured in an interesting and challenging role, her performance belies her apparent inexperience. (I’m not sure whether ‘new’ means new to this group or completely new to the stage: if the latter, her performance is even more praiseworthy.) Her characterisation of recently-widowed Felicity avoids clichés, overplaying or other pitfalls, the quiet dignity, moments of assertiveness and realisation all sensitively judged. Rebbecca Macdowall (Mary), another newcomer, although needing several first-night prompts, took them without hint of being unsettled. Poised, perhaps somewhat stiffer than the part demands, she plays well against Jane Adams. Both actors acquit themselves very well, as, certainly, does Jill Darling whose achievement as first-time director does her great credit. She and her two actors hold the interest throughout.
Cruise Missile ends the evening with plenty of laughter. Newcomer Gay Wood’s Janet, a late-in-life, first-time cruise ship passenger, is a laconic delight and has the audience with her from the start. As her unwanted companion, Amanda Senitt seizes the initiative instantly, giving a performance full of (exhausting) energy and self-confidence. The two actors play delightfully off each other so that, with the aid of Fee Stewart’s unfussy first-time direction, the play is a delight, drawing much well-deserved laughter from the first-night audience.
Well done to all concerned, especially to the two first-time directors and to Jane Adams, Gay Wood and Amanda Senitt for the three stand-out performances within a fun evening. Credit goes, too, to the simple, effective sets and unobtrusive technical support. There are further performances on September 8 and 9.