It’s a lovely venue the War Memorial Hall in Broadstone; it looks like a giant Nissen Hut left over from the war but it isn’t. It is a great memorial. As far as I can tell, Broadstone Players have been staging plays there since 1957. They have a long history that goes even further back.
The curtains opened onto a great set, complete with Cuckoo Clock and started off with great pace. I was a little disappointed that the radio sound was coming from full stage speakers with no attempt to make it sound like it was on the small radio on stage.
The play is classic Ray Cooney with mistaken and swapped briefcases, invented identities and fictitious family members, bent coppers, Mr Nasty and the threat of even nastier Mr Big; it is a farce in genre and farcical by nature. It is a very funny, very clever play.
Julie Sissons as Jean, was brilliant. I often think of actors being “present” in the moment or sometimes “absent” when we’re not quite on our game; maybe thinking of something else, maybe thinking “what the hell is my next line?”. Jean’s descent from calm, collected middle class suburban wife to thoroughly pickled drunkenness was an object lesson in acting drunk.
I remember seeing an interview with Michael Caine after the film Educating Rita came out talking about his director’s challenge after his first attempt at playing drunk on set. The director berated him for creating a caricature drunk asking (apparently), “is that really how you behave when you’re drunk?”.
I suppose what I’m saying is that there must be congruity between action and words. Our actors, if they’re to be believed or believable must not do and say things in a way that jar. That’s certainly true of a straight play, perhaps it’s even more true of a farce where everything else verges on the ridiculous. It is this quality that Julie brought to Jean. It was there for Bill the taxi driver (Calum Hearne), whom I thought was superbly believable, and Vic (Kevin Sissons) who looked genuinely bewildered most of the time.
Anyway, I’ve thought about this all night long because, whilst it is a very funny play and I, along with rest of the large audience had a really good laugh, I couldn’t help feeling there was something missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. After a cracking start the play seemed to lose its edge and lose its way.
It felt like the play had been rehearsed from beginning to end at every rehearsal but they never got to the end, so it started off well and as it progressed lines seemed to be harder to find, directions started to show and everything started to get a little incongruent. There was a classic little bit when Henry opened the case to discover he’d got the wrong one. It was as though he been directed to – open the case, give a casual look expecting to see the money, do a double take when it’s not there, shut the case, open the case, repeat. Sadly, Henry got muddled and before opening the case broadcast to the audience what he was going to find, then opened the case and did some stuff.
The prompt got a fine workout but it seemed she might be reading from a different script because the actors didn’t often pick up what she said except for one memorable prompt near the end that the cast made something of to the delight of the audience.
Overall it seems a little under rehearsed which won’t help first night nerves at all. Consequently some people were struggling for lines which I think was responsible for that slightly uncomfortable edge the evening held for me.
Having got that one under their belt I’m sure the rest of the performances will sparkle as they should with this cracklingly funny play.
Don’t get me wrong, it probably sounds like I didn’t enjoy it; I did, and I think you will too.