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One Last Card Trick

The Wikipedia entry for Kinson begins with the words “Kinson is a former village which has been absorbed by the town of Bournemouth” and such is the case – as also with many other villages across the conurbation. The Kinson Community Centre at Pelhams Park, however, retains the look and feel of a village institution: there are classes and community activities going on in every room; there are books for sale, bread for sale, pottery and bric-a-brac for sale – all, as far as I can see, on an “honesty box” basis. There is a nice little bar/café and everyone seems to know each other. In spite of this, there has always been a friendly welcome to an outsider, such as I, who drops in once or twice a year to see a play. Most importantly, for the purposes of this review, there is a nice little theatre and an active and accomplished theatrical group – the KCA Players.

One Last Card Trick is a situational comedy by Stewart Permutt, who (I read) has written numerous plays for radio, film and theatre, many of which feature Jewish themes and protagonists. This is the only production I have been to where the programme has included a loose-leaf insertion containing some explanatory notes about certain Yiddish words which might not be familiar to some audiences. As a sometime modern languages graduate I had a head start but the notes are, nevertheless, useful.

The setting, described as a “Friendship Club in the basement of a synagogue in London’s West End”, is familiar as that kind of slightly dilapidated church hall or church annexe, in which parishioners meet for coffee and biscuits after a service or (as in this case) for a weekly card game. The game in question here is Kalooki, a variant of Rummy played with 2 packs of cards and 2 jokers. I note this not because it has any particular relevance to the plot, but because I have played a lot of card games and I knew it wasn’t one that I have played.

We open in early July, when there are rumours that the Shul (synagogue) is to be sold for redevelopment, and the play then moves on through the months as the ladies stage an occupation of the building to try to preserve the heart of their community. The gentle, light-hearted, comedy is punctuated by some rather good but occasionally quite vulgar jokes and comments by Hetty, in which part Jane Wright carries the weight of the dialogue with great comic timing. She also evokes pathos as her dementia sets in; vulgarity and rudeness can be symptoms of dementia and she exhibits both to great effect (sensitive members of the audience beware!). Annie Robertson’s performance as the restless and socially inept Loretta, who constantly tugs at the bottom of her cardigan, is worth watching for its understated brilliance; her inept, skipping cha-cha-chá is, likewise, a joy to behold. Helen Johns has some good comic lines as the well-to-do, snobbish but kindly Magda; I have no large experience of Jewish accents, but hers was consistently the most evident. The elderly, but active and kindly, Sophie is the straight-part, the foil to the eccentricities of the others; Carole Willison well portrays her idealistic, but ultimately futile, determination to protect the Shul, while also trying to keep the group together.

There was some indistinct off-stage dialogue during the rather confusing, dark, empty-stage sequence at the start of Act II. Had we been able to hear what was being said then it might have been more obvious what was happening. There were also some inexplicably long and noisy scene changes – puzzling as there didn’t seem to be a lot to change. On the other hand, the right stage / left stage split action between Sophie and Hetty in the kitchen and Magda and Loretta in the hall is well handled, as also is the spotlight scene in which Hetty reveals that she is losing her marbles.

The standard of acting and performance by these four experienced hands (I have seen and reviewed them all before) is universally good and, at only £8.50, this show is well-deserving of a good audience for the remaining performances. It runs again at 7.30pm on Thursday 28 – Saturday 30 November. See it if you can!