Until the virus-induced hiatus, which struck both professional and amateur theatre in 2020 and ’21, Broadstone’s Plays ‘n’ Chips was an annual event which mixed some beginning (or lapsed) players with some seasoned performers in a relaxed presentation of short, one act plays or sketches. The laudable objective was to nurture some new talent with decent parts in relatively short and easy pieces – usually comedies – without them having to serve an apprenticeship as ‘2nd Spear Carrier’ for two seasons before getting a speaking part. Some of those beginners from previous shows have gone on to become regular performers – both at Broadstone and elsewhere.
Tonight’s production is a welcome return to the formula – but there are actually no new players this year – these are all more-or-less familiar faces. The quid pro quo is that this year we have three new directors – not new to amateur theatre but each making their directorial debut (or so I am told).
The first of this year’s ‘playlets’ is Anger Management by Robert Scott and is directed by Hannah Tointon. This is a five-hander, which features Val Smith in a very confident role as the therapist and Alan Dester, Suzanne Viney, Fiona Richards and Paul Stocker as the angry therapees (is that a real word?) in an ‘Anger Management Therapy Session. The piece is well chosen as a good vehicle for character cameos, as each person acts out their own particular reasons for being angry – and then maintains that characterisation throughout. There is lots of humour, and the props and stage management are effectively handled (by the cast themselves) on this small stage. One of the characters mentions that he has a black eye but we can’t see it from the audience – darker make-up is needed.
Another part of the traditional formula, which makes Plays ‘n’ Chips such an enduring favourite, is the meal of fish and chips (sausage or vegetarian options are available) which happens at this point in the show. The meal gives the audience a chance to get to know the other people at their table, to get another drink from the bar or to buy some raffle tickets and generally adds to the relaxed and informal nature of the evening. I have never been to one of the matinées – but in the afternoons a Cream Tea is served rather than a Fish Supper; presumably the effect is the same. My tip: if you are there for the evening show, take your own cutlery, as the wooden ones provided are not very effective.
Number two in the line-up of three this year is A Tale of Two Spectators by Peter Manos, directed by Paul Senitt. Sali Pike and Chris Kemp are well cast and give excellent performances, as they team up (with a pair of opera glasses) to watch their respective spouses carrying on an office lunchtime affair with each other. It is just a two-hander, played forward to the auditorium – the affair taking place somewhere among or behind the audience. It is great fun to watch and these two actors give it their all to great effect. I have two minor criticisms insofar that Chris Kemp’s conspiratorial tone may be a little too quiet for some members of the audience to hear and, for some reason to do with lighting or make-up, Sali’s face sometimes appears to be pale green.
Last, but not least, is A Cut in the Rates, which is directed by that same Sali Pike, whom we saw spying on her husband just now. Amanda Senitt was one of the beginners in a Plays ‘n’ Chips that I reviewed back in 2016 and I have seen her in a few things since. The part of Miss Pickhart from the Council suits her here and she is well complemented by Colin Pile, as Ratchet, and Lesley James in this amusing short by Alan Ayckbourn. I can’t say too much about it without giving away the plot and its twists – but it rounds off the evening nicely.
The shows – all three of them – run again tomorrow (10 September) in a matinée (with Cream Tea) at 2.15pm and then at 7.30pm (with Fish Supper) and then next Friday (16 September) and Saturday (17 September) in the evenings only. Productions at the Broadstone War Memorial Hall always manage to evoke a friendly, community atmosphere; you can have a drink (evenings only) from the licensed bar and, in the case of these shows, if you discount the value of the meal, the entertainment costs hardly anything.