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Private Lives

I had the pleasure, a few days ago, of chatting to a friend whom I hadn’t seen for a few years, one with a long association with amateur theatre, notably as actor and director. He brought up the subject of reviewing productions and explained his own stance: that he turned down requests to do so on the grounds that anything he might write would be just his point of view so why should anyone be interested or pay any attention to it. It struck me that, on such a basis, one would never do anything in life, whether it be to act, direct, engage in conversation, participate in any sport or form of entertainment, engage in conversation or debate, or … well, anything. My own approach is to try to be honest, constructive and specific while trusting that any reader will read what I have to say on his/her own terms and be perceptive enough to recognise it as merely one set of judgements, to be valued or discarded. The same applies surely to what anyone ever commits to words: a speech, a novel, a love-letter or anything.

It’s good to be able to acknowledge and celebrate the arrival on the local theatre scene of a new theatre group, the more so given that they have apparently helped the Verwood Hub extend the range of entertainments offered to include live theatre. It will certainly be interesting to watch the group as it develops and I look forward to future productions.

The Merryfield Theatre was not the easiest of venues to which to bring this production, given the breadth of the stage itself and the lack of intimacy given the distance from stage to front row relative to the auditorium’s overall size. Nevertheless, Friday evening’s performance was well-supported and enthusiastically received. Director and, along with the two male leads in this production, company co-founder Anne Ponting exercises a steady and controlling hand over a cast who give pretty consistently satisfying performances.

A simple, skeletal set effectively created the background for the opening act – that one set on the adjoining balconies – while Paul Stillwell and Anne Ponting’s staging of the two subsequent acts was even better judged. Crinkled posters as panoramas through the windows were the least convincing elements of both sets and could have been dispensed with given the tasteful and well-positioned and coordinated furnishing for both locations.

As Elyot Chase, fellow co-founder Paul Stilwell captures the louche nature of his character, clearly relishing some of Coward’s most enjoyable and deceptively casual lines. He is at his best when most energetically infuriating, or, as with the final act ‘coffee scene’, indignant. The last of the founding triumvirate, Danny DeLyons, provides clarity of contrast as Victor Prynne, newly-married to Elyot’s former wife, Amanda, nicely encapsulating Victor’s rather staid, caricature-inviting, upright Englishman. Andrea Cutler, too, exploits some too-good-to-miss opportunities as the feisty Amanda. All three, no doubt with careful directorial prompting, avoid allowing their productions to fall into Cowardesque parody although, for much of the time, especially in the second act, languid strayed into lacklustre: more energy, more pace and greater variation in delivery, interplay and vocal pitch would have been welcome.

Completing the married-divorced-married quartet of characters around whom the play revolves is Terri Spencer as Sibyl Chase, newly-married and totally out of her depth (the character that most definitely is, not the actress) amid the tempestuous marital cut-and-thrust in which she finds herself. Hers was, for me, the most consistently satisfying performance of the production (although my wife felt that that accolade belonged to Paul Stillwell, which helps give a balanced critique), not least in her well-judged histrionics in the closing moments, the effectiveness of which helped make all that was happening around her all the more convincing. Hers was certainly an impressive acting début, doubtless helped by director and more experienced cast-members. Finally, the director’s husband, Alan Ponting, himself very experienced on stage, provides a drôlely enjoyable cameo as manservant Louis, managing this alongside his duties as prompt – necessaire qu’une seule fois au début.

One or two technical glitches, including those between stage blackout and houselights, along with a reluctant gramophone apart, apart, the production seemed to adjust well to unfamiliar surroundings although there were times when the balance between dialogue and (important) background music needed adjustment, the volume of the latter becoming rather irritating, especially early in Act One.

Overall, an enjoyable performance.