A Carol's Christmas

Date 6th December 2019
Society Barton Players
Venue Barton-le-Clay Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Keith Badham & Alan Baldwin
Producer Keith Badham

Report

Author: Richard Fitt

Barton Players are a group who are much on the up. They are a village hall group punching well above their weight, being vibrant, enthusiast, inventive, brave, run a thriving summer school for kids, have very talented and dedicated leadership,  and, as in the case of A Carol’s Christmas are not afraid to write and present their own home grown shows.

Written by Barton Player’s own Keith Badham and directed by Keith and Alan Baldwin ‘A Carol’s Christmas’ was described on the advertising as ‘A gentle comedy, perfect for the time of year.’ It centres around Carol Fowler, a slightly neurotic. divorced single mum bordering on middle age as she prepares for the arrival of the family for Christmas. Her immediate family include Donna, her stroppy early twenty something daughter who hardly lifts her head up from her phone to help, her gentlemanly father, Richard trying to keep her feet on the ground whilst at the same time coping with the loss of his wife/Carol’s mother earlier in the year, and Sally, her best friend, who does her best to help her friend through the ensuing chaos of family rifts and prejudices.  The visiting family and friends include, her ex-husband and Donna’s father, Gavin, her self-centred, borderline alcoholic sister Chrissy and her husband, Nick together with their own teenage son, Stewart.  The party is completed by the wheelchair bound next door-neighbour, Jack and his put-upon carer Dave.  When Donna suddenly announces she is pregnant, and Stewart chooses the same moment to tell the family he is gay the prejudices and true nature of the family members all come to the surface. Carol’s only solace is a letter she discovers amongst the Christmas decorations from her late mother offering some sensible and very moving advice on how to cope with everything. Add into the mix the arrival of the local WI committee, which brings to light that the email giving her the responsibility to organise the nativity play for the local church had landed unread in her SPAM folder some weeks earlier, its therefore all family hands brought kicking and screaming to the pump to cast and perform for that very evening’s show.

The one room box set was Carol’s living room furnished with a two arm chairs and a table centre, with a sofa television area to stage right and a study stage left with its own doorway, where Carol would go to read her late mother’s letter, a rear door to the kitchen with the Christmas tree positioned next to it and a staircase leading to the bedrooms, upstage left. Lighting and sound by Keith and Adam Bowie respectively set the scenes perfectly and scene changes were well stage managed by Rebecca Louise Smith and Debbie Radcliffe.

Costumes were a joint effort by the cast, some of which were absolutely brilliant when it came to the nativity outfits and were much appreciated by the audience.

Kirsty Badham as Carol Fowler carried the play well, showing a large range of emotions and deft talent for comedy, with some lovely pathos with her reactions to her mother’s letter. Nicely done.

Rachel Bowie as Donna Fowler was the stroppy twenty something whom we can all recognise, annoying to the point you want to strangle her, through to the vulnerable pregnant girl lost in a sea of her own emotions.

Harold Liberty, as Richard Fowler was probably everybody’s favourite character, a sort of cross between a wise and a bumbling old man. He definitely had some of the best one liners.

Katie Westwick as Sally Hook was the voice of sanity and reason whilst Christine Ayres (celebrating a certain milestone birthday that night!) was the complete opposite as the slightly overbearing, self-centred sister. The very experienced Mick George as her husband Nick struggled with his son’s revelation of his sexuality and gradually coming to terms with it.

Stephen Bowie as Stewart Pine was particularly good and his reactions to the family’s attitudes was often very funny indeed. The moment he declared he was gay produced probably the best laugh of the night, sublimely delivered with excellent comic timing.

John Murphy as Gavin Stanley started off as the crass, out of touch father but then mellowed to a quite touching scene with his ex, Carol as to what might have been and the consequences of Donna’s pregnancy.

Philip Hargraves as the wheelchair bound Jack Jones came into his own as he came out with clichéd gaff after gaff over Stewart’s homosexuality, covered of course each time with ‘no offence meant,’ whilst Brian Coffey as his put upon carer Dave Smith had a resigned look of ‘seen it all before.’

The Wi Committee Irene Rowland (Gill George), Liz Wyman (Linda Forster), Dianne Jameson (Judy Barclay), Susan Prior (Clare Coffey) and June Fowler (Debbie Radcliffe) brought yet more mayhem to proceedings, Loved the little side arguments between them in every scene. Very humorous.

Did it work? In the main yes, it was certainly a good evening’s entertainment, but I did think it lacked pace in places where cues perhaps could have been picked up quicker, especially in the family scenes. The script was excellent but like all first try-outs could probably do with a bit of editing, In the professional world it would have course have had a couple of weeks of previews where it would have been honed, but in the amateur world no such luxury is possible. But Keith Badham is certainly a fine writer and I do hope he takes this week’s experience to hone it and then put it out there for a wider use in the am dram world. It is indeed, as the advert says, ‘a gentle comedy, perfect for the time of year.’

Well done to all involved, you are a class outfit with a great future. Thank you for your usual excellent warm hospitality. Always a pleasure to visit.