A Chorus of Disapproval
29th October 2015
Needingworth Village Hall
Type of Production
Author: Sandra Samwell
With Alan Ayckbourn back in the director’s chair for a revival of ‘Confusions’ in Scarborough, Wellworth Players have chosen an opportune moment for their revival of his 1984 masterpiece: ‘A Chorus of Disapproval.’ With this spirited and intelligent staging of a comedy classic, Karen Bays and company show us why Ayckbourn should never go out of fashion or be written off as dated.
Yes, this is the one that was made into an unwatchable Michael Winner film, but actually concerns the mirroring of a production of John Gay’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ with the real life antics of a hapless anti-hero called Guy Jones and the Amateur Dramatic Society he joins. He is a man who can’t say ‘No.’ It is a brilliantly conceived farce with the music of Gay’s opera interwoven as a commentary and subtext. Several ‘am dram’ companies have fallen on their swords presenting it because they thought, quite mistakenly, that bad acting is easy to present for quick laughs.
Karen Bays, with her masterly direction, shows us that without truthfulness of characterisation and precisely timed physicality of set pieces, Ayckbourn’s plays do not work. I commend her wholeheartedly on her communication of multi layered themes and her expert direction of a talented cast against the background of a well-conceived but composite set. The set’s simplicity and the facility to move effortlessly from scene to scene helped the pace and sense of place and time tremendously.
Whilst I enjoyed last year’s ‘Happiest Days of Our Lives’ very much, this production is on a totally different and superior level. This is largely due to some outstanding performances, the best of which is that of Mark Hébert as a totally warm, believable Dafydd the director. Without him, the pace of the piece would have been much slower and its truthful centre missing. This was one of the best individual performances I have seen in my time as a NODA rep.
He was matched by a wonderfully vulnerable Abi Pearson as his errant wife Hannah, Francesca Mann playing hilarious and touching simultaneously in a brilliant tour de force as the bawdy Bridget and the marvellous Paul Silver giving us a masterclass in comic timing as Jarvis. All four of these actors manifested an understanding of how to underplay successfully whilst projecting character to the rear of an auditorium.
Other notable performances were given by Neal Dench as the unknowing Guy who moved effortlessly from role to role in the company…and from one willing woman to another, Marie Quick as the ever willing Enid with Geoff Durrant as her long suffering husband Ted, Lizzy Elliott and Simon West as the swinging couple who make the best of Guy’s innocence, Chris Thompson as the surly Crispin and Kirsty Inman singing and acting the double roles of Linda and Lucy with equal skill. Our high approval ratings must also go to Janet Clark as Mary, Boggle, Jackie Ullyett and Lydia Dench as real and fictional stage managers/lighting operator and Neil Kohler as Mr Ames who proved himself to be a terrific MD and accompanist.
The song and dance routines with their well-chosen costumes were not intrusive and served their purpose: to reflect and satirise the action whilst not overshadowing the central narrative.
I have few if any gripes or critical comments, but would say that the performances that worked less well were ones where facial expressions were overdone and reactions overplayed. Find a character and let that character live would be my advice.
More than anything, we were given the impression of a company working together and inter-relating as such groups do which, in turn, allowed us to reflect on a small society in microcosm thirty years ago. The real company had worked superbly on set design, construction, front of house and other aspects of production to present a truly memorable and enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
Although there is a certain irony in such an adept and excellent Am Dram group as Wellworth Players presenting such a marvellous version of a play about an inept society, the full house appreciated a great adaptation of a play by a great playwright at the height of his powers.
I thank Wellworth Players for their hospitality and I look forward to ‘The Pied Piper’ in February 2016.