Hamlet as it Never Was / The Education of Skinny Spew

Date 11th April 2019
Society Cobham Players
Venue Cobham Village Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Rodney Pearson and Mike Dawes


Author: Jon Fox

A most unusual, challenging and varied evening comprising three separate pieces with the last two linked under the "Hamlet as it Never Was"  title, comprising "Easy Stages" and "Don't blame it on the boots".  But to open proceedings we were given Cobham Players' Woking drama festival entry, "The Education of Skinny Spew", a gloriously funny but thought provoking three hander directed in brilliant fashion by Rodney Pearson, which featured the three players playing a total of eleven - yes, eleven! - characters.  Millie Hart playing Skinny Spew from "his" own consciousness in the womb, gave us a masterclass as a truculent infant plotting revenge against his own parents' inane attempts to talk to him. This piece was really ground breaking in that this type of theatre is rarely seen enacted on an amateur platform. All credit to Rodney and CP therefore for this step into the "unknown";  that is, unknown to those not besotted with theatre, AKA "normal people"!   Normality, what a ghastly thought!

Nicky Barnes and Samantha Myers, playing Skinny's parents Mr and Mrs Spew, deserve equal praise alongside Millie for their chameleon-like character changes. Samantha even played a police dog, complete with bark.

We had a red cloth as the womb itself, Doctor and Mother in white face make up, well chosen taped music even including "Strangers in the Night" and so much more besides. It's impossible to accurately categorise this superb piece. Surreal? Certainly!  And I adored it!

After that sumptuous starter, CP then served us the main course of the evening under the main heading of "Hamlet as it never was". This was, in fact, two separate, but linked, pieces, being "Easy Stages", followed after the interval by "Don't blame it on the boots". Mike Dawes directed both these plays and much credit for the undoubted success of the evening is due to Mike and, of course, Rodney too. 

Easy Stages was a well-acted seven hander which was about everything on set going wrong and the chaos and angst this catalogue of "amateurism " caused. The play within a play theme is a well worn one, but this was beautifully played by a fine team of players. A phone unexpectedly going off causing chaos;  a convincingly cross, hapless,  frustrated beyond despair SM  impressed overall  - though Gerry Pepperdell playing him failed to adequately project some of his  lines when facing too far sideways, rather than "cheating front."  Others who all did well were Anna Foulkes, Nick Forder, Jamie  McLean, Anne MacCormack and Harry Sadler, all as the company themselves. I found this play pacy, well enacted and certainly amusing.

Finally we were served up a terrificfour hander  and a continution of the previous play, while now performing the play. John Kingston was very good as Eric, playing the Ghost in boots that were too small and much was made of Eric's discomfort while forced by the director Kate to wear the boots. Anna Foulkes, again playing the director, gave a forceful performance as Kate. There was good comedy when Eric admired  Ophelia, skilfully played by Eleisha Harvey, whilst Kate was jealous of Ophelia. Tanya Isaiah gave a peach of a performance as Liz and the boots twist at the end made it a highly enjoyable  play. This second part of the  "Hamlet as it Never Was"  shaded the first part in overall quality and was also pacy with good flow.

Stage manager Charlie English did his work unobtrusively with fine lighting and sound, courtesy of Sue Gillespie and Steve Farr on lights, and Andrew Mair on sound, all on Skinny Spew with the same team, minus Sue, on both Hamlet pieces.

I  considered the choice of  plays to be well thought out and carried out with much comedy, which was largely caused because of cringeworthy mishaps. In the plays themselves of course, not by the players!

I must commend  Cobham Players on providing a most pleasant evening with very little I could find to criticise. Cobham have earned a reputation for putting on challenging productions and this one was among the very best I have had the pleasure to review.