29th April 2018
Hoghton Village Hall
Type of Production
Author: David Slater
This sparky little comedy from the pen of Eric Chappell was a pure delight and in the hands of the talented gang at the Hoghton Players, it made for an exquisite Sunday evening treat. The practice of Sunday night performances which Hoghton excel at is something which other societies would do well to emulate, as a better way to spend the night before the dreaded Monday morning alarm clock it’s hard to imagine. As the quality of productions on display continues to impress, a Sunday evening spent soaking up live entertainment is the perfect tonic.
‘Haywire’ centres around bookseller Alex Firth’s determination to escape for a clandestine Spanish holiday with his shop assistant and would-be mistress Liz. This means that his plans need to run smoothly so that wife Maggie is kept in the dark but alas, as is always the way with stage comedies of this sort, the wheels fall off his perfect plot in the most amusing fashion.
As always with Hoghton’s productions, the play was presented in the round with the audience on all sides of the playing area, making for an intimate and involving evening’s entertainment. The playing arena was dressed subtly but very effectively to suggest the flat above the Firths’ bookshop where the comical goings-on unfolded over four scenes. Would-be lothario Alex Firth was played with a wonderful down to earth charm by Andy Burke who was very much the driving force of the play. Andy’s easy confidence really brought the character to life and this was a wonderfully natural comedic performance. The character’s comical frustrations were superbly expressed and even the occasional need for a prompt was handled deftly and with good humour. Lauren Canavan also impressed as Alex’s ‘bit on the side’, nicely suggesting a growing world-weary acceptance of the promised trip to Spain with Alex disappearing over the horizon. Gael Finch brought a lovely down to earth twinkle to the role of Alex’s long suffering wife Maggie and Siobhán Edge was a riot as the cantankerous old monster of a mother, Phoebe: this was a quite marvellous creation in the hands of a consummate performer. Definitely the audience’s favourite and with good reason! Steven Catterall was every bit as loathsome and wheedling as was required to bring Jamie, the bone idle ne’er do well of a son, hobbling around the stage like a wet weekend with his leg in plaster. Pregnant daughter Mandy, well played by Emma Lakeland, arrived on the scene to complete the unfortunate family gathering and add a further complication to Alex’s plans. With a new puppy leaving unwanted messages all over the flat, an injured son, a suspicious wife, a pregnant daughter and all manner of problems stacking up one after the other, the comical snowball grew and gathered pace as it rolled through the Easter weekend, proving that just when you think nothing else can go wrong, there’s always one more surprise around the corner.
The whole evening was a joy from start to finish. The play moved at a great pace and with a natural humour which came out the situation and the characterisations quite wonderfully. The sheer volume of dialogue Andy had to master was breathtaking and he pulled it off superbly. There were a couple of occasions when a prompt was needed but this was seamlessly woven into the production as to be a part of the good humour of the evening. Sympathetic lighting helped to enhance the production and the costumes furniture, scene dressing and props were all naturalistic and helped to add to the immersive feel of the evening.
Directing a play in the round always brings with it an extra layer of complexity as stage blocking and the mise en scene have to be considered from many angles. Carol McCann worked wonders here in making sure clear sight lines were maintained throughout the action and (apart from Alex making rather too much use of tramping up and down the same few feet of carpet all evening in his frustrations!) came across as wholly natural and realistic. The humour was drawn out of both the situation and the superbly drawn characterisations to create a great evening of live entertainment. When presented as well as this, there is no substitute for an evening at the theatre and my thanks go to all at Hoghton for a warm welcome, great hospitality and a winning combination of great performances and non-stop humour, professionally presented. Definitely my favourite comedy of 2018 so far!