Mixed Doubles

Date 17th May 2016
Society Betchworth Operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue North Downs Primary School, Brockham
Type of Production Plays / monologues
Director Diane Mayall
Musical Director N/A
Choreographer N/A


Author: Jon Fox

Attending the company dress rehearsal rather than a public performance is rather unfair on the company, but necessity is the mother of invention and there were surprisingly few prompts throughout.

The evening was a series of very short plays / monologues, first presented at the Hampstead Theatre Club in 1969 and later that year at the Comedy Theatre London. With four sketches in each half, the evening ran seamlessly and used staging blocks to form a platform perhaps 12ft square at maximum. The sets were minimal, being furnished with a park bench, chairs, table, armchair and airbed at times during the evening.

The show opened with a highly realistic monologue "The Vicar"  by George Melly, with Julian Warner-Edney in the title role, clad in full length black clerical garb and standing with both hands on a small pine lectern. His clipped tones and "imparted" knowledge tone put me in mind of many real vicars. A good start, then, to the evening.

Then followed the tennis match "Score" by Lyndon Brook, played out by husband Harry (Stephen Tickell) and wife Sheila (Linda Slater). Both wore white tennis clothes and white trainers and, clutching tennis racket,.they proceeded to play against invisible opponents Jim and Jane.     Harry and Sheila were well beaten at every turn and proceeded to argue with each other whilst playing and also chatting (infuriatingly) with the opponents when at the (invisible) net. This short sketch was highly enjoyable with very nuanced acting by both players.

A touching playlet "Norma" by Alun Owen came next, with Jane Seymour as Woman and Julian as Man. It opened with Woman sitting on a park bench in the rain, to be joined by a breathless man in a wet raincoat with whom she was conducting an affair. Not quite clandestine though, as her husband Roy had been reduced to tears when told by her about the affair. Shedding tears herself, she then walked away from the affair leaving Man alone and bereft upon the bench. The poignancy of his hurt feelings at being used by her, simply for her fun was most moving. The Yorkshire accents used by both players were consistent and real. In all this was a high class performance by two skilled actors.

The final first act play was "Permanence" by Fay Weldon, with Julie Bickerdike as Helen and Neil Mayall as Peter. This married couple both aged forty were reclining on an airbed, supposedly inside a tent. Helen was wearing a blonde sixties style wig and was a fretful, somewhat childlike worrier, insecure and clinging. Peter was a book reading, emotionally buttoned up character. It transpired that they have a daughter Julie who, for the first time, had not joined them on their camping holiday. The play ends with them cuddled together and, although the "plot" didn't really go anywhere, it was extremely well acted and the performance, more than the content, made it come alive.

The second act opened with another monologue by Julian - "The Union Official" (by George Melly). In this he was in a small room with a table and old style black 'phone - a Midlands Union man in heated discussion with the (unseen) opposition. Much of the humour came from him receiving incoming calls from his wife and his very insistent young daughter, who wanted him to read her a bedtime story. I was put in mind of the self-important Capt. Mainwaring meekly saying "Hello, Elizabeth?" on the 'phone, breaking off from bossing his platoon. Most amusingly acted and I really liked this scene, which made me laugh out loud several times!

"Countdown" featured Ian Stone in pullover as Husband and Tracey Hulf in a blonde curly wig as Wife, both wore slippers. Husband sat reading his paper on the "sofa" (the wooden bench with cushions) musing about the cup of tea which he hoped his wife was making. She then entered bearing a tea-tray plus contents and sat down on an armchair and proceeded in her own musings about what was lacking in their marriage. This, slightly longer than most, short play had real depth, showcasing the many irritations of an unfulfilled marriage and the tedium of living with each other's foibles and faults when real love had long since died. Each player in turn spoke their thoughts out loud and only a small amount of the dialogue was actually directed to each other.    It had great pathos and left one feeling eerily uncomfortable, which the author, Alan Ayckbourn, no doubt intended. Another hit!

The penultimate play "Silver Wedding" by John Bowen was the longest and most professional performance of the evening. Jane as wife Audrey and Neil, as middle-rank manager and husband Julian, gave a humdinger of a performance that was raw drama which hit one in the guts. The pace was superb, neither actor hesitated and this was a performance worthy of a drama festival winner. The plot was that Julian had arrived home very late for the planned Silver Wedding restaurant outing and of how Audrey resented being second to his career. It was riveting throughout and I salute two marvellous and most talented actors.

Close behind this in standard was the final short play by David Campton, "Resting Place" featuring an octogenarian couple, played by Linda and Stephen as Old Man and Old Woman.   Though both players are still very youthful looking, the old people's clothes they wore, with spectacles and pale makeup achieved the necessary look. Moreover, Stephen effected a rather realistic quaver in his voice. Set on the wooden bench in a graveyard where they had gone to visit the grave of their friend Fred Turtle, a bookmaker, their conversation ranged through various subjects, including their income being insufficient to arrange side by side graves for themselves.

With clever lighting and sound by David Ames and realistic and well fitted costumes by Alison Cooper, this evening was a resounding success. Director Diane Mayall had schooled her players with great skill and the minimal stage worked very well, with the players using the small space realistically. The various short plays ran seamlessly, one after another. Despite it being a dress rehearsal, prompts were very scarce and the diction by all actors/actresses was crystal clear.

All in all it was a highly enjoyable evening and I salute ALL involved!