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Wenceslaus

Date

2nd December 2017

Society

Catworth Amateur Theatrical Society (CATS)

Venue

St Leonard's Church, Catworth

Type of Production

Play

Director

Julie Daniel, Anne Allured

Report

Author: Julie Armstrong

Catworth Amateur Theatre Society (CATS) is everything that a small, local amateur group should be. Catworth itself is a beautiful village with, I am told, approximately a quarter of its residents being involved in some way with the group. Started by a small core of stage enthusiasts some ten years ago, the group has grown, developed and thrived with two productions a year taking place in the church or the village hall for locals to enjoy.

This year’s winter play, penned by Julie Daniel (who also directed along with Anne Allured), was staged in the gorgeous church - the perfect setting in this festive season for this historical drama. It tells the tale of ‘good king’ Wenceslaus along with his evil mother and brother, who plot to overthrow him, amidst the backdrop of Paganism versus Christianity. The stage was set with a long table and intimately carved wooden chairs, laid out for a banquet on one side of the stage - and a glowing stone fireplace on the other. CATS’ attention to detail is outstanding! Pewter mugs, jugs of mead, bowls of fruit and a hog’s head adorned the dining table, whilst pennants were hung on the wall with (I am assured) the proper Wenceslaus coat of arms. And the detail did not stop there. The shape of the fireplace had been thoroughly researched so that it would look authentic to the period and had a beautiful orange light in the grate. It would have been easy to paint the flames on but, in order to avoid looking too pantomime, a real grate with a lovely warm glow was created. In later scenes we saw three peasants seated around another fire, this time a circular fire pit surrounded by stones. These fires were lovely and again the attention to detail was evident, even featuring the hole for the traditional Yule log to be placed in the grate, in order that it could burn for the twelve days of Christmas.

However, by far the most impressive aspect of this gorgeous production was the costumes. Incredibly detailed, beautiful and authentic costumes made this play look stunningly professional. So perfect were they, that I had assumed they were hired in! However, I was told about the wonderful talents of Cath Goodyer and Jenny Pauling who had thoroughly researched the era, down to the types of materials and colours from natural dyes. Everything, from the leather and braiding on the actors’ boots, the twine and rope used for belts, the braid on the ladies’ dresses and the velvet trim on sleeves and collars, was superb in its detail and execution - making this element of CATS’ winter play simply superb. 

The actors in this piece, all being from the village, did a lovely job of portraying Julie’s story to the audience. It was so good to see members of the local community there to support their fellow villagers and the atmosphere in the church was delightful. The front of house team, all identifiable by their CATS sweatshirts, did a super job of looking after everyone and as everybody already knew each other as neighbours, the feeling of community spirit was palpable. Each actor on the stage performed well, and clearly enjoyed performing for their friends, with special mentions for excellent performances going to Ruth Murphy, Nick Grantham and Vivienne Reffin. 

Duchess Joana (Ruth Murphy) did a great job of portraying her character. Ruth’s actions whilst on stage never failed and she showed her emotions at all times, even when the action was not on her - reacting well to other characters and clearly expressing on her face what was happening. Well done Ruth on a super job, I thoroughly enjoyed your performance.

Nick Grantham as the Friar was superb and Vivienne Reffin made a lovely Magda. Duke Wenceslaus, played by Paul Goodyer gave us a kindly, generous man, caring of his people, whilst Boleslav (Jeff Knott) played the uncaring, selfish brother. I would have liked a little more evil, a little more conniving, a little more conspiring with your mother - go for it and embrace the bad Jeff! Their mother Drahomira, played by Belinda Moore, did well but again could have been nastier and more scheming (clearly you are both just too nice!). Good performances too from Rachel and Emma McCreath as Sofia and Hana, recounting their tales.

Wenceslaus’ right hand man Roman (Phil Ward) played the role well, sporting some nice make up effects after he had been kidnapped by Boleslav’s henchman. Bedrich, played by CATS founder member Andrew Moore, was suitably nasty, without making it feel too pantomime. Plaudits too to Richard Reynolds, Stuart Rupp, Steve Kaye (for his lovely musicianship) and Jayne Kaye. We won’t mention the guitar playing the role of a more traditional tenth century stringed instrument, as what CATS may lack in authentic instruments from the year 930AD, they certainly make up for in other ways, so I am very happy to ignore it!  The occasional prompt was needed but as true professionals, the actors carried on regardless - and again, for a tiny village production, this may be overlooked as it certainly did not spoil anyone’s enjoyment.

Music was provided by Gerald on keys who played his haunting, ethereal melodies beautifully and set the tone well. Again, the music of the time had been researched, being mostly hymns and choral music and so the atmosphere created by Gerald was spot on. Lights were ingeniously rigged to the church’s stone pillars in such a way so as not to damage the stonework, whilst still lighting the set admirably. Well done to Paul Murphy, Stuart Rupp and Andrew Moore, who did a great job of creating the indoor castle lighting, a cold outside feel and highlighted details where necessary.

Everything about this production impressed me. Bearing in mind that this is a tiny village production - by the villagers and for the villagers, we are not expecting Hollywood performances, however what CATS may lack in Oscar-winning acting skills they more than make up for in their outstanding attention to detail that goes into every other aspect of their productions. CATS epitomises everything that small local theatre should be about: friends and neighbours all coming together to entertain their friends and neighbours! And with all the love that goes into these productions CATS are doing a superb job!