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The Actor's Nightmare / The End of the Beginning

Date

21st May 2016

Society

DDOS

Venue

Green Room Dorking

Type of Production

Two plays

Director

Val Collins

Musical Director

N/A

Choreographer

N/A

Report

Author: Jon Fox

"The Actor's Nightmare" by Christopher Durang

The all important clue of how to interpret this play is in the last word of the title.   The central character is a man who believes he is an accountant - George Spelvin - played by Steven Mann.  Clad in pyjamas he was thrust into his own nightmare in which he unexpectedly finds himself in a theatre and is mistaken  for the lead's understudy and urged to hurry for his stage entrance. In a somewhat confusing and, to him, bewildering array of constantly changing scenes, he meets all sorts of real actors who assume that he, George, also knows the profession. At one point  George, sporting a chain with large medal, is also referred to as Stanley, by Louise.

This play is a brilliantly observed piece representing the insecurity of the profession and how the unexpected can very swiftly become the norm. It works on several levels and, I believe, will be more readily understood by performers than by certain of the non-theatre public. The "action" shifts inconsistently from "Private Lives" to elements of Samuel Beckett, then "Hamlet" and "A Man for all Seasons", with many of Shakespeare's most famous lines also thrown in for good measure.

Casting the paragon that is Steven Mann, indisputably the greatest actor I have seen as a NODA rep, to play the only non-actor's role in this play is irony, bordering on genius. Frankly, to do Steven justice is nigh impossible. One can choose any superlative one likes and still it does not adequately describe his talent.

Appearing with Steven in this fast moving and thought provoking play were the following:-

Meg (stage manager) / Lady Margaret            Emily Ayres
Herself / Amanda / Gertrude / Lady Alice        Kelly Twine
Herself / Sybil / Winnie                                 Louise Blewett
Himself / Horatio                                          Simon  Coppen-Gardner
The Executioner                                          Terrence Mayne

Emily was Meg, a bossy stage manager (who sometimes whispered George's lines to him!) and also Lady Margaret (Sir Thomas More's daughter), giving a polished performance in both roles.

Kelly, a grand lady complete with cigarette holder and long sparkly dress with silver necklace as Amanda (Private Lives) played this, and her subsequent varying roles, with considerable panache and impressed greatly in this, her DDOS debut.

Louise, a Green Room regular in character roles, played the not so grand Sybil (Private Lives) then Winnie, an amalgam of Samuel Beckett characters. She excelled too, none better than in her own programme notes "bonkers old tramp in a dustbin". How convincing she was in her roles - the two prominent dustbins on stage were well featured.

Simon was also Horatio (Hamlet), in blue Tudor costume with buckled shoes and he easily matched the general marvellous standard.

Last, but certainly not least, was Terrence, as The Executioner, finally chopping off poor George's head, thus bringing the nightmare to an abrupt end.

Various props were simply brought on and offstage as necessary, as the play ran in the way that dreams or nightmares do, at breakneck speed. Keeping up with events was quite a task in itself, but the whole play was a marvellous platform for this group of highly talented players to really show their abilities to their utmost.

"The End of the Beginning" by Sean O'Casey

This superb farce is a three hander set in the kitchen of a farmer's cottage in rural Ireland and complete with authentic accents. The kitchen setting showed much attention to detail, comprising an old sideboard upon which was an old type record player, a large stone sink, stairs leading "upstairs" tables, chairs, pots, pans etc. plus a vitally important stone fireplace with mantlepiece.

The simple, but well crafted plot involved Darry Berrill (Ricardo Sanchez), after a heated argument, deciding to swap work roles with his wife Lizzie (Kelly Twine), aided by his incompetent neighbour Barry Derrill (Steven Mann). Darry, having enlisted Barry to help him look after the prize heifer, had tied the beast in an adjoining field to a rope which went down the chimney, out through the fireplace then was tethered to a chair. The two friends proceeded to talk whilst playing ukeleles and singing (rather well!). They were also engaged in callisthenics - who says men can't multi-task!

Accidents and breakages abounded throughout the play -  Darry had broken the clock through over-winding, then contrived to fool Barry into further winding it in order to shift the blame to him. Barry managed to cut his finger with a razor blade, whilst searching in the dark "upstairs" for a key. Barry also put a broom handle through a window, shattering it and potatoes were spilled all over the stage (one falling at my feet in the front row!)

All this happened at a frantic pace as the wonderfully entertaining farce unfolded.   The piece de resistance was when the heifer finally ran off while tethered  by the rope to Darry, thus pulling him up the chimney in a trice. After the play ended, the indefatigable and technical wizards, Stuart Yeatman (Producer) and Roy Barnes took me backstage to show how this brilliantly effective stunt was worked.

Again, three stellar performances were given by the three players and I laughed out loud throughout at this compelling and wonderfully acted piece.

Director Val Collins should feel thrilled at the standard of performance from every single player in both plays and from the wonderful fare this hugely gifted company once again provided.  This company is truly a jewel sparkling in the rich Aladdin's cave of theatre throughout Surrey.

Lastly, I must mention that the awesome Steven Mann is reprising "I Am My Own Wife" as part of the Mole Valley Arts Alive Festival between 4th and 8th October.   This is a truly stunning and NODA award winning one man play starring Steven in many, many guises; he is in my opinion, one of the world's great actors. If you like theatre drop everything else and be there to see DDOS, who also perform "Waiting for Godot" on 25th to 29th October at the festival.