The Chalk Garden
1st November 2013
Needingworth Village Hall
Type of Production
Author: Isobella Coleman
There was a lively atmosphere at the village hall and a friendly welcome from members of the front-of-house team. Seating was arranged around tables as supper was included.
The small stage was set and dressed well and managed to create a rather genteel room from a bygone age. There were French doors and a garden backdrop which was well painted and lit. The whole set seemed solid and reliable, with doors that opened and closed as they should. In the opening scene, one room is occupied by applicants awaiting interview for the position of governess to young Laurel. Kirsty Inman and Francesca Mann handled their roles very well and gave real personality to these cameo parts.
Costumes were in keeping with the period, although one dress worn by Laurel, ably acted by Becky Bays, did seem a little short but that is being picky. Congratulations to Becky for her mature portrayal of Laurel, giving her both the susceptibility of youth with the cynicism of one beyond her years.
Being a predominantly female cast, The Chalk Garden gives the actresses something to really get their teeth in to. Mrs St. Maugham, beautifully played by Vi Parkinson, is something of a ‘Lady Bracknell’ with her overbearing personality. Vi managed to fine tune this character and maintained just the right level of fierceness and yet allowed enough vulnerability for the audience to sympathise with her…a very nice portrayal.
There was an equally fine performance from Karen Bays in the role of Miss Madrigal. Karen played the enigmatic Miss Madrigal with a delicate touch and gave the character an edginess which belied her calm exterior. This was an accomplished performance from Karen and I felt the character was in safe hands, well done.
There were good, solid performances from Gemma Marmalade as Mrs St. Maugham’s desperate and misunderstood daughter and Marie Quick as the (very scary) Nurse.
Well, it wasn’t all about the women, there were two cracking roles for the men. Mark Hebert played the elderly Judge who has a history with Miss Madrigal, of the legal kind. Mark had to age-up for the part and he did so quite convincingly by seeming more physically frail and avoided the mistake of slapping on too much make-up to emphasise age. This was also a solid and reliable performance.
And then there is Maitland, the butler, played by Paul Silver. Maitland is the glue that holds the play together. Paul played the part with great wit and warmth. His performance had a natural quality which made Maitland wholly believable and memorable.
Overall this was a good production. There were a couple of glitches with forgotten lines but the prompt was on the ball and no damage was done. Towards the end of Act Two there was a sticky moment when a prompt, which was given in a suitably loud voice, was not heard and I could see the panic in the actors’ eyes. I think this upset the rhythm of the play and unsettled the actors; I'm sure they were greatly relieved when they got to the end. These things happen and I have to say that it did not spoil my enjoyment of the play. Perhaps working on improvising sections of a play in a workshop setting might give the actors the confidence to adapt quickly and support each other on stage, should such an incident arise in the future. Trust exercises can also make a huge difference and help to develop an essential team spirit.
This was clearly a labour of the love for the director Stella Dench and she should be very pleased with her efforts. The characterisations were strong and, despite the hiccups, were well sustained. My congratulations to the Wellworth Players, I was thoroughly entertained and I look forward to their next theatrical venture.