|Date||31st October 2020|
|Society||Godalming Theatre Group|
|Venue||The Star at Petworth|
|Type of Production||Play|
|Filming and Editing||Keith Thomas|
Author: Pauline Surrey
This gritty play written by Lancashire playwright Jim Cartwright was written in 1989. Set in a pub – in this case a real one, the Star in Petworth – it consists of a series of vignettes all about the human condition, particularly with regard to the relationships between couples. This production was especially exciting, as it was a socially-distanced lockdown performance on film, available to watch all day. A good introduction was presented by Denise Hodgkiss (GTG’s Chair), who also had a Hitchcock-style appearance in the play. So although we missed out on the usual GTG buzz in the theatre bar, and the excellent printed programme we are used to, anticipation was great, as we settled onto our sofas with our wine or gin, to see what GTG had come up with to quench our thirst for a real theatre performance.
As the production was set in a real pub, filmed after the pub had closed, continuity played a major role evidently – were the right bar mats in place, the same beer glasses used, etc. It was great of the Star to allow their pub to be used, and I hope the owners enjoyed the whole proceedings, and found it as interesting as I am sure the cast and production team did. The cast had real drinks, real crisps etc, but I was a bit concerned that they never seemed to sup up and finish these!
Both lighting and sound were excellent. I was pleased to hear the background sound of the hubbub of people chatting in a pub, and very pleased that no loud music was in evidence, which would have been an awful distraction.
Before I begin to discuss the production in detail, may I say that I was very impressed by the decision to play the parts with a northern accent. I feared that this might have gone awry, but the whole cast managed to keep this up admirably throughout.
The drama kicked off right from the start with the bickering between our outwardly cheery pub hosts, played to perfection by Anna Twaits and Ben Dray. One sensed that their marriage was only holding together due to the daily demands of running the pub. The tension between them was palpable, yet of course their livelihoods depended on their jolly banter with their guests, their creating that feeling of warmth, sanctuary and interest that is the epitome of the cosy English pub. Anna and Ben brought all this over very well.
Enter our first customer, an old woman, played wistfully by Anne Turner. As she sipped her drink we learned that her husband at home had a debilitating illness, that she was the sole carer and could only just manage, and that her only moments of joy were her daily visits to her cheery young butcher (thank heavens for cheery, jolly butchers, young or old, who so often brighten people’s lives with their banter!), and her brief interludes in the pub. Anne portrayed the exhaustion and the humanity of her character very well.
I think the wonder of this play is the fact that we all know people like the characters presented. We are confronted with their issues – so easy to brush under the carpet normally – and we continue to think about them afterwards.
After each visitor to the pub, we returned to our landlady and landlord. The bickering turns more abusive, the tension increases.
We move on then to a young Jack the Lad, Moth, who really fancies himself as God’s Gift to Women. He tries it on with all the girls around him in the bar, until Maudie, his put-upon girlfriend, turns up. He scrounges off her, as always, for the drinks. She protests, he flatters her, she coughs up – he’s done this before! Yet still she is desperate for a proposal from him, and in her wily way she succeeds. Fun performance from Sam Thomas as Moth, and a clever one from Holly Patrick as Maudie, where one sensed all her frustration, doubts and determination. Once again, food for thought.
Back to the bar – getting ever worse, yet I couldn’t help thinking how our two actors would make a brilliant landlady and landlord, such was their ability to turn on the charm once not hurling abuse at each other! Great acting here!
The next customer is a quiet old man, contentedly supping his pint. He begins to talk about his late wife, who ‘visits’ him throughout the day ‘sweet, present, soft as her cotton hair’. He is so happy with ‘the comfort of her’. This monologue must be one of my all-time favourite pieces of theatre, so real for many bereaved spouses I would think, and so positive. Steve Alais truly did it justice, thank you, Steve.
Following another spiky episode at the bar, we meet Mrs Iger, who positively drools over Big Men. She loves to feel cossetted, protected and almost swamped by their power, ‘like sleeping by a mountainside’. She gets quite overcome at the thought of their big hands taking hold of her little one, and much much more. Enter her little husband, who she proceeds to bully mercilessly about his inability to push his way through the rest of the customers at the bar. Karen Scull and Howard Benbrook were great here, and brought home the frustration of the wife with a weak husband, and the terror of the perpetually bullied husband. There are, after all, many kinds of domestic abuse. The filming was fine here too, as it emphasised wittily the portrayal of height, or lack of it, and focussed nicely on Mr Iger’s terrified face. I shall not forget the latter.
Then followed the most alarming, horrifying vignette in the play. An innocuous beginning, Lesley (Lorna Bye) and Roy (Martin Chapman) enjoying their drink in the bar. She needs the loo, he insists she keep her eyes down on the way there and back, as according to him, she eyes up all the men in the bar constantly. Coercive control at its worst. He bullies and bullies her. When she finally accuses him of torturing her, he slaps her. Such a stark scene, totally shocking, yet not too uncommon it seems, sadly. The two actors played it in a low-key, and therefore even more effective way, well done.
Fred and Alice turn up next, as a complete contrast to the previous couple. They have been ‘unlucky in life, but lucky in love’. They smile, they chuckle, they look at each other constantly, and have a wry sense of humour. It seems that Alice has been in and out of an institution as a result of mental issues. But the kindly and loving Fred has stuck with it, and it seems to have made them stronger. Well played, Andy and Emma Culley, you gave us hope that love can be a force for good.
All the while, of course, between scenes, the hosts are at it hammer and tongs, we wonder where this will all end? More violence?
A young woman appears at the bar (remember those days of being able to drink at the bar?). She is the Other Woman wanting to confront her lover and his wife, aiming to make him choose between the two of them. She fails to pluck up courage, he and wife leave the pub – he didn’t even notice her, or did he? She rushes after them. Well played with palpable desperation by Molly Foges.
A young boy appears. He is looking for his Dad, who left him outside the pub (pop and crisps, probably). Our landlady takes care of him kindly while Dad is being found. This lad triggers memories of their only child, and the terrible tragedy in their past. She insists, after closing time, that they finally talk about this frankly and openly for the first time since it happened 7 years previously. Here Anna Twaits and Ben Dray pulled out all the stops, and gave us a towering performance, as this couple found the way to healing and love.
So this GTG cast gave us a grand treat, finely directed, innovative, and with lots to think about. The play is not an easy watch, and it speaks for them that they portrayed all these tensions so well, as they embarked on their first filming adventure.
Drama in the time of Covid gave the cast a brilliant opportunity to learn new techniques, learn all about the intricacies of filming – continuity issues, a multitude of takes, and much more. It gave GTG’s loyal fan base the chance to finally feel the joy of good drama again, and to see many of their talented GTG actors performing once more. What is more, it raised a considerable amount of money for a local Godalming charity. Congratulations to all involved, and a Big Thank You!