Two plays in One

Date 24th April 2015
Society Cobham Players
Venue Cobham Village Hall
Type of Production Plays
Director Rodney Pearson and Harry Sadler
Musical Director N/A
Choreographer N/A

Report

Author: Jon Fox

Billed as 2 plays in 1, the well set out village hall in Cobham hosted two vastly differing plays, though each cast featured just four players.

Lilies on the Land

Soon to be the 70th anniversary of VE day, "Lilies on the Land" is particularly apt and tells the story of four very diverse ladies who became land girls or, more correctly, members of the Women's Land Army.

Director Rodney Pearson's programme notes explained that the text was taken from letters and interviews with former land girls.   They were replying to an advertisement "Calling all Land Girls" placed in Saga magazine.    An interesting and unusual method then of writing a play, but one in which the format worked wonderfully well.    

The play spanned the six war years 1939 - 1945 and also the four seasons of the year.  It was the interaction between the four ladies who were actually in four different locations that made this play so lifelike, hilariously playing a cow, a bull and snuffling pigs on all fours.   The cow and bull were "doing what comes naturally", but I am certainly not referring to the Irving Berlin song!    I am sure the rehearsals of this scene must have been as much fun as the audience enjoyed watching it - pure delight.  In fact it was the sheer joy and energy with which the four ladies attacked their roles that brought this historic period to life so effectively.

Victoria Franklin was the business lady Vera, Nicky Barnes the "posh" Poppy, Millie Hart the cockney Peggy and Samantha Myers the geordie Margie.   Each of the ladies played their part to perfection and amply portrayed the back breaking  grind of life in the land army working on farms and the land.   Clothes were basic in the extreme, glamour absent and hot and cold weather ensured a hard life which these ladies endured with great fortitude, optimism and cheerfulness.   Recreation was brief and a treat to be valued.  The set was a simple one, comprising 4 hay bales, one for each lady, pitch forks and farm implements.   A coat rack was hung with various coats and hats for adding to the basic costumes.  They wore simple overalls and nothing glamorous, but these girls were never less than feminine for all that and relished the nearby American soldiers with their rich supply of good food and life's luxuries, well beyond the reach of the British.   Italian prisoners of war worked on the land and were able to occasionally interact with the girls.

Each lady was entirely different in character and indeed accent from the others which was a key feature in making this play so lifelike.    I must give special mention to the authentic geordie accent spoken by Margie, Samantha also had to switch between other accents on occasion - well achieved.

There was much singing including "We'll meet again", "Run rabbit Run" and, remarkably, "Silent Night" in English, German and Italian.

Movement was well choreographed by India Pearson and director Rodney Pearson used the talents of four accomplished actresses to great effect, pitching the bravery, fortitude and indomitable will of the brave British ladies providing the country with desperately needed food, superbly.   This was an immensely enjoyable and high quality production which thoroughly entertained the audience.

Last Panto in Little Grimley

This often hilarious play told the story of a shambolic village Pantomime Company which was rapidly falling apart and of the determination by a disfunctional committee to keep it going at all costs.

Keith Burgess as its chairman, Gordon, was the driving force and dominant character on the committee.     Joyce, determinedly dim, was played with neurotic and hopeless ambition by Jean Burgess who opened the play singing - if one can call it singing - "I dreamed a dream" with splendid awfulness.   It was a truly woeful but wonderful beginning!   Gordon, appalled, tried none too tactfully to dissuade her, but finally was driven to spell out the inescapable truth  about her lack of talent which resulted in her leaving in tears.   Melanie Cook as Margaret,  who had many of the best lines, quickly pointed out to Gordon that Joyce, as treasurer, was responsible for the company's accounts and that there was no one else able to deputise.    Joyce was then hurriedly called back, eventually mollified and reinstated. Joyce proceeded to take the committee minutes and much was made of her total ineptitude  with shorthand.

Mike Dawes played the banana eating lighting technician and handyman Bernard who emerged from under the upturned stage flat, which had fallen on him, somewhat physically but  mainly mentally bruised.  Margaret had let go the flat which she was holding and it promptly knocked him out cold.  Much backbiting followed, with sarcastic comments aplenty. This scene was beautifully played. There was a longish scene where all four actors failed to agree upon a suitable date for their first rehearsal. Finally it dawned upon them that tomorrow was convenient to all four. The first rehearsal was totally and gloriously shambolic because Gordon's script had all the letter T's as S's and vice versa due to a dodgy software programme on his word processor.  The ensuing chaos was most enjoyable to watch.  Bernard the handyman and lighting man was  determined not to be pressed to act, though he finally and most reluctantly appeared as the rear end of a  panto horse.  His overriding worry was that the stage lights were about to give up the ghost, which, one by one, they proceeded to do with the group moving across the stage as the lights blew.

However, nothing daunted and knowing that the company could not afford to replace them, they proceeded to plot.    The manic determination of Gordon in particular to preserve the society at all costs was the source of much of the comedy.   His solution was to write a different take on "Puss in Boots", sexing it up with the addition of a "y" in the title. This was met with dismay particularly by  Margaret   but Gordon made much of the need to build up the audiences which had dwindled to almost nothing. The adult scenes were supposed to go over the children's heads.   Naturally, Joyce could not see why a panto called "Puss in Bootys" would attract people.   Of course it had to be explained to her that the letter "y" would be inserted elsewhere and change the context entirely. The scene on first night had built to it's ghastly climax when Joyce eventually, after much coaxing from a grim faced  Gordon had to reveal the fact that Margaret had slipped on a banana skin, courtesy of Bernard and broken both her arm and leg. Panic ensued  and the play ended with Joyce reprising her "tuneful" singing.

This play worked on many levels as a glorious comedy.   Disfunctionality, barbed and caustic comments, grim determination to go on against all odds, complete incompetence and sexist into the bargain.    Never mind the added "y" in Puss in Boots", this play was certainly written for adults and performed with great comic timing by four gifted actors and I loved it.

For all of us involved in amateur theatre some of the catastrophes in this "Last Panto" set up were uncomfortably close to home, but the manic desire that at any cost the show must go on was the root of the hilarious and fast paced humour.

All four players played their completely diverse characters with aplomb and a sense of impending doom that they would somehow or other defy.    The show had pace, lines were delivered with great clarity.    Director Harry Sadler certainly had a big hit on his hands with this production and I congratulate him and the company.

A word for the lighting of Stephen Farr and sound of Andrew Mair  in both the two plays. Both were handled with a sure touch.

I am most grateful for the now customary warm reception my guest and I once again enjoyed.