NORTH-WEST ESSEX THEATRE GUILD

 

Little Waltham Drama Group                                                                                                                      John Folkard

^^^^^^^^^^^^^                                                                                                            53 The Commons

Funny Money by Ray Cooney                                                                                                           Colchester C03 4NJ

 

Friday April 27 2001                                                                                                                               (01206) 502054

There is always a buzz of anticipation when one visits a drama group for the very first time, and this was indeed my first visit to Little Waltham. If I am to be honest, I must admit that I would have preferred something other than a comedy, for although I like to laugh as much as anyone, what passes for comedy is invariably notorious not only for the poor standard of the writing, but also for the slipshod way they are all too often presented by amateur societies. However, Funny Money it was to be, and so I presented myself at the appropriate time and the appropriate place!

The hall was a hive of industry with a busily chatting audience, and, a welcome sight to see, a full one. Even better, there were many young people in it, everyone adding to the gaiety of the occasion and a good omen for the future. The sound of a pre-performance audience can be music to the ears, and certainly it was tonight. There was an anticipatory atmosphere in the hall, and you couldn't have asked for more than that as you waited for the curtain to go up.

 

Front of House

Everything was efficiently and courteously carried out by the ladies at the door. With such a small hall, it was bursting at the seams yet everyone was in place in good time and there seemed plenty of room for manouvre. I had a good seat, with a programme and a coffee in the interval.

The programme itself was also bursting at the seams! You had good value for your 50 pence (well, if you paid it, that is. Mine was presented to me!) with notes from the producer, Glyn Jones and new member Mike Lee. The essential information of cast and backstage staff was clearly laid out, there was a generous acknowledgement of Guild sponsors Maldon Fencing Company and a very interesting article on the Potted History of Money.

Having already spoken about waiting for the curtain to go up, in fact, it didn't. Actually, there was no curtain used in this production! ! However, the important thing was that the play, having been advertized for a 7.45 start, did so, right on time.

This year is evidently Little Waltham's Thirtieth Anniversary, and I'd like to add my congratulations on this wonderful achievement.

 

Stage Management

The best thing I can say about the stage management is that there didn't appear to be any, which is as it should be of course! Nothing untoward happened, as far as the audience was concerned at least, so the stage management team was obviously in command of the situation. I shall just mention that the script calls for the radio to be playing the William Tell Overture at the beginning, but yours played "We're in the Money". Just to let you know I was awake. It didn't matter in the slightest of course!!. The one hiccough occurred near the end when the revolver was supposed to fire its third shot, but took its time in doing so. The bird picture on the wall was an ingenious way of solving the cuckoo clock gag called for, though the switch was not as funny a result. But the flying flowers incident went off well, as did the shot radio, albeit without the music gradually dying away, which would have been another potentially funny episode. The co-ordination between the telephone ringing and stopping once the receiver has been picked up was spot-on throughout the evening.

 

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The Set

I liked the layout of the set, especially bearing in mind the small amount of space you have at your disposal. How on earth you managed as well as you did is amazing. I wasn't too keen on the colour scheme, which was ... well ... unusual. It didn't seem somehow to reflect what is generally regarded as typical "middle-class" (called for by the script) taste, or, if the middle-class idea was abandoned, even less would it reflect typical "working-class" taste. But this of course is a purely personal reflection. Full and clever use of the stage area had been made, and an interesting room was the result. Three doors made for a reasonable ease of movement, with the cramped conditions only now and again showing, mainly when more than person had to exit (or enter) at the same time.

 

Furniture and Props

The furniture was particularly well thought out. There was a generous amount of it around, which was remarkable considering 'the size of the stage. I don't want to keep on harping about the stage size, but it's a fact of life, and reflects great credit on your use of it. The positioning of the settee appeared to cause no problems of movement before or around it, and if the armchair by the door did it is extremely difficult to see where else you could have placed it. On the whole, it couldn't have been improved, I fancy.

The props were also very good. Not surprisingly, the money in the case wasn't real and didn't look as if it was either, though this may be considered nit-picking! Otherwise, all other props looked fine, from the wine bottles and phone to the teapot and police identification passes.

 

Lighting

The play required a simple lighting plot, with its interior setting the same throughout: overall general lighting. It duly received just that, so Mr White obviously gave his all, and thus could be asked to do no more than that! It was clear, bright and added its valuable quota to the sum total of the evening.

 

Costumes

Modern day costumes, so presumably in the main the characters were dressed in their own clothes wherever possible. They all fitted comfortably and looked suitable. Jean's costume perfectly reflected her part, neat, tidy and with the quiet warm colours associated with the "little woman" at home! Betty's more flashy outfit, too, looked good and suited the personality coming across in the role. Set against these was the necessarily more sober apparel of the men of the cast, all looking equally appropriate.

 

Direction

Glyn Jones had obviously thought a great deal about his production and laid a firm foundation for a successful one. The stage movement was carefully plotted, and well carried out by the cast. There was the odd awkward manouvre now and again, largely connected with the aforementioned armchair by the door which was in a difficult position to get to comfortably and naturally. But I repeat, I can't see where else it could have been placed. It certainly didn't spoil the overall result. The acting area was covered to good effect and resulted in a series of excellent stage pictures. The set pieces in particular were very well done. I can't recall seeing a wasted, or even poorly executed movement all evening,, and there was certainly no masking to be seen from where I was.

The script mentions the Perkins' Fulham house as "reflecting a middle-class background" which seems more than a trifle vague to me, and I see you rather wisely chose to ignore it!! In any case, I presume the great mass are now "middle class" whatever that is supposed to mean. Where this production scored especially was in the pace it maintained from the beginning. Pace is all-important, of course, it almost goes without saying. Yet pace is invariably the one thing amateurs lack, and with it the strict, almost regimental, discipline maintaining such a pace demands. There was a perfect illustration of this in the lead up to the first act finale when the play began to sag dreadfully. In part this was because of the script, which was too long and badly needed pruning, but there was also a spell when the cast were a little unsure of their lines, which could have led to a disaster. That it didn't was a tribute to the skill of the players and their tenacity in overriding the crisis! !

The next time things began to sag again, during the latter part of the second half, it was undoubtedly the fault of the script, which went on for far too long, with already absurd situations turning from being highly

 

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unlikely to being just plain silly. This was not of your doing, naturally, although the longer the play went on, the more unacquainted with the script the actors were seemingly gradually becoming.

Nevertheless, on the whole the production was a great credit to your group and one of the best executed of those I have seen lately. I can well imagine that the mistakes and the lapses of concentration that occurred were made only on the night I attended, and were not repeated in other performances. I can only speak for Friday night, alas!!

 

The Cast

 

Jean Perkins (Chrissy Gould)

This was a classy and accomplished performance of an extremely difficult role. Jean began the act as a worrier, first of all worrying about what had made her husband late, then what was wrong with him when eventually he did arrive home, and then the impending arrival of the Johnsons. After that she worried about the money, then the course of action Henry had embarked upon, then the visiting policemen, and finally she rounded the evening off by worrying about the imminent arrival of Mr Big.

To be a convincing worrier for that length of time, and not get on the audience's nerves, took some doing and Chrissy did it with room to spare. The plot at the best of times was thin and needed a kick-start to get it going. Chrissy played a valuable part in ensuring it did, and the opening scene went with the vitally­needed swing. I liked the look of quiet desperation in her face and voice as she tried to cope with the arrival first of all of Davenport, then, even better, when Bill appeared. The script here was very poor stuff, and some of the dialogue as unbelievable. No wonder Jean was driven to drink!

The anxiety in her face while she explained the course of events so far to the newly arrived Betty brought a clever change, albeit necessarily slight, of emphasis in voice. Listening to Henry's description of what he did on his visit to the pub showed how well Chrissy could act with not a word being spoken: her facial expressions here and indeed throughout the evening were first class.

Jean's gradual descent into tipsiness was also very well done: no suggestion of going over the top, though the thought crossed my mind it may well have been the quality of the script that was driving her to drink more than anything. Whatever the reason, it was convincingly portrayed. Perhaps too much drink was also the reason she showed surprisingly little reaction to the news of her husband swapping wives for the visit to Barcelona! I feel the news would have come as more of an unwelcome shock to her, though it is true the words she has to say give her little scope for such a course.

This apart Chrissy gave a well thought and carried out performance and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Henry Perkins (Graham Pipe)

Graham also gave a highly accomplished performance in a role that offered precious little scope for anything but idiocy. He managed to maintain a nice little line in bewilderment as what passed as a plot unfolded, and he became *increasingly steeped in the mire. He played his full part in the aforementioned opening sequence in which a steady pace was essential to get things going. Bewilderment and pace can make for uneasy bedfellows, but Graham managed to maintain both. The telephone call to British Airways was nicely judged, as was his explanation to his wife of how he came upon the wrong brief case in the train. All in all this was the best, at least the sanest, part of the script.

Once the improbable, not to say silly, explanations begin to flow it is very difficult to judge the timing of them, and Graham was not always successful in doing so. You have to give the impression of desperation in coming up with an answer, while keeping things bowling along and these pauses tended to be just a little too long. It was not so bad early on but once the play had begun to outlive its welcome, and the cracks appeared as the plot sagged, the pauses made their contribution to the general malaise. (The fault of the script I hasten to add, and nothing of Graham's doing!!)

There was a nicely portrayed moment of relief with the news that Mr Nasty had met a sticky end and was, no longer a menace, before the threat of a visit from Mr Big replaced him in that capacity. But I would have thought the gradual whittling down of the cash he had fought so hard to keep, as it began to vanish under the encroachment of so many "expenses" would have caused Henry a lot more concern than was apparent. However, the look on his face with Betty's revelation that she would like to accompany him to Barcelona was very funny, as was the Indian accent used over the phone and the discovery that his brief case had been replaced by the wrong one. And there was the right note of weary despair when everything

 

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collapses and at long last Henry is inevitably faced with giving Slater the correct explanation about the briefcases.

The whole plot relied on a strong, sound Henry as an anchorman, and certainly got one in Graham's sterling, reliable performance.

 

Bill (Richard Butler)

Well, I'll say one thing for Richard's character he was certainly loud and clear! And once his ire was roused he proved to be an obvious star pupil from the Royale Family School of Charm! His bright, breezy personality was just what was needed upon his entrance as a counter to what had gone on before. He displayed just the right amount of cheek, mixed with cheeriness and inquisitiveness to bring a welcome breath of fresh air to the proceedings.

Richard displayed a fine comic flair when confronting Betty and Vic over the crashed taxi, and added his quota of despair when trying to ascertain if anybody was actually going to London Airport, surprise at the apparent wife-swapping of his prospective fares and anger at the prospect of one of them being sick in his taxi. And he was suitably triumphant when telling the cast he had transferred the money from the briefcase to the suitcase to bring the play to a noisy, if scarcely moral, conclusion.

I enjoyed this performance also, although now and again I'd have liked a little less volume. But there was plenty of variety to the voice, so it was a small price to pay for such an engaging character who brought much welcome vocal colour to the production, as well as appropriate ad-libbing when the revolver declined to go off when it was supposed to, for the third shot.

 

Davenport (Mike Lee)

A good introduction to the drama stage for Mike, who had apparently sung on it before but not acted. His main problem was the need to project himself more, though to be honest it must be said he was playing a pretty unlikely policeman. He could be heard quite clearly by and large, a slight tendency to run words into one another being a slight distraction, as was the fading away of the ends of some sentences, especially when turning away from the audience.

Apart from the opening awkward movement when invited to sit down in the aforementioned easy chair at the front of the stage, Mike got off to a flying start with a fair interpretation of a Detective Sergeant. He sounded suitably stern when confronting Henry for the first time as he came downstairs. But once he disappears into the kitchen for the interview he has demanded, he turns from a straight to a bent copper, and I'd have liked even the merest suggestion of this change in his circumstances. He would certainly have had Henry under his thumb at this early stage so a more swaggering attitude on his behalf would have spoken volumes, and later on, when he became Henry's employee, it could have been the signal for another contrast in styles. As it was, Mike's performance overall was much of a muchness. However, I feel sure, based on the evidence of tonight's performance, that he has the makings of a fine actor within him once he finds his feet on the stage.

 

Slater (Peter Travell)

All the actors in the cast tonight had their work cut out to create anything substantial from the material given. None had a more impossible task than Peter. I simply couldn't believe my eyes, to say nothing of my ears, after Detective Sergeant Slater had arrived on the scene. His mission is to tell Jean a body has been found in the river under Putney Bridge with two bullet holes in the back of his head, and he has the strongest suspicion it is her husband. He wants her to go the hospital to identify the .body. Incredibly, he then offers to make her a cup of tea!! After that, all he actually ends up doing for the rest of the evening is making tea that nobody ever drinks, for the rest of the cast.

I have had no personal experience of dealing with the police in matters such as-these, thank goodness, but I feel reasonably sure no Detective Sergeant on earth would behave in this highly ridiculous manner. All genuine comedy has to have at least one foot firmly on the ground thus keeping it within sight of reality. Peter moved about the stage as if he was highly bemused by all that was .going on and I am not surprised. He was a dumb copper way over and beyond the call of duty, as he had to react to a series of remarks and explanations that wouldn't test the intellect of an eight year old. Even after Henry has made a full confession, he still doesn't get the set up, as if the discovery of cocaine in a briefcase is sufficient to make him entirely forget the import of what he had heard but two minutes before.

 

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In the circumstances, Peter did as well as anyone could reasonably expect. I am not in the least damning him with faint praise, I merely feel now, and felt it even more when I was watching him, that no actor should be required to spout this dismal stuff. Peter displayed a good sense of quiet authority, moved confidently around the stage, was obviously in complete command of himself, and deserved a better break than Slater was ever going to offer him.

 

Betty Johnson (Weedy Padbury-Clark)

A splendid interpretation. Weedy was another actor who moved across the stage in complete command of herself and seemed perfectly at ease whether speaking, listening or merely observing. I can't say the voice was particularly ingratiating, but boy, was it effective! !

She came onto the stage at a point where the play was well under way, but she moved seamlessly into the rhythm of things. And I liked her carefree way of throwing away lines, such as "I'd take Bali", or "Watch the telly? We've got Crimewatch for real here!" The thought crossed my mind early on that perhaps the voice adopted would be rather difficult to manouvre, but not a bit of it. There was astonishment there when Betty tells her about Henry's fortune, another delicious throwaway on "She does now. Brandy!", admonitory when telling her husband off for his aggressive attitude towards the taxi driver, non­committal telling Davenport what she has heard about him was "Patchy", sweetly sarcastic on "There's no need to burst into song, Percy. I'll make the tea!", and gloriously abandoned on "Betty Johnson! Well, I mean, I think it sounds brilliant. I'd go like a shot".

An amusing, accomplished, highly enjoyable performance

 

Vic Johnson (Steve Buscall)

Vic was one of those parts that are necessary to introduce further themes into play, hopefully to advance the story, but once this has been done are actually required to do little more than provide suitable reactions the others can bounce off. In other words, a deceptively difficult, but ultimately thankless, role.

His opening gambit unfortunately takes place offstage. An altercation with the taxi-driver, no less. So that on his first appearance he is in a rather volatile mood, to say the least! His temperature necessarily cooled off as he learned about Henry's predicament with money, the pub and the police, before another altercation with the taxi-driver, this time on the stage, raised it again. Plenty of opportunity then for changes of mood and situation, but unfortunately more or less lumped together within the space of two or three pages, which made them well ... cramped ... to put it no stronger. On the whole, Steve coped admirably with these fairly improbable events, mainly by appearing with a sort of all-purpose perplexed air that was alleviated with the odd variation now and again.

Steve's repertoire of double takes and reactions was rather limited and he seemed to remain outside of the events happening on the stage in front of him. But he was another who did all that could be reasonably expected of him, and I feel sure most of the shortcomings within that limited range were the fault of the part as written.        e

 

Passer-by (Alan Double)

Alan of course had the shortest time of any of the cast to create an impression in his part, but he made a good shot at it, if you'll forgive the pun. Actually, he did manage to convey a rather quiet menace on his entrance, as well as providing quite a few laughs when shooting the flowers and the radio. But his part was over almost before he had begun it. However, he made a positive contribution to the proceedings.

 

 

So ... mixed feelings about my first ever visit to Little Waltham. Everything about the evening was most enjoyable, up to the point the play started!! As far as I was concerned it was not all loss by any means. Once a play begins to pall, if it is going to of course, there can still be much to enjoy in watching the members of the cast go about their business. Tonight it did pall, but the whole cast was an extremely talented one, and well worth the study. It was just a shame they did not have a play worthy of their considerable expertise.

Nevertheless, thank you very much for inviting me to share it.

 

 

John Folkard

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