NORTH ESSEX THEATRE GUILD FULL-LENGTH PLAY FESTIVAL 2008-9 GROUP: LITTLE WALTHAM DRAMA GROUP

 

TITLE: BAZAAR AND RUMMAGE by SUE TOWNSEND DATE: 1/5/09

 

ADJUDICATORS: ANDREW HODGSON and JENNY BURKE

 

INTRODUCTION: This was my first visit to Little Waltham Drama Group. Jenny had been full of praise for their previous pantomime, so our expectations were high. "Bazaar and Rummage" is quite a brave choice of play for a village group to present, given its use of strong language, but a nearly full house did not seem to mind this at all! It was also good to see the group catering well for its female members with this play and, indeed, their next, "Girls Night Out", another modern play with adult language and themes. I was quite surprised to read in the excellent programme that "Bazaar and Rummage" was written in the early 80's. I know I have seen it once before, performed by an amateur company in Colchester about ten years ago. We received a warm and friendly welcome from the well-organised F.O.H. team, the good seats, refreshments and forthright announcement about mobile phones were much appreciated. Thank you!

 

SETTING/PROPS: The set was plain but it blended well into the whole hall and auditorium in general, which, given the setting was described as a church hall, was as it should have been. There seemed to be a large apron on the front of the stage which brought the actors close to the audience and created a nice, intimate feeling. The trestle tables used were arranged on either side of the stage which meant that lots of the movement was side to side, rather than front to back. The decision to position the clothes rail at the back did not help, an additional table for people to place things on would have helped movement around the stage and eradicated masking. We weren't sure about the abstract religious poster but it added colour and interest. There was the usual jumble paraphanalia, clothes, books etc, a notice-board advertising local events in Acton, and a "no smoking sign" etc. to set the scene. Props that were integral to the play were fine and worked well.

 

LIGHTING AND SOUND: The lighting was quite basic. The stage area was covered mostly from front lighting. There were no special effects needed but we wondered why the corridor outside the main entrance to the hall was not lit, the actors seemed to disappear into darkness. It was also a pity that there was no pre-curtain music. A selection of hits from the early 80's would have really set the mood and tone of the play. There did seem to be some music during the interval but it was difficult to hear. Sound effects were limited to various sirens.

 

COSTUMES: A good attempt had been made to dress the characters appropriately, in order to clearly establish their personalities on arrival. For example, Margaret was in denims, Katrina's outfit had a definite "showbiz" touch, Bell-Bell neat and tidy, Fliss was scruffy. Hair and makeup was good. Margaret's transformation was very well-managed, she really did look like a different, more confident woman. Gwenda was obviously wearing a wig, and there was great hilarity when it came off but this was not reacted to by the other characters and, therefore, the reason she was wearing it was not made clear.

 

THE ACTING: There was very good ensemble playing in this production. The actors looked as though they enjoyed acting with each other. Lines were generally solid so it was a pity that there were a few prompts. Reaction playing was sometimes too broad and indeed, we felt the whole tone of the production was perhaps too broad given the serious shift of emotional gear in Act Two, more of this later. However, the cast captured the differences between these five characters nicely, and the audience engaged with them and cared about them.

 

GWENDA: Rather nervous at the start, Linda soon got into her stride. We assume that Linda was using her own North American accent (?) The character as written seemed to be the archetypal English spinster but this didn't really matter too much. Linda had a nice way with her dialogue and she managed to find a good vocal rhythm and range of emotions. She had lots of props to handle and did so confidently. Linda had a tendency to look to the side of the stage rather than to the front when necessary, it would have been nice to have seen her in full-face more often!

 

FLISS: Good, consistent playing from Victoria. She was obviously a bit older than the character described in the script but we liked her natural style. She never overplayed and you felt very confident when she was on stage. She looked the part exactly! Victoria had a good range in her voice and manner. It was clear that she understood her character and she got real meaning out of her dialogue, well done!

 

KATRINA: Wendy projected herself to the audience very clearly. Her character was loud and flashy and she played very much for laughs, her tactlessness was amusing. We did feel that Wendy's character came across perhaps too confidently at the start and we weren't totally convinced of her condition. The dark undercurrent of her relationship with her controlling husband was a shock when she unravelled towards the end of the play. Wendy handled this well but the audience wasn't really prepared for this moment as the playing previously had been so broad.

 

BELL BELL: Vivienne was very natural on the stage. She conveyed the nervousness of her character very well indeed. We naturally warmed to her and a range of emotions were well portrayed. She was the most believable agoraphobic on stage. Vivienne had a nice speaking voice and was always in character. However, she had a tendency to over-react facially to the behaviour of the other characters and she does need to watch this in the future. Otherwise, well done!

 

MARGARET: Jacky had a demanding role. She was a good actress, she demonstrated a good vocal range and was attuned to the different moods of her character. Jacky picked up her cues with good pace and delivered her comedy lines well, with punch and timing. The cockney accent was right and the on-stage transformation worked very effectively. However, we did feel that the whole performance could have been toned down just a tad in order to be completely successful. Again, Margaret's shocking revelation at the play's climax sat a little uneasily with what had gone before, although Jacky handled this scene very ably. More could also have been made of her great achievement in stepping foot outside on her own after twenty five years! This was, however, a commendable performance.

W.P.C: This was an amusing cameo from Sue. We immediately warmed to her character which was well conveyed and Sue fitted into the "ensemble" feeling of the play immediately. We would like to have seen more of her!

 

PRODUCTION: This play is a comedy with very serious themes, sometimes the humour seems to sit uneasily with the emotional problems of the agoraphobic characters. The comic aspects of the play were emphasised in this production. The acting was quite broad and for most of the evening the audience responded to this wholeheartedly. However, the play changes tack in Act Two and the revelations of Katrina and Margaret (in particular) are shocking. The audience, whilst enjoying the comic lines, should be prepared for this and the directing and acting should always reflect the underlying tensions in the play and build towards these moments. In this case, we thought the production rather lost the audience towards the end. I am sure this was because the audience suddenly felt uncomfortable with the teenage abuse of Margaret and therefore didn't really know how to react as there was some nervous laughter. Every play is open to a different interpretation and there is no right or wrong way of doing something, it may be a fault in the play itself that the comic and tragic sometimes seemed to collide jarringly. The rhyming section at the end of the first act is also quite difficult to pull off successfully, we thought it would have been a good idea to have incorporated it into the action, a great opportunity for the cast to move things around and make final preparations for the sale before opening the doors at the climax of the first half. There was also some masking due to the positioning of the tables, as mentioned earlier. However, the director had generated a very good feeling of ensemble playing between his cast, and he also created a good feeling of intimacy with the audience. This is very important when presenting a small cast play of this type.

 

SUMMATION: This was a brave choice of play and, for most of the evening, the comedic aspects of this production were greatly enjoyed by the audience. There were some good characterisations and a nice ensemble feeling to the evening. Despite our reservations about this interpretation of the piece, we enjoyed the performance. Thank you.

Andrew Hodgson (Adjudicator)