Group: Little Waltham Drama Group

Venue: Little Waltham Memorial Hall

Date of adjudication: 19th May 2013

Production: Practice to Deceive

Director: Margaret Simmonds




Well known for his pantomime scripts and comedies Norman Robbins’ ‘Practice to Deceive’ is the first thriller by him that I have seen. The play offers many opportunities for good ensemble acting and some delightful cameo roles, I can see why it is an attractive option for a group to tackle.



Front of House                                            Eileen Metson & Group Members


There is always a warm welcome waiting at Little Waltham and the audience were queuing eagerly when I arrived just before the doors opened. The allocated seat I was given was much appreciated as it afforded me an excellent view of the stage.


Refreshments                                               Glyn Jones & Group Members

These were well organised and thank you for your waiter service!


Publicity                                                       Susan Butler

This had clearly been successful as the hall was almost full by the time curtain up was due.


Poster & Programme design                      Karen Allen

A nicely distinctive design on the front of the programme with an intriguing image of the rope, this helped to raise audience expectations. Clearly organised information and helpful cast photographs were supported by an image of the spider with the full quote which gave rise to the title.


Printing Reprohouse  

The quality of the programme and posters was good.                                       



Set design Mags Simmonds

The venue presents the group with particular challenges in terms of set design but this was impressive. The design allowed maximum use of the space with entrances downstage right, upstage right and upstage left giving the actors and director many choices. The use of the stairs upstage right gave an impression of there being an upper floor to the cottage but the really effective addition was the use of the stable door as the entrance to the cottage. This allowed interaction through the door as well as people arriving and leaving. I was also impressed by the décor of the set. It really did feel like the interior of a holiday cottage with its neutral colours and assortment of furniture. Some thoughtful touches to the set dressing such as the pictures helped to establish the atmosphere. The painted scenery giving us a feeling of the countryside beyond was very effective. A very believable setting, well done.


Scenery construction                                   Group Members

This was done well with the rather lovely stable door taking pride of place. It really added to the feeling of a cottage as well as providing a focus for the action.


Painting Liz Willsher

As I’ve already mentioned this looked good and helped to draw our eyes beyond the interior. The landscape is mentioned so much in the play having this view from the window supported the idea of the rural setting and the painting itself was well executed.


Stage manager                                              Tony White

Scene changes were managed smoothly and efficiently and had clearly been well rehearsed.


Lighting Daniel Ayris

This worked well and there were some subtle effects in the build up to the storm with a gentle darkening. Natural looking light was appropriately deployed for most of the scenes and gave a warm appearance to the set. There was one late cue which was a bit unfortunate.





Sound                                                             Nicola Ayris

Sound effects were accurately timed and effective in quality. The dog barking was at just the right volume to give a realistic impression of Boris and the rain effect was atmospheric.  A well co-ordinated effort with lighting to create the storm.


Props                                                              Linda Burrows

These were well chosen and appeared at the right time. There were a lot of cups of tea to be dealt with and with all the different exits and entrances making sure everything was where it needed to be needed careful planning.


Costumes                                                       Viv Aubrey and Jenni Money 

I felt the costumes had been thoughtfully chosen to represent the personalities of the characters. Gavin’s woolly hat was his trademark, while Diana and Susan’s outfits  gave us the impression of summer weather and holidays. Rhoda’s costume suited her more business like approach while Donald’s flat cap and braces reflected a farm working man. Adrian’s black leather jacket worked well nicely differentiating him from the other men including the police inspector’s formal attire. Jessica’s clothes were pretty and suited her rather gentler demeanour.  A good selction.                                              


Make up The Cast

This looked natural and had been carefully matched to the characters.


Prompt Jenni Money

Sadly you were needed on a couple of occasions but your interventions were discreetly given and I’m sure the actors are reassured by your presence.




Mildred McBride                                           June Frazen


What a fun role this was! Having the chance to play this assertive, (if slightly eccentric!) older woman was a good opportunity to explore this character. June’s clear delivery and positive body language helped but was a little lacking in energy. I felt she had the potential to be more assertive without becoming grotesque. However I acknowledge that this was a performance given under difficult circumstances and June is to be commended for her portrayal.



Gavin Purdie Richard Butler

Richard was a little hesitant on his first entrance but soon settled into the part and gave a very sincere performance. He managed to give the impression of being naïve and yet having a slightly sinister air at the beginning, a difficult characterisation to achieve but I think Richard did this successfully. The audience certainly warmed to him and he provided us with some lighter moments. His discomfort at wearing his ‘best’ clothes was delightful, while his reactions to the news of Donald were shocked but not overdone. A good performance.



Donald Caffrey Gerald Staines

Here was another cameo role for a rural eccentric and Gerald again seemed a little unsure at the start but really grew into the role as the play moved on. Particularly good were his conversations with Adrian where the pace was well sustained. It seemed a bit unreasonable to lose you at the end of the first half!


Jessica Scanlon Debra Hensman

Debra really caught the slightly unworldly air of this character well and allowed her vulnerability to come through without her being tiresome, Her reactions to the other characters were subtly different and she was particularly good in the scenes when Diana was questioning her and in the scene with the inspector. A competent performance which helped to sustain the pace.



Adrian Brookes                                              Gordon McSween

Gordon looked right for this role and his slightly furtive manner helped to give the audience the impression that there was more to this character than there seemed. He did seem a little unsettled at first but then began to give a more confident performance. As that character at the centre of the plot Gordon did well with his lines (apart from one prompt) and differing interactions with all the other characters as the truth was gradually revealed. He dealt well with the physical stage business but at times was speaking a little too quickly and the ends of the lines were ‘swallowed’ especially in the scene where the revelation of Detective Sergeant Brookes was made. The characterisation did come through very strongly though in the scene with Rhoda towards the end of the play.






Diana Wishart Karen Allen

This was a very assured performance from Karen – the character is so appallingly insensitive and pushy she must be great fun to play! I thought Karen was particularly good when ‘bulldozing’ Jessica with her probing questions but seemed a little hesitant in the more emotional scene with Jessica in the second half. Her scene with Adrian built steadily to the struggle and her ‘death’ which worked well. A challenging role and Karen gave a very assured performance.


Susan Tonks                                                   Susan Butler

Susan gave us a nice contrast to Diana and Susan (Butler) certainly brought that contrast to life when she confronted Diana about her behaviour. She used an effectively sharp edge to her voice, and her storming out was totally believable. A supportive and clearly defined characterisation.


Rhoda Bradstock                                           Viv Abrey

Rhoda was different again and I felt Viv brought a briskness to the body language of the character which was effective. Her brusque manner worked well against the other characters but she stumbled with lines at a crucial moment, what a shame. vocally her intonation was good and added to the depth of emotion of her lines.What did come across clearly was her enjoyment in the playing of the role.


Detective Inspector Tyson                             Martin Final

Looking every inch the official figure in the play Martin gave us a clear and confident performance. Given the convolutions of the plot we were left wondering whether justice would prevail and the final exchange with Adrian was handled well.  


Production Assistant                                      Kathy Jiggins

There was a strong sense of a well co-ordinated production here with the front of house team, the cast and the crew all working to achieve a successful production.


Director’s assistant                                        Viv Abrey

With so many plotlines intertwined with the characters and some very busy scenes to stage I suspect Viv was kept busy but such assistance can be invaluable to a director.


Direction Mags Simmonds

As I said in the introduction I can see why the play is an attractive option for a group but I was pleased to see you hadn’t been afraid to do some judicious cutting. The characters are great fun and gave your actors a chance to enjoy some ensemble acting with plenty of emotion. It was a challenge though, with so many denouement moments to sustain the audience’s belief in the plot.

As it was such a busy plot there needed to be more light and shade between the lighter and darker moments of the play to give us a feeling of more depth to the characters. This would have helped the actors to find more ways of exploring their characters.


Occasionally when the characters were talking it did seem like a tennis match when they were standing on opposite sides of the stage exchanging lines. This happened near the beginning in a conversation between Mildred and Adrian, in fact downstage left was where Adrian seemed to do most of his talking from.

The audience however seemed to thoroughly enjoy the performance and I felt your cast did enjoyed themselves too. Thank you for your hospitality and the chance to see the play.


Best wishes

Maggi Fisher