Category Archives: Recent Productions

Party Piece – Getting in the party spirit

Gainford Drama Club selected Party Piece to celebrate 70 years of the amateur dramatics club, and you have to admire the sheer work-rate and athleticism of the cast in this Richard Harris comedy which is riddled with chaotic situations.

At times the humour is farcical and takes some swallowing.  The story is built round a doctor and his wife staging a fancy dress house-warming party-barbecue in the back garden of their home.

The good doctor, played with enthusiasm by Glyn Casswell, ends up dressed as Ginger Rogers in a long evening gown (and brunette wig) while his wife, Roma (Maria Lowcock) is in top hat and tails as Fred Astaire, as part of the reverse roles format of the party.

Maria covers a considerable distance dashing from the garden to the front door to welcome guests, though in fact very few turn up and she certainly puts her heart and soul into the role.

But the star of this show is Veronica (Ronnie) Lowery, playing Mrs Hinson, the scheming, duplicitous widow next door with the acid wit, whose poisonous relationship with her latest long suffering daughter-in-law, Jennifer, provides some of the more realistic humour.

Never missing a chance to praise Jennifer’s predecessor, she repeatedly antagonises her wimpish son David’s furious wife before all three are invited to join the failing party next door.

Emma Simpson, as Jennifer, and Paul Richardson as David, are convincing in their back garden battles. Jennifer does not like being ignored, or being compared to David’s previous consorts, resulting in regular mutual sniping, which culminates in her launching her mother in law’s Zimmer over the fence with considerable enthusiasm.

Only two invited guests, Toby (Lawrence Chandler) and man-hunting Sandy (Alison Ivanec), actually turn up to the weird house-warming, barbecue, both making the most of their supporting roles.

Lawrence, in white suit, only after free food and booze, gives a sound performance as Toby and Alison, as sexy Sandy, after “up-for- it” men, sporting rugby kit and ready for the scrum, doesn’t need more than one drink to go into her first tackle!

For this production director Jan Richardson-Wilde has a fast-paced farce that dependent upon rapid exits and entrances, and set designer John Lowery and his team of Paul Richardson, Michelle Hope, Chris Allcock, Kate Allcock, Lawrence Chandler and Adrian Johnstone have created a brilliant set with rear gardens of two adjoining houses with flowers, sheds, a porch and patio windows incorporating all manner of associated horticultural paraphernalia.

The Accrington Pals

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War Gainford Drama Club performed ‘The Accrington Pals’ – an excellent choice to commemorate and remember all those who lost their lives in that most devastating of military campaigns. So many of the young men sent to fight who lost their lives on the first day of the Somme conflict were from the ‘Pals’ regiments and the play shows the build up to war and the effect that the war had on the loved ones left behind.

‘The Accrington Pals’ is a story about the relationships between the men and their loved ones, but also between the Pals and between the Lancashire women left behind as their menfolk went off to war. It also explores the madness of the industrialised slaughter of the Great War and as such, it was an interesting choice of drama to mark the 100th anniversary. The commitment from all concerned with the production gave this a powerful and emotional theatrical statement.

The simple set consisted of two grocery stalls which, when covered became the interior of May’s house as well as the trenches, as ingenious design which together with effective props providing the necessary arena and atmosphere for the play. Costumes were also excellent and added just the necessary amount of both historical accuracy and authenticity to the piece. 

The performance of the cast was consistently good, sometimes excellent, a standard audiences have come to expect from Gainford Drama Club. The character of May Hassall is something of a force of nature in the play and is in many ways the real focus of the drama. There’s something of a no-nonsense aspect of the character of May Hassall, well portrayed by Josephine Longstaff and I enjoyed the brisk and domineering take on the mighty May. Glyn Casswell’s performance as Tom Hackford was very powerful; never overplayed and with a naturalistic approach which worked well in expressing the ‘real’ man behind the stage character, also making a great job of putting across Tom’s artistic side without overdoing it. Luke Van Dijk really embraced the role of Ralph, perfectly encapsulating his youthful enthusiasm and puppyish enthusiasm: he coped manfully with ‘that’ scene in the bath too! Full marks Luke. Lizzy Rawlings, Emma Simpson and Bethany Lewis Burrows (in her debut role) brought a youthful enthusiasm to the roles of Eva, Sarah and Bertha respectively, with Ethan Rawlins, also in his first production for the club, as Reggie Boggis. Annie and Arthur Boggis were played by Alison Ivanec (another debutant for the Club) and Allan Jones, who also directed the production! Arthur is a quietly innocent creation; softly spoken, humble and with a simple and direct moral code, the polar opposite to the force of nature that was Annie. Alison captured the essence of the Northern working-class experience and channelled it through the outrageous Annie Boggis! Keith Irons, becoming a regular performer, completed the cast list as CSM Rivers, adding an authentic military presence to the production.

This was a strong production which made the most of the source material, taking on the story with very clever use of the stage and scenery which added an extra layer of interest to the material.

With the significant number of scene changes and the atmosphere generated praise must go to the Lighting and Sound team headed by John Lowery as well as to Props lead by Ann Napier for the collection of articles which gave life to the production.

As the timing of the production aligned with the end of the First World War, Gainford was remembering those men who lost their lives during the conflict and this was reiterated by a display of the Somme battle and those that had lost their lives.

Overall a very successful and poignant evening’s entertainment.

The Ladykillers

The classic 1955 black comedy film, The Ladykillers, was adapted for the stage by Graham Linehan (co-creator of Father Ted) in 2011.  It may or may not be the greatest of the Ealing comedies, but it is certainly the one that immediately suggests itself as theatrical. The story remains the same – a group of crooks pose as musicians while planning to rob a security van. Their plotting takes place under the nose of their kindly, if eccentric, landlady Mrs Wilberforce. Her trusting nature seems initially to be a help, but her strong moral compass eventually proves something of a hindrance!

Linehan tweaks the original screenplay rather than revamping it. It is a clever modernisation that notably ups the swear quotient, and by recasting it as a period piece brings some of the darker themes into sharper focus while retaining the comedy of the original.

Anyone playing the gang’s leader, Professor Marcus, is always going to have a hard job banishing Alec Guinness from the audience’s thoughts, but Alistair Burn does a fine job, combining an oily gentlemanliness with hints of depravity.  He is more than matched by Kate Nichols as Mrs Wilberforce, foiling several of his ideas with her innocence and openness.

The rest of the cast are also most impressive. Lawrence Chandler as the punch drunk boxer One-Round manages to give the stereotypical character a genuinely sympathetic side. Glyn Casswell’s cleaning-obsessed spiv Harry Robinson is equally convincing, while Allan Jones as the ageing con man, Major Courtney, evokes pleasing memories of countless similar characters from British comedy.

Aiden West as Louis, shows how far he has come in his acting career with a faultless performance as the ‘comedy evil foreigner’ character.  Sadly this was Aidan’s last production for Gainford Drama Club for the foreseeable future as he is now off to take up acting as a career and has a place at the Birmingham School of Acting at the Royal Conservatoire.  He will be sadly missed.

Michelle Hope’s cameo as the put-upon Constable MacDonald adds a layer of welcome sanity, while Ronnie Lowery supplies a haughty grandeur to Mrs Tromleyton, leader of a large and oddly assorted ‘Society of Women’.

The pace of the show  is exemplary, with the first act dialogue building to some beautifully timed and hilarious moments in the second half.  Overall, there is a clever balance between characterisation, darker moments and humour that makes this a very accomplished production.

Not Now Darling

Not Now Darling is a traditional farce with all the regular hallmarks – people hiding in cupboards, spouses coming and going continuously and a wealth of mistaken identities and innuendo.

Firmly based in the 1960s, the script by Ray Clooney and John Chapman reminds one of the “Are You Being Served” comedy of the 1970, to which John Chapman was also a contributor. The extremely funny and very snappy script, gave an excellent cast every opportunity to shine, which they seized with both hands.

The small set was well presented and provided an effective space for the performers. The lighting and sound effects were subtly and effectively managed, with props and costumes clearly establishing the era. A constant stream of clothes flowing through the window, a clever plot and, most of all, superb pace maintained throughout there was never a dull moment.

The two main characters, Arnold Crouch and Gilbert Bodley, were played faultlessly and most effectively by Aidan West and Keith Irons. Displaying a strong chemistry as colleagues they both handled complex and often rapid dialogue with immense skill and conveyed the contrastingly cautious and rash characters of the two men very plausibly. Aidan in particular displaying immense energy and animation.

Emma Simpson as Janie McMichael and Lissy Rawlings as Sue Lawson played the femmes fatales from opposite ends of the social scale, quite beautifully, coping especially well with the varying states of undress involved.  Michelle Hope as the long-suffering secretary, Miss Tipdale, was a catalyst to much of the action, her timing and reaction noticeably good. Cameo performances were portrayed by the remaining cast, Imogen Richardson, Jan Richardson-Wilde, John Robinson, Paul Richardson,  Maria Lowcock and Glyn Casswell, all complementing  the overall production and creating a marvellous and genuinely humorous production.

And Then There Were None

Ten strangers are summoned for a long weekend to the remote Soldier Island off the coast of Devon, under variously different pretexts.

Characters arrive individually and in pairs, having travelled to the island to see Mr and Mrs Owens; the hosts of this group holiday excursion. They are assisted Fred Narracott(Chris Allcock) the boatman, who appears briefly in the first act, complete with wellies and Cornish accent.

Only the maid Mrs Rogers (Catherine Wilkinson), and daughter and cook Ethel (Melissa Rawlings), are there to greet them. They too are waiting on the missing couple.

There is no way for any of them to leave the island, so they set about trying to determine who their mysterious hidden host might be and where he might be hiding. As stories are shared one becomes aware that no character has ever met the Owens’ and the confusion as to why they are there and who they all are, begins.

While they are waiting, a recording, via a gramophone record, levels serious accusations at each of them that they have all been responsible for someone’s death. One by one, they are accused. One by one, their various sordid pasts catch up with them, as one by one, they meet their end!!

Tom Brown as Captain Philip Lombard, is a confident man who admits to his previous crime and has come to the island equipped to deal with trouble. Lombard is accompanied to the island by Vera Claythorne (Paris Lowcock) and there is more than a hint of attraction between them.

Anne Marston is a totally immature, irresponsible woman played wonderfully by Emma Simpson. General Mackenzie (Lawrence Chandler) is a retired military man who lost his wife some years ago. A wise, if not slightly confused man, who in a lovely way gains your sympathy.

Miss Emily Brent (Kate Nichols) is a delight to watch.  Looking down on most of the guests, she is a woman knows what she wants and likes and usually gets it. Carl Howe, in his first role for the Drama Club plays, William Blore, who initially hides his identity as a former Policeman.

Jo Longstaff plays Dr Edwina Armstrong (there is always a Doctor). And finally, we have Judge Wargrave, probably the biggest role in the whole production and a huge one to take on by Keith Irons in his debut for the Club. Keith had the appearance and characteristics of a Judge to perfection as he acted as a calming influence as the night continued.

Based on Agatha Christie’s masterpiece, And Then There Were None is the mystery play at its finest. To this day it remains the world’s bestselling mystery novel. The tension rises as the characters begin to unravel. Fingers point and suspicions are raised at the slightest thing. Each actor plays their part wonderfully and moments of humour are capitalised on.

This successful production of And Then There Were None was Maria Lowcock’s first attempt at directing for the Club. It is a taught thriller that keeps the audience enraptured as they try and work out who is the killer at the same time as the characters. This production shows why this story is a classic.  Altogether an entertaining evening of suspense.

Spring and Port Wine

Spring and Port Wine is a domestic drama, set in the late 1960s, which centres on the attempts of Rafe Crompton (Allan Jones) to hold his family together by being a strict disciplinarian. He wants to retain old-fashioned values while his children, noticing that outside the world is changing rapidly, are intent on rebellion.
Rafe is a domineering, Bible-quoting tyrant who must have the truth whatever the consequences familiar to older members of the audience must have seen glimpses of their own father or grandfather; Jo Longstaff is delightful as his wife Daisy who uses all the wiles at her disposal to try to keep the family together, including fiddling the weekly household accounts when anyone is desperate for money.
Although written nearly 60 years ago, Spring and Port Wine still has resonance today. One of Rafe’s sons Harold (Alistair Burn) points out there won’t be another depression because there are “economic plans to make it impossible”.
The first half slowly builds as the relationships between the six family members, a fiancé and neighbour, Betsy Jane (Michelle Hope) are fully explored and tee up what’s to come after the interval.
Then the action really hots up as one by one Rafe’s children plot against him and decide to take their revenge on his authoritarian ways.
Melissa Rawlings, in her first acting role for the Club, gives a stirring performance as Hilda. She’s belligerent yet on the verge of a tantrum as she’s determined to walk out of the home on a point of principle. Others soon resolve to follow suit.
Even elder daughter Florence (Emma Simpson) and her defiant fiancé Arthur (Glyn Casswell – another debutant) turn against Rafe because of his obstinacy.
The tension builds superbly as Rafe confronts youngest son Wilfred (Aiden West) and there’s silence in the auditorium as Daisy confesses to Rafe her inadequacies in the home while he reveals a childhood secret which led to his thriftiness. It’s a tender moment which achieves maximum pathos.
Spring and Port Wine is well acted, on an interesting set with good direction direction by Ronnie Lowery.

Will You Still Love Me In The Morning?

Gainford Drama Club’s spring production of the Brian Clemens and Dennis Spooner farce was certainly one to remember. From the first night to the final performance the company was almost word-perfect and handled the fast-paced, sometimes frenetic action with aplomb.  The audience were chuckling from start to finish.  The play was well-directed by Lawrence Chandler, assisted by Maria Lowcock.

Peregrine Thelma Celia JeremyThe plot is simple enough. Jeremy and Celia Winthrop return from their honeymoon a week early when their Spanish hotel isn’t up to scratch. Unfortunately Winthrop, looking for promotion, has handed over the keys of his cottage to his two bosses, and both decide to take him up on the offer. Even more unfortunately, both men are having affairs with the other one’s wife.  Mayhem ensues as the Winthrops try to keep the couples apart. The actors built the pace superbly with immaculate timing and mounting puzzlement at the situation.

Aiden West was outstanding as Jeremy, producing some amazing facial gymnastics as the horror of the situation began to dawn on him, but every member of the seven-strong cast made sparkling contributions. Emma Simpson was delightful as the deceptively innocent Sara Ward, Jo Longstaff convincing as the more sophisticated Thelma Jessel, and Paris Lowcock was excellent as Celia, Jeremy’s bewildered new bride. DSCF3542Paul Illingworth was hilarious as the more worldly-wise of the bosses, Humphrey Jessel, complete with urbane wit and sock-suspenders.   Newcomer Alistair Burn gave a most promising performance as the more diffident Peregrine Ward. Paul Richardson played bumbling Syd Clancy, the comic odd-job man to perfection, quietly wrecking the cottage out of sight of the audience.

The country cottage set with a plethora of functioning doors was a triumph of construction (obviously Syd Clancy was not involved) and held up to the exits and entrances superbly.  Characters popped in and out of them with clever DSCF3549timing that added to the humour. The props department had their hands full with dishing up the dinner party in two locations whilst the costume changes added to the confusion and comedy.  All in all this was a great evening’s entertainment.

Gainford Drama Club welcomes new members – contact the Secretary, Mrs Ronnie Lowery on 01325 733138 or find us on Facebook.

The Game’s Afoot

(or Holmes for the Holidays)

Gainford Drama Club’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot” (or Holmes For The Holidays) is part mystery, part melodrama, part comedy, part farce as well as good, well-crafted entertainment. You certainly need a scorecard to keep track of who is dead, could be dead or someone wants dead. Is it Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with a knife?  Maybe!
The play testifies to the enduring popularity of the world’s first consulting detective, however, the story does not feature Sherlock Holmes himself, instead it portrays the actor William Gillette, whose productions did much to cement the Holmes character, which we know and love, in the minds of the public, introducing the pipe, cape and deerstalker.
The production works as a comedy thriller; although the plot creaks a little and the humour only really gets going, with the some slapstick comedy and dramatic twists, in the second half. Then the antics had you laughing out loud. This final act is well-executed, with perfect comic timing such that the production is lifted into a confection of comedy. The actors are as invigorated as they are versatile and the cast is so colourful, that the characters could have been taken right out of a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
The play has been transported to Teesdale for this production and the references made to tSAM_0325he area were well received.  Both sound and lighting were effective during key moments and the quality was good.
Someone appears to be trying to kill William Gillette, who has come to identify with his most famous character. Naturally, there are other murders, with the action taking place at his country house, transported to Teesdale, during a storm.
William Gillette (Allan Jones), the central figure in the production, is portrayed as the confident star of the stage who has played Sherlock Holmes so many times he believes in a way that he is the detective.
He is paired with his long-standing friend Felix Geisel; Moriarty to his Holmes, played by Lawrence Chandler, whose protests of outrage and indignation create thunderous laughter in the audience. His physical comedy with Daria Chase, (played by Jo Longstaff) a fast talking New York reporter who’s not impressed with rural location, was not to be missed.  Daria is spiteful, vindictive and enjoys bullying the actors who desperately need her approval.  Her role is a pivotal catalyst for the events that unfold during this Christmas Eve story.,
Michelle Hope, as FelSAM_0512ix Geisel’s wife Madge, is sharp and funny, particularly strong when working in tandem with Felix.
Maria Lowcock plays Aggie Wheeler, the quiet, somewhat perplexed starlet who is overwhelmed by the events in her life, while Aiden West who plays her new husband, Simon Bright, impressed with his performance in this his debut role for the Club.
Martha Gillette, William’s mother, is played with great energy by Veronica Lowery, who portrays her as a mother with a comical overabundance of pride in her son’s accomplishments. Inspector Goring (Iris Hillery) provides a foil for Martha’s knowing performance being constantly perplexed. Both get their fair share of laughs.
Spouting Shakespeare to each other as actors are wont to do, the guests are soon accusing each other of blackmail, jealousy, adultery, and, especially, of murder.  Luckily, an unusual , daffy, and occasionally savvy policewoman Inspector Goring (Iris Hillery) arrives in the snow storm to make sense of the pandemonium.
Although set on Christmas Eve 1936, complete with a Christmas tree and presents, the hCast-Photooliday doesn’t factor much in to the play at all except for a funny throwaway line by Michelle Hope, who plays Madge Geisel, Felix Geisel’s wife. After many secrets are out in the open, she casually asks, “So I guess we’re not exchanging presents tonight”.
Tom Brown directs the comic chaos with murderers and victims hiding behind every corner and secret sliding wall panel. There are enough references to Holmes and to various stage whodunnits to keep fans of the genre satisfied, even if the play itself is short of tension. Added to the strong teamwork on display, this makes for a satisfying evening’s entertainment.

Blithe Spirit

Audiences moved by the spirit of comedy

The Academy Theatre in Gainford has been rocked with laughter once again by Gainford Drama Club’s 150th production – Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.  The play is a brave choice as it is a difficult play to pull off.  Not only do the leading actors have large parts to learn but they also have to maintain dialogue with characters that are invisible to others. Timing is so crucial when one of the threesome are not supposed to be there and this was pretty much spot on. Costumes as always were very good with the ghostly pale grey very effective.  An attractive set and period music set the scene with a good rhythm as the plot developed which became more comfortable as the play progressed.

Is-there-anybody-thereThe production showcases Gainford’s ability to retain talent, with John Robinson as the sceptical Dr Bradman, and to introduce new blood, with Michelle Hope making a promising stage debut as Mrs Bradman. Maria Lowcock as Madame Arcati displays a chirpy enthusiasm for the occult with an accomplished performance reminiscent of Margaret Rutherford in the role. Also new to the Club although not to the stage, Josephine Longstaff delivers a charming performance as the moody and mischievous ghost Elvira whilst Fiona Minay was convincing as Ruth, coping with several costume changes and bouts of hysteria.  Iris Hillery had the audience chuckling in the cameo role of maid Edith.

Introducing-Mme-ArcatiAllan Jones has delivered an entertaining production as Director and a sound acting performance as author Charles’ complacency is undermined by his current and former wives.  The audience as ever enjoyed it as it was up to the normal high standards, demonstrating the hard work that has gone into it.

Performances continue at 7.30 pm from Wednesday 25th March to Saturday 28th March – telephone the Ticket Information Line 01325 730485 or visit the Facebook page Gainford Drama Club.

Play readings will commence after Easter for the Autumn production and new members are welcome.

Tonight at 8:30

GAINFORD Drama Club’s spring production was three of Noel Coward’s one act plays from the set of ten from ‘Tonight at 8.30.’ The three they selected to perform where ‘Hands Across the Sea,’ ‘Fumed Oak’ and ‘Still Life.’ First produced in 1935, they certainly still retain their charm, humour and relevance today. The stories are very different and range from the comedy of mistaken identity in ‘Hands across the Sea.’ ‘Fumed Oak’ saw us meet three generations of the Gow family as their domestic tribulations are revealed. ‘Still Life’ completed the evening with the most recognisable of the three as it was the basis for Brief Encounter. Producing these three plays must have brought many challenges not least with the set and the cast not only playing more than one part, but playing them in different stories. The versatile set was quickly transformed into the three settings and the cast were excellent in each play. A special mention must go to John Chadwick, who appeared in all three plays, and appeared to relish the very different roles each play brought him. If you haven’t yet seen the Gainford Drama Club they are a group of high quality with a unique theatre space.