THE SNOW QUEEN
Claygate Dramatic Society’s festive production of The Snow Queen was not a pantomime in the traditional Christmas sense, but a musical story based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy story of the same name. With book by Colin Wakefield, and original music and lyrics by Kate Edgar, we followed the story of Gerda’s epic mission to save her friend Kay from the evil clutches of the Snow Queen in her mystical Northern ice palace.
Something of a surprise to see this production slotted into a mid-November slot which, apart perhaps from contributing to low audience numbers, didn’t seem to matter too much because, not being a traditional pantomime, there were no opportunities to shout “oh no he isn’t” and “behind you.” which would have seemed rather strange so early in November. However, there were many opportunities to boo the baddy – in this case the evil Snow Queen – and this was done with due gusto by adults and children alike on the Saturday evening performance.
Among the performers, I should start with Ellen Fermie, who gave a convincing portrayal of the Snow Queen in a strong and spirited performance which combined glamour with evil. She captured the high-minded arrogance of the Snow Queen deriving humour in her periodic put-downs of her rival, the good Spirit of Spring, played by Vicky Mastrocola. Vicky gave a mature and nicely judged performance as the “good fairy” figure and executed her many monologues to the audience with warmth and sincerity.
Michelle Hood had a double role combining a kindly Grandmother figure with a highly contrasting evil Robber Woman. Both roles had musical numbers – firstly, “Seasons of My Life,” performed charmingly with the two youngest children and, secondly, the rumbustious comic song “Kill, Kill, Kill” which was good fun and performed with great energy and enthusiasm by Michelle and the ensemble.
The parts of Gerda and Kay required three actors each to reflect the passing of time – the young child, the older child and finally the adult. The youngest Gerda and Kay were played by Charlotte Lootens and Emily Kinnear, who delivered their lines with great strength and sang their songs with confidence. The middle children were played by Antonia Reynolds and Rowan Moreton who had the difficult task of acting out the “change” in Kay’s behaviour – they managed this most effectively and their scenes were very convincing.
The adult Gerda was played at very short notice by Emma McGuiness who stood in for the original actress who was taken ill. Although Emma had to use the book, this was not particularly apparent and congratulations must go to her for taking on the part. She managed to make the character of Gerda totally believable and had the conviction to make the audience feel sympathy for her plight.
There must now be a word of praise for the costumes which were colourful and stunning throughout the show and managed by Maggie Wrightson with help from Ann Baulch and Gill Robinson. I mention this at this point because the costumes came into their own during Gerda’s journey to find Kay, where she met some rather fascinating characters, including Gill Robinson’s Kingfisher, Sarah Greenland’s Hummingbird and the butterflies of Liz Ness and Juliet Bagnall. All little gems and beautifully dressed. Sarah seems to land up with all the best one-liners – in this case, as the Hummingbird, when she declared her favourite song was “Humm-pty Dumpty” and later on, as the Reindeer giving directions, “go left at the lights..…the Northern Lights.”
Another amusing cameo was provided by a pair of crows played by Greg Moreton and Belita Charrington. Their duet, “We’re The Crows,” got one of the biggest cheers of the evening. Apart perhaps, from Bobbie Watson, as “The Lapp Woman,” who sang a reprise of “Farewell” in great voice and without a radio mic. Another excellent reprise of “Farewell” was sung by Harriet Crossingham as the Robber Girl and finally, Mikey Helen, as hard-working and enthusiastic as ever in his double role of the Hobgoblin and The Prince. Some really good performances to enjoy.
And not to be outdone, some solid chorus work from the ensemble and from the young dancers in their two musical numbers the “Snowflake Ballet” and the “Penguins Tap-dance.” The Snow Queen, in one of her more evil moments, snarled “cute choreography just isn’t enough” – but not to worry girls – it was good enough for me!! This was a bright production full of vitality and with much spirited enthusiasm shown by the performers.
And all these elements were brought together by director Dawn Lacey who expertly marshalled a huge cast of 19 principals, 8 adult ensemble, 12 dancers and at least 20 crew and backstage helpers. Her direction was brisk, setting a good pace throughout and the production moved quickly along with hardly a dull moment. Dawn also made an unexpected appearance on stage, due to cast illness, as The Princess, so all-in-all what a trooper!!
Musical Director, Simon Douglas Lane, and percussionist Tim Shaw, kept proceedings moving along at just the right tempo and the lively musical numbers generally worked well. Sound was again expertly handled by Colin Hansford and, on this occasion, lighting design was provided by John Hart.
The open set was a good concept and the two flats in front of the main curtains at each side of the stage painstakingly painted by Lee Jones – depicting the Snow Queens’s icy home and the green pastures of the Spirit of Spring – were effective. Graphics, created by Colin Swinton and projected on the back screen by Brian Hulme, gave a good sense of place and mood although the images were sometimes difficult to see when the stage was bathed in light.
All in all a good evening’s entertainment and I judged most of the audience went home happy. Disney’s “Frozen”, which was also based on The Snow Queen, may have had the better songs, but for me this production had the better real life entertainment. Well done to all involved for giving an enjoyable experience to both young and old.
Steve Mackrell 22 November 2015
Plays by Alan Ayckbourn are always popular, and the audience who came to see Claygate Dramatic Society’s recent production of “Ten Times Table” laughed so much that at times I expected to see tears rolling down the cheeks of audience members! This was a play about what happens when a team falls apart and, while that was very well portrayed, behind it lay the strength of this production – everyone in the cast (including the backstage crew and the director) worked as a team to support the greater good – the production. The success of this show is proof of how well this hidden element worked. Every member of the cast played an important role –even if they had no lines – Michael Helen and Greg Moreton were perfectly cast, and delivered their roles with perfect timing and confidence. I have seen productions that were let down by the minor characters- this play was strengthened by them- well done!
It easy for the audience to identify with characters we have all met in real life (such as Donald, the boring councilor, very well played by Robert Edensborough, who kept going on monotonously about procedures and the Highway and Byways Committee, which added to the comedy of other action on stage). Some characters, such as Ray played by Brian Hulmes, elicit comedy by remaining the same and he delivered the part in an appropriately pompous manner. Similarly, John Taylor, as Tim, delivered a strong performance of a rigid military character who focused only on the needs of the moment and not on other people – with comic results and a well deserved round of applause on exit. We all also enjoyed John Bellamy’s portrayal of the sometimes drunk and falling asleep Lawrence, thinking only of himself and his divorce and not about the meetings, and Juliet Bagnall as Helen, whose upper middle class, bossy character remains the same throughout the play but gave us all a delightful moment when she is kidnapped by Blunt and then returns disheveled.
There are characters who are entertaining by their nature – and Jilly Mess as the whispering Philippa gave a suitably entertaining performance, in a part that could have been over-played. But in Ayckbourn, perhaps the more interesting characters are those who develop as a result of what happens in the play. Belita Charrington gave a performance that showed depth as Sophie moved from quiet obedient sister to adoring girlfriend of Eric (who already had a girlfriend) and at the end, no longer a girlfriend, showed signs of having grown. Eric himself, a left-wing comprehensive school teacher, is driven to show all his Marxist tendencies by this committee and to lead a subgroup. I was surprised to read that Richard Barrett had only recently returned to acting, as he gave a strong and convincing performance, and I’m sure will go from strength to strength. However, to me, the character who stole the show was Bobbie Watson as Audrey. who showed excellent comedy timing throughout; her interjections, and particularly her sprightly exits to the bar, brought the house down! She was perfectly cast and never faltered in her performance.
Liz Ness faced a challenge as director of “Ten Times Table” as, by its very nature it can be a static play until the last scene. She held the audience’s interest through the first scenes around the committee table and achieved a strong contrast with the chaos of the last scene. My congratulations to everyone.
Directors Tony and Sue Wall managed to put some broad smiles
on the faces of a near capacity audience with their revival of the 1939 classic
black comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace”. Despite its implausible plot, this
successful revival delivered a feel-good factor and demonstrates that CDS is
still able to fill the Village Hall over 3 evening performances and send the
audience home happy. However, to achieve this, the play has to be the right
choice, the direction needs to have pace and the cast have to work together as
a successful ensemble. All these ingredients were present the night I attended
and congratulations must go to all concerned with this production.
Tony and Sue Wall displayed great affinity for this play,
written by Joseph Kesselring, and their enthusiasm could be seen shining
through in this production. Looking at the programme notes, the play appears to
have a special place in both their hearts – Tony even being in the 1966 West
End revival with Sybil Thorndyke and a very young Richard Briers. However, this
is a difficult production to produce, containing quick entrances and exits and
calling for eleven male roles – a hard ask in today’s world of amateur theatre.
The script, now some 75 years old, at times lost some of its momentum, but
nevertheless, is peppered with lines which still amuse and there were certainly
a lot of laughs and positive audience reaction.
The play revolves around the very “odd” Brewster family in Brooklyn
with the hero Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic, trying to hold his weird
family together while worrying about whether to marry the girl he loves. His
family includes two spinster aunts, whom he believes to be sweet and innocent,
but who are murdering lonely old men by poisoning them with home-made
elderberry wine mixed with arsenic,
strychnine and a “pinch” of cyanide; a brother Teddy who believes he’s
President Theodore Roosevelt and another brother, Jonathan, who’s a sadistic psychopath
who keeps having face transplants to evade being arrested for his crimes. His plastic surgery is performed by an ageing alcoholic
surgeon, Dr Einstein, who has made him look like the 1930’s horror-film actor Boris Karloff (who incidentally played the part originally on
The key male role was played by Jon Constant (Mortimer
Brewster) who is at the centre of most of the farcical situations and he displayed
excellent comic timing throughout. His character is pivotal in maintaining the
momentum of the play, which admittedly is now showing its age, but Jon Constant
kept the pace moving quickly.
The two “poisonous sisters” were played with great eccentricity
and charm by Juliet Bagnall and Liz Ness and, despite their murderous
intentions, were somehow very believable as the sweet, timid and very innocent
sisters – where even a “fib” is regarded as far more sinful than mere murder.
Susanne Tunnicliffe, as Mortimer Brewster’s love interest Elaine, brought great
zest to the role and her reactions to the events going on around her were
excellent: I particularly enjoyed her “authentic beauty” scene where her
infatuation for Brewster was excellently and amusingly portrayed.
Richard Williams gave a measured performance as the sinister
brother Jonathan without going over the top and managed to combine evil intent
with just the right amount of comedy. Steve Infield, as the third brother
Teddy, showed his usual energy in his eccentric portrayal of the dotty brother
who thinks he’s the President of the USA as well as seemingly constructing the
Panama Canal in the basement. Robert Edenborough played the mysterious Dr
Einstein, the German surgeon who specialises in facial reconstruction, with a
fiendish enthusiasm which put me in mind of a sort of mad Max Wall. The
“business” involving the switching of bodies from the window seat “coffin” was
a highlight of the evening.
Of the other roles, I enjoyed John Bellamy’s Reverend Harper,
effortlessly played and with just the right amount of reverent sincerity and also
Barry Rocard’s Mr Witherspoon, who provided the last laugh of the evening as the
latest victim about to be poisoned by the two sisters. Also an accolade must go
to Michael Robinson who had a cameo role as Mr Gibb, the unsuspecting tenant
seeking a room under the roof of the poisonous sisters – a very funny scene
which Michael played with relish.
Of the police characters, Michael Helen and Nick Stock were
effective “stooges” while James Edenborough’s Office O’Hara was played with
great enthusiasm as an aspiring playwright, especially in the scene where he
describes the plot of his newly written play to drama critic Mortimer Brewster.
However, Barney Donaghy struck the best New York, or rather Brooklyn, accent of
any of the cast. I have to admit that
accents among the cast were somewhat varied but such inconsistencies mattered
little to the audience.
The production was enhanced by a remarkably good set, designed
by Ray Moss, and indeed one of the best dressed sets I can ever recall seeing at
Claygate, and the opening applause was well deserved. Costumes, by Maggie
Wrightson, also deserve great credit especially given the large cast of 14 to
dress. I especially liked the detail of
the police uniforms, even right down to the folded white gloves tucked under
their belts. Lighting was faultless and well controlled especially in the more
“sinister” scenes – sound, Colin
Hansford and Lizzie Lattimore, was also spot-on and I especially liked the “creaking” window seat. The background music was apt ranging from “Bless
This House”, suitably ironic for such a dysfunctional family home, balanced
with Mozart’s Turkish March (Rondo) which provided the subsequent “comedy” link
between the later scenes.
This was an excellent show and clearly a lot of hard work
was put into this production by many different people to create an end result which
was clearly enjoyed by Claygate’s theatregoers. And, of course, the last word
should go to Tony and Sue Wall for making such magic happen. Congratulations.
7 May 2014