Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Death of Norrie Woodhall

 I was sorry to see this report in tonight's Dorset Echo:

"THE only surviving member of Thomas Hardy's Dorchester theatre group Norrie Woodhall has sadly died at the age of 105.
The famous Dorchester centenarian, of Owermoigne, is famous for her hardy connections.
Norrie, who is last surviving member of the original Hardy Players, played Tess’s sister Liza Lu in the stage version of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which was performed in Dorchester in 1928."

I had the privilege of meeting Norrie when she came to the first night of my play "She Opened the Door" at the Corn Exchange, Dorchester. It was an extraordinary confluence of various Hardy elements but Norrie was the star of the show and we all had our photographs taken with her.  It has always surprised me how present Thomas Hardy is in Dorset.  After all, he died only 84 years ago but the direct ties are beginning to unravel and with the death of Norrie we are one more removed from the great man and his life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Streetcar Named Desire - a Review

Most people will know Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire” from the film starring Marlon Brando as the sexually overpowering Stanley Kowalski.  But Sasha Paul’s production for Dramatic Productions at Poole Lighthouse Studio shifts the audience’s sympathies back to that of his sister-in-law, the delusional, mentally fragile Blance Dubois.  In this production Kowalski is played with a grown up, intelligent intensity by Leigh Hayward that distances him admirably from the brutish Brando image and, while there is yet much chemistry to be explored between him and Blanche, last night there was enough simmering tension to make this relationship begin to pop and spin.  The setting of the piece, the lower working class area of New Orleans adds to the heat and tension and the whole cast works hard to underline this atmosphere of claustrophobic intensity particularly the ebullient Tara Dominick as Eunice, Celeste Engel as Missy and the members of Stanley’s poker school:Jamie Hill, Sean Pogmore and Steve McCarten who plays the disappointed Mitch with an effective puzzlement .  

But at the heart of the play is the character of Blanche. Nicole Faraday portrays her to aching effect with a desperation that shows the lines under the makeup of the woman fast approaching middle age and with a hinterland of failed marriage and a long trail of affairs. This part is one of the great challenges for an actress in portraying a woman who is in such denial about her past that we in the audience cannot decide whether she is an accomplished liar or completely mad and Nicole drags us through that experience with consummate skill. The final scene in which she is led off to an asylum is chillingly gripping.  The other protagonist is Blanche’s sister and Stanley’s wife Stella played here with spirit by Emma Stephens.  This is another challenging role as Stella has to appear timid and supportive whilst providing enough reality and power to balance the fizzing emotions of the rest of the characters.  Her wretchedness at the denouement is heartbreaking.  

The cast took a little while to get going and, initially, some of the vocal production was not crisp enough in the unforgiving acoustic of the Studio but once it was underway this production had the power to shock.  Sasha has assembled a hard working and effective ensemble including stalwarts Frank Holden and Julia Savill delivering fine cameos as the Doctor and Nurse who come to lead Blanche away and Peter Fellows as the Young Collector.  In these straitened times we will see fewer of the classics that require this size cast and Dramatic Productions must be congratulated for tackling this big play head on.

One thing we should all do is to urge the Lighthouse management to launch an appeal for a refurbishment of the studio.  The ghastly, noisy bleachers are uncomfortable and disturbing to the action, the echoing wooden stage floor is not suitable for professional plays.  And we all know the back stage is simply not good enough.  

From Wednesday 12th October  to Saturday 15th at 7.30 with matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2.30.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Five Go Killing - a Review

 It’s very nearly impossible for a play in the theatre to achieve genuine topicality.  With the length of time it takes to write and produce most current references become ugly and outdated.  The clever writer writes for all times but, with sensitive attenae attuned to the slightest of movements in the social atmosphere, they can sometimes strike an uncannily contemporary note.  John Foster’s play “Five go Killing” does just that.  A play about middle class, senseless violence sounds extraordinary resonances with the recent city riots and the Amanda Knox case.  The central character, Joley, cannot answer the question “why?” she and her friends decided to start murdering old people in Bournemouth.  She almost resorts to the answer George Mallory gave to why he wanted to climb Everest – “Because it is there.”  What’s more she cannot admit to feeling anything about the killings, certainly not remorse or guilt.  But the Famous Five, as they style themselves, are not chavs, or the poor or the dispossessed, they are young professionals with comfortable lives and from comfortable backgrounds.
The play itself is written as a dialogue between Joley in prison and the audience who represent her visitors.  It is just that we are struck dumb by the enormity of what we are seeing and the dialogue remains one sided. This is an extraordinary collaboration between writer, actor and director.  John Foster’s script is totally gripping and for an hour and half we listen to Joley’s outpourings without ever sensing the passage of time.  Joley unrolls her story in a perfectly coherent manner which is beautifully judged to add horror upon horror without ever driving us away.  We are always spellbound, in the thrall of the narrative and always waiting to see if we can understand that question “Why?” This is a masterpiece of writing with a fine understanding of the language of a young twenty-four old woman from an educated background.  The slang never falls into the trap of being so hip that it is instantly out of date but with its own inventions and coinages it builds a terrifying sense of a closed community who could perpetrate such atrocities.
The performance by Rebecca Legrand is completely believable and satisfying.  Here is a young woman who can go from spoilt little girl to hardened psycopath in the wink of an eye.  She never overplays and makes her whole characterisation utterly, and frighteningly, credible.  Due credit must also go to the director Jon Nicholas who has created a frightening, memorable reality out of such simple materials.

Performed in Bournemouth over the weekend of 8th and 9th October 2011