Saturday, December 13, 2008


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop 

at The Old Court


A Christmas coup for CTW – the amateur première of the stage version of that black and white classic comedy.

A challenge, too, of course, to lay the ghosts of Price and Guinness, and shoe-horn the action into a small space. It was a challenge met with style and enthusiasm by Christine Davidson, Robin Winder and their team.

The set was ingenious and practical, with a screen at the back – a nod to the story's celluloid origins, perhaps – which doubled as a lightbox, magically conjuring up a funeral procession or a boating party with the smallest of forces.

There was some excellent staging – the hunting “accident”, the Boer War maquette – and the auditorium made a useful third acting area. Blackouts are hard to achieve, and it might have been wiser to go for little bit of atmosphere lighting for the scene changes, given that we're going to see them anyway.

A triumph too for Jim Crozier, who managed to create all the different D'Ascoyne victims, often with just a line or two of dialogue: the banker paterfamilias, the bluff Ethelred, the shrill Agatha, and, with more than a drop of Guinness, the rector.

Dean Hempstead was the cold, calculating Mazzini. He held the stage well, but he might have been encouraged to bring out more fully the drama and the humour of his role, the Dr Johnson running gag, for instance, or his half-joking “confession”, or the final twist with the missing memoirs. His two loves were Sibella, a sensuous Ruth Cramphorn, and the refined Edith, an understated Sara Nower. Loads of lovely cameos, from Winder's thwarted hangman to David Chilvers' snobbish young fogey. Always on hand with a change of jacket and a knowing glance was Hoskins, the gentleman's gentleman played to perfection by Andy Perrin.

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