Thursday, January 30, 2014


Theatre at Baddow

The Parish Hall is packed for the opening night – testament to the enduring allure of E F Benson's characters, and to TAB's growing reputation in the village and beyond.
Jim Parker's nostalgic waltz to set the mood, and we're into the vanished world of 30s Tilling, with its quaint characters and genteel cattiness. Beautifully captured in Sheila Talbot's production, with stunning frocks and a nicely furnished drawing room.
Our leading ladies, Mapp and Lucia, are played by two fine actresses. Barbara Llewellyn and Beth Crozier are mistresses of the icy glance, the fixed smile and the courteous cat-fight.
The men in their little lives are Peter Nerreter's lovely gossiping Major and Terry Cole's Georgie, his performance as OTT as his toupée.
Some gems amongst the cameos, too, with Rita Vango as the gloriously named Godiva Plaistow, Sally Ransom as prim Mrs Wyse and Helen Bence as an elegant Evie Bartlett. David Saddington talks Scotch, Roger Saddington talks Italian, Alan Ireland is Wyse and Fabienne Hanley is the soul of discretion as Grosvenor the Maid.
Its seven scenes are nowhere near the four hours of Cortese's Lucrezia, but the show did seem a little long, perhaps because, on the first night, there were too many hesitations, too many hiatuses.

Excellent old-fashioned entertainment nonetheless, skilfully evoking a lost middle-class England of tableaux vivants and garden fetes, with at its comic heart a memorable cold war between two grandes dames.

Mary Redman popped over to Tilling, too ...

What a delight to return to a world where everything had its place, everyone knew their place (or thought they did) and everything was tickety boo. Until, that is, the rumbling in the dovecot heralded someone daring to step outside that place or presumed to assume leadership.
Such was the tiny world of Mapp and Lucia created by EF Benson based on his acute observation of the inhabitants of Rye during the earlier part of the 20th Century. It was turned into a gently amusing stage play by master playwright John Van Druten, of later I Am A Camera dramatic fame.
The pretentiously affected yet charming Mrs Emeline Lucas (more often known as the more Italianate Lucia) of Beth Crozier was absolutely ideal for the role. Terry Cole had a whale of a time as her companion in local skulduggery, the extremely camp Georgie whose blazers were splendidly over the top to match his manner while his wig had a life of its own.
Barbara Llewellyn took a while to settle down as Miss Elizabeth Mapp whose sharp edges and plotting almost, but not quite, defeated her rival Lucia.
Fabienne Hanley was Lucia's soul-of-discretion maid.
Master set craftsman David Saddington created the well-furnished drawing room and took on the role of the Reverend Kenneth Bartlett whose Scots accent was about as wildly misbehaved as Georgie's wig.
There was a star turn from the lovely Rita Vango as Miss Godiva Plaistow who introduced to the assembled local populace the Italian composer Cortese played with musical flourishes by Roger Saddington.
I particularly liked Sally Ransom's Mrs Susan Wyse whose disapprovingly pinched features were well-suited to this member of the village gang.
The numerous high quality frocks were mouthwateringly delicious adding well to the period atmosphere, although some of the handbags were from a later vintage.
Directed by Sheila Talbot the play, although delightful, went at a very slow pace on the sold out first night. In part due to the many costume changes and in part by line uncertainty on just too many occasions.
Next to look forward to a rarely performed Neil Simon black comedy The Dinner Party from May 7-10.

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