Tuesday, October 28, 2014

WE HAPPY FEW

WE HAPPY FEW
Greville Theatre Club at the Barn Theatre, Little Easton
24.10.2014

Imogen Stubbs, a much-loved actress, got a cold critical reception for her d├ębut as a playwright, despite a starry cast and a world-class director.
What a pity, since We Happy Few has much to commend it, not least its theme, which is inherently theatrical.
Unfortunately it is long, wordy, uneven and dramatically incoherent.
It tells the fascinating story of the Artemis Players – the real-life Osiris Players thinly disguised – women whose war effort is to tour Shakespeare around Britain in their “nunnery on wheels”, a 1922 Rolls. The period detail [as in Harwood's The Dresser] is evocative: hessian costumes, spirit gum and Glenn Miller. Director Jonathan Scripps and his experienced cast successfully reduce the play to manageable proportions, and produce an amusing, often touching, ensemble piece.
The powerhouse behind Artemis is the formidable Hetty Oak [Pam Hemming], secretly pining for her long-lost “darling boy” and bravely rallying her motley troops. It is she who, movingly, quotes Prospero at the end, and turns out the light as the curtain falls.
Outstanding among her rag-bag company are Carol Parradine's Flora Pelmet, the co-founder of the troupe. Her heart-rending monologue about her brother Toby is wonderfully done, though it sits awkwardly in the action. Rough-and-ready mechanic Charlie [Lynda Shelverton] has a sapphic Sarah Waters moment with Rosalind [Sonia Lindsey-Scripps], who is relentlessly quashed by her awful mother [Jan Ford] – a hard-drinking, chain-smoking faded pro – Coral Browne rather than Joan Crawford springs to mind. Ford also contributes a priceless cameo, trying out for Titus in the entertaining audition sequence. And Amanda Thompson excels as Ivy, the Brummie housemaid who's cajoled onto the Shakespearean stage.
Marcia Baldry-Bryan is Jocelyn, the stage manager, and Judy Lee is a “batty old lady” as well as a Jewish refugee in an unconvincing subplot.
The simple, versatile set is dressed with swags of colourful costume and a frieze of footwear over the lintel.
The fewer men, the greater share of honour” … There are two chaps in the cast, though: Adam Thompson as the refugee son, and Rodney Foster working hard to good comic effect in three lesser roles.

The first night audience was positive and enthusiastic – proof perhaps that, given a good play doctor, the piece could yet be the hit that Stubbs must have been hoping for.

photograph by Adrian Hoodless

1 comment:

Mary Redman said...

The clue is in the title. Because of the numerous quotes and speeches from our greatest English playwright, maybe actress Imogen Stubbs should have shared the credit with Shakespeare. For not only is he quoted in “performances” and rehearsals for the Artemis Players touring company consisting of a variety of mid 20th Century actresses, his work is plundered liberally right the way through Stubbs's play.
Conceived by Pam Hemmings's formidable steam roller Hetty Oak to lighten the dark days of The Second World War and to show that what men could do at the Front, women could do on the Home Front. With little in the way of money and a mixed bag of actresses plus hijacked ordinary women (what modern luvvies call “civilians”) Hetty carves out a team that despite difficulties and challenges, triumphs magnificently in the end.
Joining Hetty, these women all have secret pains and losses in their lives. Jan Ford's excellent, beautifully timed Helen luxuriated in this role. A former leading lady, wreathed in fag smoke, and booze saturated, she is the difficult mother of equally difficult and uninhibited young recruit Rosalind, thoughtfully played by Sonia Lindsey-Scripps.
Carol Parradine's fussy Flora is Hetty's right and left-hand woman. Superb at organisation Hetty depends upon her for advice and sorting things out. Carol's account of the death of her character's young brother's suicide and how the memory has haunted her life, silenced the audience who hung on her every word.
Meanwhile Lynda Shelverton's Charlie, in dungarees and able to get anything mechanical working again, excels in a nice line in comic retorts.
Then there's yet more excellent work from Marcia Baldry-Bryan's jolly hockey sticks Jocelyn and Judy Lee's doubling as Gertrude and Maureen, while Amanda Thompson is the maid of all work with smashing tendencies and a Brummie accent who easily stole every scene in which she appeared.
And there were some men involved. Rodney Foster played Reggie, Leonard and a red-faced Mayor, hilariously full of beer and bonhomie.
Adam Thompson was an excellently hesitant Jewish refugee who falls in love which leads to tragedy.
Directed by Jonathan Scripps who with Richard Pickford also designed the tatty village hall set. The numerous and detailed period costumes were organised by Judy Lee's team and The Dressing Up Box with wigs by Patsy Page.
The production started with background music from Glenn Miller but I felt that whereas this had begun as an interesting account of the period circumstances in which all the women had their moment to shine., [especially in the actual “performance” of Pyramus and Thisbe, because they just went for it without inhibition], Stubbs, however, ruined her own play with a maudlin and nationalistic ending.

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