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Thank you for, once again, giving me the opportunity to report on your latest production. I have always found Neil Simon’s writing about ordinary people fascinating, but I am aware that this kind of play is somewhat of a departure for your company. However………..it all worked……….and Christian Mortimer’s debut production was a very pleasant surprise. Not because I thought he couldn’t do, but directing is a different discipline to acting and not all good actors can cross ‘the divide’ so to speak. However, Christian’s understanding of the characters and the directing process worked well and produced a good production.
Whilst your Production Team list is not as extensive as some companies have, all the names on it are seasoned members of the society and must have been of great assistance to a new director.
The programme was, as always, informative about the play and the playwright…… and also about your success this year with the NODA Awards.
On entering the auditorium was greeted with The Eagles – Hotel California, excellently atmospheric and in keeping with the theme. The music you choose always does so much to set the scene.
There was a good set showing a suite in a hotel. The half walls worked well – opening up the stage – and the actors didn’t give any indication that they knew they were there. Everything was visible with good sight lines. The bathroom door was not visible from every seat but it was evident where it was. It was an authentic touch to have self-closing doors out to the corridor of the hotel. The scene changes were well choreographed throughout and the simple lighting plot was all that was needed. Costumes too, were all suitable to the characters wearing them – well thought through.
Act 1 - Scene 1 Visitor from New York
It was very evident that Hannah Warren (Dolleen Howlett) wasn’t looking forward to her visitor who turned out to be her ex-husband William Warren (Billy) played by Howard Platt. There was good nervousness before he arrived and the bantering between the couple showed how far they had grown apart since their divorce. This was reinforced by a fair amount of animosity, although the players themselves appeared to be very natural with each other. He had moved on with his life in a more satisfactory way than she had, although she was successful in her career, but obviously not handling the daughter growing up very well. She also seemed rather resentful that he had now got to a very happy stage in his life, whilst she was still struggling with work and stress.
Against her anxieties and volatility, and scared that she was losing her daughter, he was calm and very satisfied with his life and obviously idolised their daughter. I think there was still a grudging affection between them and Hannah eventually recognised the sense in what Billy was saying about arrangements for ‘sharing the daughter’s time’. Between them Dolleen and Howard painted a very convincing picture of a couple struggling to find some common ground over their daughter’s future.
Billy dropped his voice a lot which made some of his dialogue difficult to hear – in those moments when he was trying to be conciliatory with Hannah - but his body language was gentle and relaxed and she did eventually respond.
Scene 2 – Visitor from Philadelphia
Marvin Michaels (Lee Kenneth) was a man manic with fear of discovery and realisation of what he had done. He also looked absolutely dreadful after his night with the prostitute – he had good make up to reinforce his very dishevelled appearance. The pace was excellent for the scene with lots of movement from him, combined with well delivered, secure dialogue. He had lots of Jewish mannerisms, especially when the wife arrived, which were never overdone.
Millie (Jo Keen) was a ‘typical’ Jewish wife worrying about what to wear for the Bar Mitzvah, how Marvin looked, and what sort of occasion this was going to be. From her entrance she looked and sounded like the sort of wife who would brook no arguments about anything. Her insistence on going to the bathroom, via the bedroom, coupled with Marvin keeping her out of the bedroom was done very well. When Marvin did eventually make his confession it became obvious that she didn’t like the husband’s family and blamed the situation on his brother for procuring the prostitute in the first place. The roles were reversed after she saw the girl in the bed and she was then the wronged party, putting conditions on their future together. However, it became very poignant at the end of the play when she was talking to the children – after all she had to think of their futures!!
The girl in the bed (Ines Mendes) was suitably limp and unmoving at all times and completely unconscious considering how much she was pulled about although she wouldn’t have worn tights considering the night she had with Marvin. Well done on looking so convincing all the time!
Act 2 – Scenes 1 and 2 Visitors from London
Sidney and Diana Nichols (Adam Rabinowitz and Amanda Smith) were the husband and actress wife in California for the Academy Awards. They were convincing as a couple – she a very elegant woman and rather regal but a typical actress with all the insecurities that brings, and with typical actress paranoia. Being a ‘failed’ actor the marriage was the disguise behind which he hid his true sexuality. Thus, he often appeared to be ‘handling’ his wife – with some irritation. Amanda had a lovely clear voice, with precise pronunciation, and gave an assured performance – try to balance different levels of delivery to make it more natural and convincing. The banter between them moved well – it must have happened many times before!!
Two hours later they were both convincingly drunk (well done) and turned quite vicious towards each other, bringing out the very worst in their relationship.
Scene 3 – Visitors from Chicago
This was the scene which used the most physicality which could almost have descended into farce, but stopped just in time. The fight wasn’t too long and therefore, too contrived. The two couples, Mort and Beth Hollander (Tom Donoghue and Sarah Vickers) and Stu and Gert Franklyn (Christian Mortimer and Liz Adams) worked together well to get the feel and the animosity across to the audience. Gert did a really super faint and the three were well co-ordinated getting her into bed. After the initial dissatisfaction between Mort and Stu surfaced, the whole scene became dominated by the ‘fight’ that ensued which was accompanied by manic dialogue.
When the two guys were fighting the dialogue couldn’t always be heard clearly but that didn’t seem to matter because the scene was then very visual, and the whole thing very convincing. Well done in giving the audience a very well-synchronised display.
Generally I don’t like to see the director take part in a production because he/she cannot always see the perspective of their performance in relation to the others, but I understand this scene was directed by someone else, giving Christian the opportunity to participate in this final offering.
‘One act’ plays are always difficult because there is not a lot of time to build the back-story but Neil Simon’s writing works so well and builds each scene totally. Although originally written for the same actors to play all the parts it works well for non-professional groups in giving each of their members ‘worthwhile’ roles within the production.
Each set of actors had convincingly created their own bit of home-spun culture within each of the scenes, and whilst this is not LADS usual vehicle it didn’t disappoint the audience – certainly on the night David and I were there.
I was very pleased to see the piece in the programme about your NODA Awards this season. I have felt in the past that, as Andrew is your Regional Rep, you may have felt penalised that you couldn’t get the recognition you deserve so this year (my last as Councillor) I was determined that you would……and fortunately Andrew agreed. Well done to you all – it is justly deserved – and I sincerely hope you will continue to challenge both your players and your audiences to produce excellent theatre.
With best wishes