Thank you for the
invite to see The Actress at Lopping Hall. On the hottest night of the
year so far, the fans were out in the audience in both meanings of the
word. Maybe it’s time to allow water bottles or bar drinks into the
auditorium as seems to be the case at most theatres/community halls
these days. Anyway, the heat certainly fired up the audience and it must
have been hot on stage for the performers. All this led to a production
of warmth and thoughtfulness, sparked with some funny lines.
Choice of play
The Actress was not a play I was familiar with and its always a pleasure
to be introduced to something fresh. Having read the play before
attending I was really looking forward to seeing the show and understood
why you had included it in your 2021/22 season. Some terrific characters
and good lines, with a wonderful opportunity in the part of Lydia.
It’s described as ‘A comedy’ which I wasn’t sure about. This production
went more for poignancy and reflective thoughts rather than rip roaring
laughs. Admittedly there were some good gags and funny lines and
Margaret was played comedic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the
audiences were left a little confused expecting something that wasn’t as
For me, The Actress
falls between not having enough consistent comedy ingredients to be
funny play but has too many funny bits to be classed as a serious drama.
Front of House and Programme
As we approached Lopping Hall, we could see quite a crowd waiting
outside the entrance in the High Road. Was this a queue for returned
tickets or fans waiting to see Lydia Martin on her farewell performance?
I suspect it was just the heat but it made us wonder.
Lovely welcome as always although trouble with getting a signal for the
card reader put the Bar team into abit of a panic, poor Christian
wondering around Lopping Bar with machine in hand. Of course, the Bar
and Teas teams are willing volunteers and we are ever grateful for
everyone’s help but we did struggle to get a Soda & Lime and a Cider,
repeated for the interval. It proved a challenging order to serve and
price. I felt for the volunteer and was reminded that everyone in the
team needs help and support. We comfortably downed our drinks in the
end, being reminded we couldn’t take them in with us.
This production gave Stephen Radley the challenge of producing a
‘terrible room’ as Lydia calls it. We got a bleak cell of a room with no
windows, one door (with nice clunk! reference my show report for
Gaslight, well done) and utilitarian furniture. This looked spot on as
the dressing rooms in even the best establishments are little more than
this. The glamour is out front, not back stage.
The plot requires ‘an abundance of flowers’ and you did this justice.
They all looked real, so if they weren’t, well done. The show poster was
a nice touch and the chocolates, champagne, cards and gifts gave us the
impression of a room for a much-admired star.
Full marks for how you presented the stage for the Cherry Orchard, very
clever. Centre stage with red velvet curtains that weren’t intrusive
during the rest of the dressing room scenes. It also enabled Lydia to
come from her dressing room onto the stage authentically. The Cherry
Orchard set was cleverly lit and the simple furniture, spot on. Whoever
thought of positioning this section up stage, take a bow. So much better
than squeezing on a rostrum left or right.
One of Bernard Moule’s first decisions could have been in which period
to set the play. I see that the script leaves this up to the director.
The choice of modern day worked well for me and enabled the audience to
see the challenges facing Lydia as contemporary and not of a time.
I liked that the sofa was pushed up stage allowing space to play many of
the scenes in front of it. So often actors have to work behind a sofa or
table restricting action and sight lines. It was Bernard’s job to ensure
the cast projected voice and character from up stage which they did
I’m sure Bernard didn’t simply ‘mumble useless comments’ as this play
had good pace and allowed space for some of the more poignant lines to
land. There were many good groupings creating interesting pictures; the
scene where Lydia describes the beauty of Switzerland, and the final
threesome with Nicole at Lydia’s feet, are examples of this.
The ending was super, leaving so many questions unanswered; Will Lydia
come back? Will the audience wait for her? Will Paul wait for her? And
then the lights fade. And breathe….
One of the highlights was the dressing scene at the end of Act1 sc1. We
saw Lydia slowly getting into the zone, relaxing, the music, the ritual
repeated so many times before. Lydia stands in a structured pose, still,
awaiting the transformation not just with costumes and wigs but into
character. This was given time and a rhythm that showed the audience two
people at their work. I loved it.
Also, a good idea I thought to put the lines of The Cherry Orchard on
tape. This avoided any projection issues and enabled a deep echo of an
auditorium. These scenes did go on rather long and perhaps would have
benefitted from a few cuts. The key message of the closing of the estate
and the orchard was a good metaphor for Lydia’s career but there was
also lots of extra that perhaps wasn’t needed.
Occasionally a meaty, witty, challenging lead role for women comes
along, Lydia is definitely one of those. Lydia has much to say and
reflect upon and in Cathy Naylor we saw a skilled actor able to deliver
an excellent interpretation. From the first sudden energetic arrival in
that fabulous red dress to the nuanced slow fade of the ending, Cathy
brought colours and shading, energy and contemplation to this character
with so many questions to ponder.
Cathy had the voice for the great actress with superb diction,
projection and delivery. Only a hint of a North West accent showed
through, suggesting Lydia had worked on her voice rather than natural
RP. She also showed a theatrical flair in gesture and posture when the
moment required. Lydia was rather formidable but never the ogre the
drunken Harriet describes later in the play.
Lydia landed some wonderful lines “From tomorrow we’ll have nothing but
time” “so the bitch can be comfortable” and the sarcastic “Oh I
shall miss the camaraderie of the Theatre” were just a few of my
The play uses Lydia’s relationships to tell its story and these were
well developed and genuine. It certainly appeared that these people had
known each other for many years with their colourful backstories.
Cathy captured the high of coming off stage in Act1 sc3 believably. “Has
there ever been a night like this?” “I want to bottle it”. It was a joy
to watch and feel the intensity of that moment. Here Cathy showed the
reason that Lydia wanted/needed to perform and that was borne out in her
curtain speech in Act 2.
I liked the ‘They don’t write parts for us’ speech. Nice writing,
delivered with feeling.
It was Cathy’s performance that set the tone of the show. She didn’t
play the part for laughs although the comedic lines were there, rather
she let the others deal more with that side. We saw vulnerability and
acknowledged failings as a mother and a partner and her fear of fading
as a star actress. Lydia came over to me as genuine and not just a
character. A good performance that Cathy should be proud of. Well done.
The ever-faithful Katherine was played well by Wendy Butler. The accent
was a nice contrast to the others and especially to Lydia. I’ve referred
to the dressing scene and Wendy worked that very well, never rushing and
giving the ceremony the reverence it deserved. It was well choreographed
and Wendy ensured the process was clearly followed. Katherine was
dedicated to her job, which at this time was with Lydia but we all knew
that another actress would be along soon and would receive the same care
and attention. Wendy could have picked up her cues a little quicker in
places but this was a fine performance over all. I especially liked the
stillness Wendy observed during the Cherry Orchard scenes.
Never one to leave a comedy performance on the script, Dolly made the
most of the funny opportunities Margaret was given. Some great lines
such as ‘The taxi got lost’ and ‘on the end of a spike’ were very well
delivered. There were lovely moments such as the embarrassment of
discovering Lydia and Paul ravaging each other and the brandy in the
face scene. Dolly has a great touch for enjoying these moments and
providing the audience with a good laugh.
Some of the physical comedy can just go over the line. Struggling with
the vase that wasn’t so heavy and moving out of the spot light with the
big grin just edged into a different style for me. Worth any director
keeping an eye on Dolly’s propensity to take it to another level.
It was clever to see Margaret develop her relationship with the unseen
Roger. We felt we knew him without ever meeting.
The relationship that Nicole, played by Jenna Young, had with her mother
was a terrific way in to discover more about Lydia’s past. The tense
sarcasm of the early exchanges where Nicole is patronising Lydia seems
rather odd and certainly disrespectful. Its only later that we see Lydia
reflect on her mothering and how she was rarely there to look after
Nicole. If Lydia had been a poor mother, then perhaps Nicole can get
away with the jibes which are not so far from the truth. These jibes are
then thrown back to others in by Lydia, Paul, Harriett, Katherine. Jenna
handled this significant element very well.
Martin Howarth did a fine job with Charles. He was a charming gentleman
if not as lively on his feet as he must have been once. Certainly, all
those trips from front to back of house was taking their toll by the end
of the evening. I’m sure the thought ‘so Lydia, what was it that first
attracted you to the wealthy swiss banker?’ crossed the minds of the
audience. Martin’s Charles was charming and safe and would give Lydia
perhaps something she wanted away from the profession and able to retire
gracefully. I liked his final line “That is why it’s so quiet”
Charles contrast with Paul was blatant and as required. It was good
casting to put Martin against Howard and worked very well.
It was clear from the start that Paul would always be a better match for
Lydia than Charles but perhaps not as husband and wife. Howard Platt
played a fun, interesting hansom Paul with great finesse and skill.
The play gives Paul a super entrance and Howard was on the mark from the
get go. Lovely lines delivered with attack and pace as Cathy and Howard
bounced along together. These two knew each other well enough to ignore
the rebukes and glide over the sometimes venomous remarks. The cutting
up of the flowers and then displaying them in the vase was lovely.
Paul has his fair share of the funny lines and Howard delivered them
well, “Oh, I’m delightful. You just have to get to know me” “at least I
did marry you. Nobody else has managed that” “that’s horrible, very
hasty. I think I’ll have another” and the rather sad “Maybe you should
have looked up from your scripts occasionally”
The face slap with head turn sort of worked when I saw it on the Friday,
difficult to rehearse and get the timing spot on.
The kissing leading to ravaging each other is a rather strange element
in the play which seems a little incongruous to the set up. However,
Howard and Cathy went for it with full commitment and it worked well.
You even managed to kick the flowers whilst going for it.
Howard gave a fine well-disciplined performance of an interesting
character with depth. Well done.
Harriet is a lovely theatrical character and Sandra Davidson played it
with a warmth and charm and the sense that Harriet was always in a
fluster. She gave some meaty speeches after Harriett’s view of the world
and with a love for the brandy, got more drunk through the play. I liked
the smoke blowing scene which both Sandra and Cathy handled well, and
the unrehearsed toast that fell away in need of ‘a good director’. Nice
The costumes were fine in places I thought. Paul’s shirt, Charles’ suit,
Harriett’s outfit and Lydia’s red dress were well chosen. The Chekhov
costumes both worn and on the dress rail gave a good contrast. I thought
more could have been done for Nicole and Margaret.
I great vehicle for Cathy Naylor to perform at the very top of her game.
To be honest I thought the play read better than it came across on
stage, but this was probably me rather than the performance. The Actress
was well designed, acted and directed with some outstanding moments.
Well done to all involved.
Regional Representative District 6