Lilies on the Land - by the Lions Part
27th, 28th, 29th January 2011

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Cast        Production Team
Margie Sophie Robertson   Director Lisa Mathews
Peggy Liz Adams   Production Assistant Jean Cooper
Poppy Roz Gerrie   Stage Manager Martin Howarth
Vera Camilla Gauci   Assistant Stage Manager Jon Gilbert
Men Foster Barnett   Properties Wendy Butler
  Jon Gilbert   Assistant Properties Caris Grey
  Richard Foster      Richard Foster
Women Caris Grey   Continuity Babs Oakley
      Costume Christine Eckley
      Set Design & Construction Jean Cooper
      Sound Design Lisa Maule
      Sound/Lighting Operation Lucy Parkin
      Programme Design Howard Platt
      Production Photos Howard Platt

Review by Jessica Bostock

This seemed to be a play about unsung heroes, so I hope you will understand why I have dwelt on some of those unsung (usually backstage) who make amateur productions what they are.  Also I would like to compliment the cast and crew on the real feeling of teamwork that came through this production.  Timing was so important, as action was at a minimum, and there was no weak link to interrupt the flow or drag the pace, well done to all concerned, it was a pleasure to see such slickness.

I thought the set was very simple and I was pleased to see the steps in place to add height and depth.  The sky on the back wall was beautifully executed and I would have liked to have seen more of that and less drab wood.  I liked the angled extensions at the corners and thought the set dressing there was very good.  I liked the posters and found myself immediately wanting to sign up to the ATS as the woman on the poster looked so glamorous!  Purely nit-picking, but on such a minimal set which was open throughout, it would have been good to see the tops of the front flats finished tidily.

The music was nicely upbeat and set the mood well.  The music and effects cues were all very well-timed and were well pitched in volume.  It is very easy to interrupt the flow or leave actors waiting for sound cues and this did not happen, so very well done, Lucy. I found the lighting a bit bland and cold and felt an atmospheric trick had been missed.  The use of some warm colours for the more cheery spring, summer and autumn sections would have given more contrast to the cold winter pieces, a simple thing which would have made a big difference as the lighting was just monochromatic and bright or dim.  It would have been nice to have some deep blue on the back wall as well to intensify the scenes describing night time and returning home from dances etc.

The props were all excellent and were always ready to hand from the wings – again without pause or let up to disrupt the flow or check the pace.  Everyone handled their props with confidence and a sense of familiarity and got rid of them again with minimal fuss - not always an easy thing to do. I am always amazed at how inanimate objects one has rehearsed with for weeks suddenly sprout sticky-out bits or become incredibly slippery during performance! I loved the basket of shopping and the box of uniform and thought the attention to detail well worth the obvious effort props had put into sourcing the items

The costumes were, as ever, superb, and there were so many!  The four ‘girls’ seemed to be really at home in their uniforms and I was glad that they weren’t dressed identically; they were able to move freely and comfortably and seemed not to be distracted or hampered by their costumes at all.  The myriad of costumes for the men were all effective, fit for purpose and just different enough from each other to distinguish between separate characters.  Lady/Girl had a positive plethora of outfits, all of which were splendid – hats, coats, suits, uniforms, bags, baskets, aprons …. you name it, she wore it!  It must have been nice to use so much out of the costume store for such a relatively small cast – well done, Christine – another tailoring triumph!

On to the play itself.  It was a strange piece and I have no idea what you had to work with by way of a script and stage directions.  I was disappointed not to find some explanatory blurb in the programme as to its provenance; I would have liked to know who The Lion’s Part is, or are and have no clue as to whether this was written as a play, adapted from a book, conceived as a review, originally on the radio or culled from reminiscences from actual Land Army Girls – it would have been nice to have that explained and there was plenty of space in the programme to fill!  I have to make particular reference here to ‘The Siegfried Line’!  As a quick, simple and effective way of setting a scene and adding some action, colour and explanation to an otherwise fairly static piece, it worked and some of the ideas used were truly inspired – some oil on the pulley would have been welcome, though – BUT, at times it was corny, amateurish and slapdash and I still cannot completely decide whether I loved it or hated it.  It did make me smile, though.  I was pleased that steps were far enough back not to squash the action at the front of the stage, but I would have liked to see them used more to create greater variety for the set pieces and felt that together with a more comprehensive and imaginative lighting plot pools of action and isolation could have been created setting mood and giving the actors scope for more variety.

I am going to lump men 1-3 pretty much together.  I have to compliment you all on your perfect timing of offstage dialogue, proffering of props, entrances and exits.  It must have given a great feeling of security to the girls onstage knowing you were so dependable backstage.  All parts were handled with aplomb and I thought Peggy’s Jim was a sweetie! My one criticism was that I sometimes lost Foster’s lines as you rushed your delivery and so lost the words in your many and various accents!

Caris – I thought you were excellent.  You coped with all your costume changes very well and have good stage presence.  I loved your playing of the ‘tiny’ woman on your knees and felt you moved on, off and around the stage well.  I heard every word you said and you, along with the men are one of those unsung heroes – one of a host of tiny characters who are so important to give colour to a play and you did so very well.

Sophie, Liz, Roz and Camilla – what a tour de force from all of you, and not a weak link or performance from any of you.  I was very impressed with the energy and pace you all maintained throughout the play, but particularly the opening; the play starting with Churchill’s somewhat ponderous delivery, it would have been easy to have caught that mood and you didn’t.  With those opening night nerves the first couple of speeches were actually released like greyhounds from the slips and I was worried that that whole play would race through with incomprehensible speed, but the pace settled down into a nice upbeat, energetic delivery which was mainly clear and unhurried whilst remaining brisk.  Well done.  The variety in your accents worked well without seeming corny or contrived or jarring on the ear and you maintained them well throughout.  I felt at the start of the play that you were all very cross, that may have been down to nerves or a lack of feedback in rehearsal, because as you continued and relaxed into your characters this anger left you and more light and shade appeared. I really liked the confidential manner that some of the episodes warranted in their telling, and you managed to involve the audience in your stories with charm and humour. 

You all moved comfortably in your costumes and handled your props with confidence, but there were times when you seemed almost apologetic to make a move.  If you have to get from one place on stage to another, make your move with conviction and purpose; if you feel like you are interrupting someone’s speech or moment, then you are moving at the wrong time! 

You handled the miming of actions well and brought a natural feeling to those women so we cared about them and wished them well; you were warm and sympathetic without being mawkish.  The parts played in unison were managed very well, but I think a real opportunity was missed to ‘choreograph’ you properly.  If the characters are to speak the same lines at the same time, they should be conveying the same mood and often this was not the case.  It would have been a help to all the actors to have had the same moves, or lack of, at the same time and would have set the lines better and made the timing, which was good, perfect. One example was in the spoken song at the end when two were angry throughout, one was dreamy and one smiling and all came together for the last line.  With tighter direction on those ensemble parts I felt the cast would have felt completely confident in those areas where there were a couple of wobbles.  Where you had actually choreographed pieces, the dances and threshing machine for example, they worked well and confidence was high.

I also feel that this tightening of the directorial reins would have given you the confidence not to feel embarrassed to sing and dance (and smile).  You were all so good and when you did not feel 100% confident it showed; and if you are uncomfortable, the audience becomes uncomfortable. 

Individually I particularly enjoyed (in cast order), Roz’s completely being a fish out of water to begin with, you were wonderfully bewildered by the unfamiliarity of, well everything really, and I really warmed to you as the play went on and your character established herself with confidence and clarity.  Liz, I thought the story of the threshing machine was really good and very descriptive without being cross!  I loved the story of the ploughing and sincerely hope that you and Jim were happily married for many years!  Sophie, your description of milking was excellent; funny, appealing and simple.  Your delivery was excellent and you brought good light and shade to your voice.  Camilla, you have a lovely voice, sang well and I was pleased you sang in an English accent (not that I could hear you very clearly over the woman singing at the end of the row!).  I would have loved to have met Annie as her memoirs sounded like they would have been a hoot.  You handled the delivery of her mum’s letter very well.

I was not looking forward to braving a drizzly evening to sit on Lopping Hall seats!  I left feeling uplifted and wanted (despite the chairs) to stay longer and find out more about those women.  Braving the elements had been well worthwhile.