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NODA crit for this play
When I was asked to crit. this play, and was given the background - I did wonder whether it had stood the test of time, being written in 1950 and I was pleasantly surprised.
It was sharp and witty, but also gentle and thoughtful and with a little tweaking could have been updated, as people don't change that much over the passage of time, though I am glad that you decided to keep it in the time that it was written.
I got hold of a copy of it from the library and I wanted to read it first, and have it by my side when writing about it.
Just a thought. For your future productions, do you get an extra copy to give to whoever is going to crit it, as I found it very useful to know the play before I watched it and I am sure others will too.
So - let me start by saying a few words about Front of House. Everyone was greeted and helped if necessary, programmes readily available and the bar and coffee area manned (and womaned) for a busy night. I also like your previous production photos and info on the screen in front of the green room - all adds to the ambience of the evening.
Programme and poster design
Lovely posh programme! Great front cover too, it said a lot. I think having the photos of what the actors really look like was important, as some of the characters didn't do you justice, particularly Mrs Paddy and Fairy May - it was good to see what attractive women you actually are! Super directors notes (and I absolutely agreed with Jean about having English accents - more of this later though.) …..and information about the author, and I hope you got money for your advertising! Thumbs up to you Howard and to Garry for the production photos.
Curtain up promptly at 8.00pm with attending music.
The Set and Props
Good set with period features, wall paper and furnishings, making a pleasant dayroom for the patients - apart from the bars on the window of course, though sweetly explained away as keeping people out rather than them in.
I liked the use of putting a window seat in, as the sofa was necessarily small, to get all 11 actors on stage with the furniture plus a piano, but it never felt over crowded. Having the coffee table as a moveable object and the two down stage chairs in front of the curtain giving you more room. Although a carpet is featured in a couple of scenes, they can be a right nuisance, so doing without and using ones imagination was fine. So congrats to Stephen as the set designer and construction man.
The set was a well dressed, which made it feel like a comfortable home with all the many attending bibs and bobs for use during the play and I think it's only when you have done props that you appreciate how many there are to think about, particularly that need setting before curtain up, plus of course having to also deal with coffee being drunk as well. It looked as if went very smoothly Sue.
Lighting and sound
This was fairly uniform apart from the business of lights on lights off re Mrs Paddy and her exploits, though I had to refer to my programme a couple of times re time of day or night.
Act 1 Sc 1 is set at night…..and it was a bright as day outside, so assumed it must be a summers evening when it gets dark after the inmates go to bed (though don't sleep of course!) but then Fairy says about wishing to have been a cat so that she could see in the dark when it wasn't so I was a bit confused, could there have been short curtains could have been drawn across the window without cutting off the window seat? Telephones rang when they should, buzzers buzzed and lights on and off were well executed, so thanks to Cathy. and of course not forgetting the rest of those 'unseen' worthies - Wayne, Karen and Neil - though on Saturday night Neil was not required once!
Excellent as all the cast looked exactly as their characters should have, with change of costumes as well where appropriate. Just a couple of examples - Mrs Savage looked elegant and expensively dressed, Fairy May, very frumpy, and Lily Belle - what heavenly red and green chiffon outfits and terrific high heeled shoes. The chaps, well suited and booted, with the exception on Hannibal, he had the please of wearing his delightful tank tops! Attention to detail was closely observed so very well done Liz , Hanna and Christine.
An interesting choice of play, with a lovely variety of contrasting characters that your actors could get their teeth into. Gentle folk inside and quite awful ones without! The Family were truly a gruesome bunch !
You brought out the contrasts with your good choice of actors. Of course these days it is most unlikely any of them would be confined to a home for the mentally unstable, they would be out in the community - apart maybe for Mrs Paddy, who could be a danger to herself and anyone around after dark!….and sweet fragile Fairy May, who finds solace in her fantasy world.
Having just the one set, with quite a lot of furniture and a cast of 11, there was not a lot of room for manoeuvre, but enough not to be over crowded and for a wordy and fairly static play, you got as much movement as was possibly could from your cast, so very good stage direction. Of course there are the odd anomalies when actors had to sit in the down stage chairs and address characters upstage, occasionally lines were less distinct, and when conversations were held toward the back of the stage, I am sure you urged everyone to use more projection.
There are too many good moments to mention them all, but one which stood out was in Act 2 Sc 1 was when Mrs Savages delightful step children, were verbally and almost physically circling her as she sat on the sofa, likes wolves after their prey, it was quite menacing, though Mrs S was undaunted!
You put in enough comedy business without distracting from the more serious elements of the play, as John Patrick said 'easy laughs will rob the play of meaning' - as in the contrast between the charm and humour of the inmates and the abhorrent insane world outside 'The Cloisters' and this was totally achieved with good ensemble playing.
Let me deal with the staff first
Dr. Emmett - Jon Gilbert
You looked the part and you portrayed your character as serious but kindly and warmhearted who works hard to help his patients. I did notice in some earlier scenes though that you occasionally addressed the floor rather than the character you were talking to, so do bear in mind keeping eye contact, it also helps us to hear you better. You had a particularly good scene between you and Mrs Savage in Act 2 Sc 2 when discussing why she sent her step children on a wild goose chase and I think his understanding of her deepened after that and was most telling on his exit line when the 3 miscreants come in - I'll be just outside - if you want me. A well delivered and telling line. Overall - a good solid performance.
Miss Willie Wilehlmina - Charlotte Pope
The admin assistant and nurse, married to Jeff, but he can't remember you - quite heartbreaking really. You are a very kind and understanding person, but particularly so to Jeff - Bingo as call him. This came over to the audience. I could have done with a bit more volume from you though, as I didn't want to miss anything that was that being said. You looked good in your suit, efficient, yet warm and friendly, and so tender. It was a touching performance.
Titus - Howard Platt
A humourless, sober and direct person and the least popular senator in congress - thoroughly unpleasant and a marvellous character to despise! You put him over with great aplomb, stamping your overbearing authority on all about you. You looked good, I heard every word, excellent diction, a most enjoyable performance.
Lily Belle - Kimberley Packman
Serial wife - 6 husbands so far - a celebrity heiress, arrogant, tres chic, self assured and self centred. You managed to portray all these unattractive qualities, while looking gorgeous. I very much enjoyed your characterisation - and you reminded me a little of a young Joanna Lumley - a touch of the Patsys about you - all to your credit, and good projection too. Thank you, you were a delight to watch.
Samuel - Martin Howarth
He has the distinction of being a judge with the most overturned decisions in the US. You walk in the shadows of your overbearing siblings offering only short comments every once in a while only to be shot down by your family. Not a big part but your presents was noted at all times and you got a great laugh on your line in Act 3 "we are Savages" - so apt!
Ethel Savage - Sylvia Zilesnick
The events of the play are centred around you and your decision to hide the money which you inherited from your late husband in an attempt to make her step children look on others more kindly - you obviously disliked them, but learns to love the residents of The Cloisters. I thought you were terrific. From your first entrance - well the Teddy Bear was just ahead of you, you commanded attention. You looked great - the 'blue' wig actually suited you and you carried yourself with grace and elegance on stage, thoroughly knowing your character. I heard every word and your interaction with your fellow 'guests' was acted with great warmth and your disdain for your awful step children was palpable. A truly excellent performance.
The Residents or Guests of the Cloisters
Florence Williams - Pam Macdonald
Your foible is that you believe you have a five year old son named John Thomas (a name that has different connotations in the UK) He is a doll but your fellow guests never let on. You have a good nature and is caring of everyone. This came across is your portrayal - you looked good, and assured on stage and gave a confident performance as a caring mother figure to the residents. Well done.
Fairy May - Rebecca Phillips
A sweet natured, childlike compulsive liar who wants everyone to love you, and although very frumpy you think you are a great beauty - and why not, no one disabuses you - apart from that utter bitch Lily Belle. I really liked the way you handled this part - with a lot of sensitivity and at the same time quite fay but happy in your fantasy world - you moved your character well and had a lot of enthusiasm in your acting.
Mrs Paddy - Wendy Butler
A gift of a part to have fun with - I loved what you did with her. An artist in your own eyes, you paint seascapes - well just a blue line across a canvass - rather odd as Hannibal says - she's never seen the ocean. You stopped talking when your husband told you to 'shut up' and now you only speak to list all the things you hate - and it's quite a number of things! I think you only have four speeches in the whole play but no one can deny your presence. Your expression was great - how did you keep your mouth in a scowling horizontal position! You were very funny, but not played for cheap laughs! …and I loved the line about what you hate ending with politicians! A very good performance.
Jeffrey - David Hinkley
Probably one of the saddest figures at The Cloisters, you think you are scarred when you survived a plane crash in the war that killed your men, but the scarring goes a lot deeper - you are in fact still a handsome young man - I think we call this condition survivor guilt - and you that your wife is Miss Willie, and you play the piano, but are too shy to do this when other people are around. You conveyed your more serious nature well in this performance. You had very sad eyes! and always telling the wife you don't recognise off for - well for lack of a better word - coming on to you - ever so gently though - very nice interaction between the two of you. Again, I could have done with more volume, but when I heard you, you had good diction and delivered a convincing performance.
Hannibal - Nick Martin
Once a statistician, fired and replaced by an electronic calculator, must have tipped you over the edge. You took up the violin and think you play beautifully - as beautifully as Mrs Paddy thinks she can paint! It is of course horrid when you scrap the bow over the strings, but the kind hearted residents, smile and tell you, you are great. Your lively personality contrasted well with Jeffs and I loved the scene with the playing cards and the ring - a natural talent for comedy I think. Thank you.
So…….I do hope I haven't missed anyone out!
I was delighted by the final outcome for 'The Cloisters' residents - that little bit of magic at the end when they all become how they would like to be….Mrs Savages triumph and the humiliation of her horrid brood.
Going over my notes again, I kept seeing so many positives that I had written down - words like Excellent black out - well handled, great bit of business there, 11 characters well placed on stage - Lily Belle - what a bitch! scribbled down whilst still trying to keep track of what was going on, on stage.
Thank you for asking me - I really enjoyed the play and there were some outstanding performances - very best of luck for Beyond Reasonable Doubt in March.