The Shell Seekers by Terence Brady and Charlotte Bingham, adapted from the novel by Rosamunde Pilcher
25th , 26th  and 27th March 2010

Click here for more pictures of this play

Cast        Production Team
Penelope Eileen Stock   Director Andrew Rogers
Nancy Jean Cooper   Production Assistant Val Parker
Olivia Christi Drew   Stage Manager Martin Howarth
Antonia/Penny Sophie Robertson   Assistant Stage Manager Jon Gilbert
Ellen Sue Cole   Properties John and Mary Lowe
Noel David Stelfox   Continuity Sarah Riches
George Iain Howland   Costume Christine Eckley
Lawrence Stern Foster Barnett   Set Design & Construction Trevor Agombar
Danus/Richard Keir Jones   Lighting Design Terry Tew
Roy Brookner Roger Barker   Sound Design Lisa Maule
      Sound/Lighting Operation Mark Drew and Richard Foster
      Artwork Gerry McGrath

Click here for the NODA crit for this play

Review by Sylvia Keith

This play, adapted from a well known novel, presented challenges for the cast, crew and audience alike. The episodic nature of the action and the series of flashbacks gave the audience the challenge of following the narrative, unlike a play with longer more established scenes. The cast had the challenge of establishing and then developing their characters in short episodes. This could have led to a sense of muddle within the audience and must have been a production nightmare, especially for the back stage crew. However the play was very enjoyable and everyone rose to the challenges that were set. Character development was very good on the whole and despite some obvious first night nerves, the show was a triumph. I trust those nerves were gone by Friday and Saturday and that the show was even better. 

As for the production itself, the technical team must have worked very hard. The white curtain splitting the stage was effective, with the correct lighting both in front and behind, such that when the curtains were closed the upstage area was not illuminated and the front lights shone on the curtain so that set changes were not seen. The furniture handling and the properties all worked well and the show was beautifully costumed. The 1940s clothing all seemed right as did the 1980s scenes. There were a couple of slip ups with the props, for example the sketches were obviously shiny photocopies and we saw that one of Lawrence’s canvasses did not show the picture as described but these are minor points. 

Changing the many scenes generally worked well with few slip ups. The scene changes were difficult with the lights, furniture, the Shell Seekers picture and costumes and I know it is especially hard work not having much rehearsal time on the stage. Once we glimpsed part of a set change when the lights were on before the curtain closed and once the actors moved from an upstage scene, presumably for a costume change, before the curtains had fully closed. The costume changes – and there were many – all worked well. Despite the few slip ups, the technical team were very slick. 

Turning to the characters, the casting was excellent and everyone was very believable as were the various relationships. It is difficult when watching people you know off stage taking roles in shows but in this instance I was able to really believe in you all as the characters you played. 

Penelope (Eileen Stock) was very elegant and strong but perhaps not quite fragile enough for someone supposedly in her state of health. A walking stick would not really have worked but perhaps there could have been some difficulty getting in and out of chairs. However this was a strong lead and was performed very well. 

Nancy (Jean Cooper) developed very believable relationships with both her sister and husband. There was good ensemble playing from the family members. Nancy was a little shrill at times but was a good contrast to her sister. Olivia (Christi Drew) was more gentle and caring for her mother, but as we found out later, still innately selfish. Another excellent portrayal. 

Antonia/Penny (Sophie Robertson) provided the challenge of portraying the two different roles. As Penny, perhaps a more relaxed approach would have helped, although you coped very well with the news of Richard’s death. This was a difficult scene well handled. As Antonia you conveyed the gauche youth very well but young Penny needed more differentiation from the carefree nature of Antonia. You needed to be more adult and passionate. However, having to portray two different love affairs was a real challenge and the play does not give you much time to develop those relationships. 

Ellen (Sue Cole) was an excellent and solid characterisation and there was a good relationship with Penelope. Noel (David Stelfox) was strong and blustering, confident and loud and you did very well in the will reading scene. George (Iain Howland) was a good foil for Nancy, well done.  

Lawrence (Foster Barnett) was the king pin role in the production and this was a confident performance. You needed to be larger than life and you were, especially in your great costumes. You had a good relationship with the young Penny. Danus/Richard (Keir Jones) were well differentiated parts, the nervous youth and the more confident lover/soldier. The uniform helped to make the difference work. Roy Brookner (Roger Barker) was another excellent portrayal, a strong performance. 

The ensemble playing and grouping was very good, particularly effective in the will reading scene. The death scene especially was well handled and when Penelope reappeared for the will reading, to explain why she had set out her wishes in the way she did, this worked most effectively. 

Overall the Thursday night needed a bit more strength and confidence but first night is always nerve racking, and must have been especially so in this difficult play. Some more volume, especially when working at the back of your deep stage would have helped the audience with the character development. Having said that, I really enjoyed the show as did my 12 year old granddaughter, who followed the story line all the way through. Any criticisms are given in the spirit of helping you all to develop. Well done, another great success for LADS.