Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of Macbeth - Darlington Theatre Players (6 July 2014)

One of William Shakesbear’s most famous plays is, of course, the great comedy McDuff, also known by superstitious actors as The Polish Play; going on stage with scuffed footwear being terribly poor form likely to bring bad luck. It’s the hilarious story of a general manager who rises to become CEO of the Scottish Bank… or something like that. I can’t seem to find that page in my notes. Anyway, for the purposes of this review the details don’t really matter. This production sees the combined forces of the Darling Scarp Players Association and The Farnsworth Amateur Women’s Bowls, Bingo and Abseiling Club on full display at the recently renovated Marloo Theatre in Donnybrook, now featuring running water and heating!  

The title role is played in convincing style by Sally Ketteringham with able support by Gail Storm and Greg Boyd. The set is a work in progress - think Olympic stadium in a third world country a month before the Opening Ceremony - though the costuming was quite accomplished given the amount of curtains, drapes and bed linen used. The director has clearly encouraged the use of improvisation and the entire cast respond magnificently to the challenge. The play also features the best use of fishing rods since last years’ spectacular Fly Fishing The Musical at the neighbouring Garlic Theatre Club. There was quite the controversy, however, when a female reviewer stormed on stage at the end of the play and insisted on giving a full blown critique right there and then. Allegations have also been made that the raffle at intermission was rigged. All in all though, a satisfying afternoon’s entertainment…

Ricahrd Hyde, Film Critic

Okay, there may have been one or two inaccuracies in the above review…

In every instance all amateur or community theatre productions do their utmost to put on the best show possible. They may not always have the resources or sheer talent available but they substitute this with passion, ingenuity and a genuine sense of camaraderie. This play throws that all out the window with one simple premise:

What if the worst amateur theatre company ever tried to put on a production of Macbeth?

The result is a funny and charming show as every conceivable mishap befalls the production – missing actors, disabled actors, actors who forget their lines, actors with inflated egos, actors with laryngitis, a set that falls apart with a decent shove, props that don’t appear, props that mysteriously appear, sound cues missed, overly loud sound design, you name it. It’s very much a farce that delivers consistent laughs throughout; the charm coming from a throwback sensibility to English comedy of the sixties and seventies. In other words it’s all good fun with some iconic Shakespearean moments sabotaged in glorious fashion, especially “Out, damned spot!” (a moment that plays with the agony of ‘corpsing’) and “Double, double, toil and trouble” turned into a dance routine!

Siobhan Vincent is very good as Thelma who plays Macbeth in most earnest fashion as everything collapses around her until finally she has had enough before rallying to return for a glorious death scene. Rodney Palmer is also a standout as the stand-in for the missing actress slated to play Lady Macbeth, drag and all. The three witches - Alyssa Burton, Rachel Vonk and Taneal Thompson - cackle away merrily whilst bickering amongst themselves, with Thompson starting off in crutches and eventually becoming wheelchair-bound after a series of unfortunate off-stage ‘accidents’. She also plays McDuff while Burton doubles as Duncan. Fi Livings is Minnie Small who plays Banquo with a particularly amusing set piece involving a shopping trolley as she haunts Macbeth. Richard Coleman is the play within a play’s producer who is pressed into service on stage as circumstances deteriorate. Ray Egan gives an Are You Being Served? style spin to the big city adjudicator George Peach with his surname a running gag as mangled (or is that sliced?) by Neroli Burton’s Chairwoman of the Guild who tries valiantly to keep things on track. The fourth wall is constantly broken which is all part of the gag – we recognise elements of inadvertent disaster from shows we’ve seen in the past, just not all at once.

It’s an oddly constructed play with Marjorie De Caux starting proceedings as a pianist ‘playing’ various tunes for quite some time (with the stage curtain closed behind her) before the play begins proper. The traditional community theatre raffle is incorporated into the start of Act Two and it ends with the extended critique by Egan’s Peach before the actors take their bows. I enjoyed it though and laughed throughout. While it takes pot shots at bad theatre it does so almost lovingly in its over-exaggeration which makes it quite endearing.

For the record, Sallie Ketteringham actually did the costuming (with De Caux) and handles the show’s publicity; Gail Palmer is the Director; and George Boyd is one of the stage managers. The show is on at the Marloo Theatre in Greenmount until Saturday 19th July.

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