Madhatters Theatre Club
Gladstone! Report by Sian John
Gladstone! Report by Jo Cummings
Boom and bust - The Recession Revue
An Evening of Melodrama
When Did You Last See Your Trousers?
Under Milk Wood
The Roaring Boy of Brent
The Grand Guignol
NATIONAL OPERATIC AND DRAMATIC ASSOCIATION REVIEWS
The 101 Dalmatians
The Government Inspector
Date: 4, 11 and 12 July 2009
Venue: Gladstone Park
Report by: Sian John
2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of William Gladstone and
what better way to celebrate than a play about his life in Gladstone
Park, Dollis Hill, where the People’s William loved to spend his
weekends relaxing with family and friends. Brent Arts Council were very
fortunate to get a grant from the Arts Council to commission and stage a
brand new play about the GOM (Grand Old Man) and the weather was kind
for nearly all of the six performances. Of course it bucketed down the
afternoon that I came but the cast were able to adapt the show so that
the audience sat under a tree and only the performers got wet.
Date: 4, 11 and 12 July 2009
“‘Gladstone in the Park, a promenade play, comedy in the sunshine.’
You’ll be on your feet for an hour and a half,” Debby said. I didn’t
believe it but when we walked into the Stables courtyard, I knew she was
right. Troubadour Chris Channing, playing his Hohner guitar, persuaded
the audience toward the gloriously green open spaces of this park, so
appreciated by Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. I am past being
able to sit on the ground and was grateful for fences, a wall, trees,
the back of a wooden seat and a waste bin to lean on. A bit far from the
scene at times, I couldn’t hear all of the words but caught behind the
scenes activity and found that interesting.
Date: 8, 9 and 10 May 2009
Production: Boom and bust - The Recession Revue
Venue: Malorees School and the Stables Arts Centre
Report by: Rosemary Bloomfield
Cast: (various roles) in alphabetical order: Jess Abbo, Chris Channing, Gemma Dickenson, Simon Dutson, Michael Fay, Joan Foster, Judi Friend, Roger Kelly, Cathy Mercer, Martin Redston, Garry Smith, Nigel Smith. Malorees School: Claudia, Isaac, Miles, Millie, Nirvana, Ramiza and Shian; directed by Jennifer Redston and Martin Redston. Piano: Tom Rainbow; Director: Jess Abbo
An ultra-topical theme for this revue, devised and performed by the cast with lots of variety, vigour and enthusiasm throughout. With songs, sketches, quotes and jokes galore the message that ‘the more things change the more they remain the same’ was humorously shared with the audience. Costume and scene changes were handled quickly and efficiently, even in the confined space of The Stables. The consistent theme of ‘the times in which we live’ was integral to making this a cohesive and interesting evening.
The most successful items included: (Not) Serious Money, a brief take on Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money. Written by Jess, it opened the show: a scene of total mayhem and panic in a city stockbrokers office in 1987 when the markets suddenly crashed and hurricane winds blew. The traders were panicked even more by the arrival of their big boss, terrifyingly played by Michael Fay. Very funny, both visually and verbally.
Beating Depression, a highly specious ‘documentary’ piece, also by Jess, featured an ‘expert’ from Florida (Martin), explaining financial matters with the ‘help’ of a ludicrous flip chart. His attempts to reassure his audience that all’s well in the financial world was very funny. ‘Eye witness’ accounts of the Great Depression in the USA were also funny: Gemma was outstanding as one of the three old dears recounting tales of hardship, Joan entertained with an odd transatlantic accent placed slightly west of Dollis Hill and Cathy obviously relished her less than subtle portrayal of an old bag remembering a completely demented version of 1930’s events.
Quotes from wits such as Groucho Marx and Mark Twain, on the funnier side of money, banks and global depression were well delivered by a line-up of the players.
Songs, ranging from jazz, blues and folk songs of the depression era to modern times were performed with great feeling and gusto by Chris Channing, Garry Smith and Nigel Smith. The disgruntled street-sweeper (Chris) clearing loads of presumably worthless money collected by a yuppie lady (Judi), reduced to playing a banjo in the street with a placard announcing that she has a mortgage and Porsche to support was quite inexplicable. More to-the-point was the scurrilous self-penned song about ‘merchant bankers’ from Garry.
Overall, however, I felt that there were rather too many items squeezed into the evening and those that worked less well were the two excerpts from longer plays, one written in 1692, The Stockjobbers, and Roaring Trade, a modern play. Although well performed by Joan, Cathy, Roger, Martin, Michael and Simon, these pieces were too short: the audience just didn’t have enough time to appreciate the themes discussed.
The two contributions from the group of children made an interesting contrast and they were obviously well rehearsed. Their performances were enthusiastic and lively and all in all contributed to a very topical and funny show, well devised and presented. Top of page
Date: 29 November and 8 December 2008
Production: An Evening of Melodrama
Venue: Stables Arts Centre
Report by: Mary Draffin
The Madhatters put on a very enjoyable evening for the audience with two melodramas, and recitations and readings of nineteenth century poetry.
Black Eyed Susan by Dr Douglas Jerrold is typical of the early melodrama: a tale of love, wickedness and sensational incident with songs interspersed. It was written in 1829 by a humourist and playwright who had served in the navy. The nautical theme is integral to the plot: the constant wife, Susan, waits languishing for her husband's return from sea. Her wicked uncle and landlord has contrived to sell her to the captain of her William's ship, by threatening her with eviction and forcing her into the captain's arms. The captain has plotted to step in to "rescue" her from poverty, telling her William is dead and she should marry him. William is not dead but has miraculously escaped from the desert island where the captain had marooned him. He returns in the nick of time to release Susan from the captain's clutches, but is arrested, tried and condemned to hang for attacking his senior officer. All ends well at the last, by dint of a creaky plot coincidence that Dickens would be proud of. Mrs Cathy Mercer played Susan with as much piteous emotion and heart felt joy as the plot and the evening could bear. The part of Captain Crosstree was taken by Sir Kenneth Govier, whose overtures to Susan conveyed the menace in his character. If I could not believe in the change of heart Captain Crosstree shows at the end, this was hardly Sir Ken's fault; blame it on the plot. Mr Roger Kelly played William. His name did not appear in the programme, and I wonder if this was by design, so that the audience would believe that William is dead. Mr Kelly gave a spirited and jaunty performance. He sang the sea shanties and danced off the stage with a convincing nautical air. His lines were full of sailors' idioms, which I found amusing. The versatile Mr Donald Elliott played the wicked uncle Doggrass with venomous mien. Mr Elliott, with lightning changes of costume, facial hair and regional accent, also took most of the other parts: Seaweed, Pike and Quid, William's shipmates, and the Marine. Miss Joan Foster took the part of the Admiral, and had the job of sentencing William to be hanged. This she did with appropriate severity.
The second melodrama of the evening was "The Wages of Sin or Perfidious Piecework" by Mr Andrew Sachs, the well known actor. This was a treat of over the top wickedness where the wicked and foolish come to a sticky end. Lord Peregrine Fortune-Mint, married to the virtuous and haughty Lady Priscilla, who is always leaving home to go off and do good works, is astonished to be visited by her identical twin sister, a vamp, who makes a play for him. He succumbs to her advances with a will, but is she really who he thinks she is? Suffice it to say the play ends with the stage strewn with almost as many dead bodies as Hamlet. Mr Jess Abbo played Lord Peregrine with just the right mix of snobbery and vacuousness. Of course he was going to succumb to Mrs Brown, the identical twin sister, the temptress. But the wages of sin is death . Mr Martin Redston played Jasper, the elderly butler. His painful progress across the stage and all the stage business conveyed his dodderiness very well. But the plot reveals he was in disguise, and at the right moment Jasper threw off the grey wig with a flourish to claim his reward for deceiving his employer. But the wages of sin is death . Mrs Cathy Mercer played Lady Priscilla and Mrs Brown. What a haughty, self-righteous Priscilla, and what a lascivious, wicked Mrs Brown! The three actors mentioned here are to be complimented on the melodramatic staginess of their characters' dying. I think Mr Abbo would have the prize for the most protracted death.
I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek way the Madhatters approached the genre of melodrama. Black Eyed Susan could have flowed a little better. The direction in The Wages of Sin was particularly good. I wonder whether more could have been made of lighting effects. The music, provided by Mr Thomas Rainbow at the keyboard, was well chosen and added to the atmosphere of the plays. Our evening's enjoyment was made complete by the excellent refreshments. Well done, Madhatters!
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Date: 5 - 6 July 2008
Production: Treasure Island
Venue: Gladstone Park
Report by: Edit Howard
This was a completely up-dated and localised version of the classic children's novel, ably adapted by Michael Redston and Amy Bonsall - Amy also directed it, with the help of Sian Thomas.
This was a very jolly romp played out in different parts of the attractive pleasure garden of Gladstone Park in Dollis Hill. Jim Hawkins became a feisty Jane, well played by Stephanie Clarke; the Admiral Benbow Inn was re-located to Willesden High Road; and the treasure was a secret formula for free fuel buried on a desert island. Maggie Robson put on a splendid show as the Squire, a computer hacker hoping for treasure to help rebuild her ruined family home, Dollis Hill House, and developing a taste for rum along the way. Andy Thomas' Long John Silver, complete with a crew of incompetent pirates, strutted and plotted and raised lots of laughs. Gary Lynch was very convincing as the good Doctor Livesey and Leila Reid was funny as a batty cheese-mad Berth Gunn. Rob Waters doubled up as Billy Bones and Captain Picardilly, involving children in the audience by inviting them to take the part of the ship's figurehead.
Actors from the local Madhatters Theatre Club played supporting roles to the professionals, notably the incompetent pirates: Cathy Mercer was the tarty landlady and pirate, Ella, paired up in the galley with Ken Govier's Sam; Martin Redston also doubled up as a sinister Bill Pew and Ivor Squint, the ship's myopic pilot; the ever-popular Michael Fay played Rom Weigh, an equally incompetent helmsman; and Fiona Cowie was charming as ever as Annette Fisher; Chris Channing opened the show playing his blues guitar. Other pirates were played by Roxy Afifi Sabet as the cerebrally challenged pirate May Day and Stephen Lanigan-O'Keefe as Rod Fisher, doubling also as DJ B-Dog.
As in any promenade performance, props and set were minimal. A few ropes and sail hanging from a large oak tree made up the ship, with a recruit from the audience acting as figurehead. The final scene was played out in front of a lavish mobile home, borrowed from one of the cast, with Jane Hawkins and chums lounging and sipping cocktails, while the chained up pirates carried the cargo for the homeward trip. Costumes were modern too, with the pirates in appalling shorts and Silver in gaudy and villainous garb.
This was a promenade performance and we were promised a play come rain or shine. Having chosen the wettest weekend so far this summer, we were fortunate to get sunshine for three out of four of our shows, with only the final performance played out in the rain. The audience stuck with the show to the very end and their laughs were loud enough to carry over the lashing rain and howling winds!
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Date: 10 May 2008
Production: Mish Mash
Venue: The Stables Gladstone Park
Report by: Michael Toohig
Once again the Madhatters have come up with something completely different: an evening of party-pieces and audience participation. The Mish Mash was a chance for Madhatters members to perform extracts from their favourite plays and the audience were invited to join in. The idea sounds chaotic but it was very well run and as no piece lasted more than five minutes, there was never a dull moment. The evening's entertainment was accompanied by food and drink, all included in the price of the £5.00 ticket. It must be hard to find a better-priced evening's entertainment and the delicious strawberries and cream and wine all made for a good atmosphere.
The turns were varied: Michael Fay recited the Highwayman, Martin Redstone, Jess Abbo and Joan Foster produced monologues, while Donald Elliot and Cathy Mercer put on a very funny extract from Miles Kingston's Let's learn francais. Cathy and Maureen MacMillan staged a battle of the Bracknals, with audience members taking the supporting roles. Judy Friend took to the parts of Gwendolyn and Cecily like a fish to water. The Madhatters' turns were interspersed by audience participation. Odette Elliot recited some very funny poems, Chris Channing performed part of Samuel Beckett's Embers with his feet in a bucket of sand and Judy played pieces on the recorder and performed a murder scene from Pirandello.
Madhatters entertainments are always fun and this one was particularly enjoyable. The atmosphere was relaxed, the entertainment was varied and fast-paced and the food and drink were good. I've seen several of the Madhatter's recent plays but I enjoyed their Mish Mash more than any of these. Roll on Mish Mash 2!
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Date: 6 - 9
Date: 31 November-3 December 2006
|Date: 4-7 May 2006
Production: The Roaring Boy of Brent
Venue: Malorees Junior School
Report by: Cathy Mercer
The Roaring Boy of Brent Written by Audrey Ringrose* Directed by Jonathan Bidgood Music by John Asher Performed by the Madhatters Theatre Club, Malorees School, Kilburn 4-7 May 2006 This was a very entertaining piece of historical costume-comedy with lots of music and some excellent performances. The production managed to appeal both to the grown-ups and the children in the audience and gave a good insight into the history of Kilburn, while remaining fun. The development of the play was particualry interesting as it was written especially for the Madhatters, with the aim of including as many children and additional adults as possible. . The Madhatters Theatre Club have been performing in Malorees School in Kilburn since 2002. They have tried to involve pupils in their plays before but the problem they have found is that very few plays exist which offer good parts for junior school age children. Most plays offer either huge parts, which are beyond the scope of the majority of children, or crowd scenes which do not involve them significantly in the drama. The Madhatters therefore invited Audrey Ringrose to write a community play which would give the children small but interesting parts and involve them in the action throughout. The Madhatters chose the dramatic theme of eighteenth century highwaymen who used to roam the nearby Edgware Road, pouncing upon unfortunate travellers. This proved an exciting subject with opportunities for beautiful period costumes, fight scenes and a very effective hanging, dramatically staged with back lighting. Audrey researched the period thoroughly and produced a fascinating mix of real characters and her own creations. Audrey's play was firmly set in the Kilburn area. The children played orphans from the Kilburn Priory, an orphanage which stood on the very site of Malorees School. The protagonist was Nathanial Gubbins, a former orphan trying to make his way up in the world by dabbling in a bit of highway robbery. This part was well played by Jess Abbo, who conveyed the pathos of a poor lad with no options to better himself other than marrying his bossy girlfriend and become a night-soil collector. Cathy Mercer did a good job as the bossy but feisty fiancée, standing loyally by her man to the very end. There were three villains to the piece, all drawn from history: Jack Sheppard, famous for breaking out of Newgate Prison, given a real mixture of bravado and sleaze by Donald Elliot; Jonathon Wild, sinister double agent and thief-catcher, whom Martin Redston made into a scary and menacing bully; and the glamorous Jeremiah Lewis, played by Leo Zahra, who won the hearts of all the girls. Added to this historical panoply was a host of vivid supporting roles.Shirly Marom made a fiery Jenny, a tarty flirt who threw herself from one crook to another. Corinne Gladstone was convincing as Belinda Bellevue, who works her way up from the gangster's moll to the first highway woman in Britain. John Stirling Gallagher was a comically bumbling Father Tom, well meaning manager of the Kilburn orphanage, as well as an incompetent lord chancellor. Michael Fay performed as well as ever as the visionary, Derry Mick. Director Jonathan Bidgood gave a scary cameo as the hangman. Fiona Cowie doubled up very well as the villain Blueskin and one of Jeremiah Lewis' screaming fans, along with Simone Dornbach and Sue O'Connell. Shane O'Connor and Chris Channing made excellent Madhatters debuts as pair of policemen. And both Teresa Kelly and Sue O'Connell performed well when they stepped in at very short notice to play the bibulous mother of Jack Shepherd after Joan Foster was unfortunately too ill to take the part. All of these were well supported by the crowds of football-kicking orphans. The music was very atmospheric, well directed by John Asher, who doubled up as singing coach. The play was set in the round, which helped with the smaller children's voices and involved the audience in the action and singing in the crowd scenes. Jonathan Bidgood directed the play with a sure hand. He brought the best out of his cast and handled the set pieces particularly well, including Jack Sheppard's escape from Newgate Prison, Jeremiah Lewis' hanging and Nathanial Gubbins' fight with Jack Sheppard. The lighting was low key but effective, especially in the dramatic hanging scene. Although firmly grounded in eighteenth century Kilburn, this lively play would transfer well to any other amateur dramatic company's patch. The scenes at the Willesden Spotted Dog could easily be set in another pub, as could references to places such as Shooters Hill and Dollis Hill Farm. Highwaymen roamed the roads throughout Britain and Audrey's play could easily be adapted to meet local needs. One final point: the new Brent Museum in Willesden Green Library has a very good exhibition about Jack Sheppard, who robbed Dollis Hill farm and murdered the farmer's wife, showing once again that the Madhatters are trail blazers in Brent. Jack Sheppard was eventually hanged at Tyburn and, like many eighteenth century criminals, ended up as a medical student's skeleton. His bones are still on display in the Royal College of Surgeons Museum at Lincolns Inn Fields.
* If you would like to perform this play please contact the author directly:
Audrey Ringrose, 15 Ashburnham Grove LONDON SE10 8UH
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Date: 25-26 November & 2-3 December
Society: Madhatters Theatre Club
Date: 8th May 2005
Production: Dry Rot
Venue: Malorees Junior School Hall, Willesden
Report by: Harvey Kesselman
In performing a farce, not only do the actors have to be sure of their dialogue, the most essential ingredient required is the pace in which this dialogue is delivered. Unfortunately, this was rather absent in this production. As a result, the play did seem to occasionally slow down. There were quite a number of prompts that were given, and whilst there is no stigma in receiving these, some of the characters still seem to have a problem in picking their lines up even after having received a prompt and, as a result, the speed of the piece suffered. Roger Kelly was suitably pompous as Colonel Wagstaff, wondering why he had purchased this seemingly run down "hotel". As Mrs Wagstaff, Angella Hodge was rather on the quiet side, but looked right and acted well. I could not quite understand why Fiona Cowle had bare feet on her first entrance. One was under the impression she had just returned from a walk, so why no shoes? The sling of her handbag was much too short to be carried over her shoulder, and presented a problem when trying to take out or put back the letter she had been given. On her next entrance, at least she was wearing what looked like pumps. The first sign of comedy was the appearance of Cathy Mercer as Beth, the maid. It was a funny performance helped by a strange accent, and rather raucous laughter. The pitch of Martin Redston's voice was rather too high; it might have been preferable if he would have played it rather like a Bertie Wooster character, a sort of upper class silly ass. Nevertheless, as John Danby he acted well, rightly giving the appearance of not really knowing what his employer was up to. As his employer, Alfred Tubbe, Donald Elliot was very good. He played the seedy bookmaker perfectly. There was perhaps a slight problem in seemingly remembering when he should put on a "posh" accent, as opposed to his "real" voice (or was that deliberate?), but it was a lovely performance. He was well supported by Leo Zahra as Fred Phipps, his so called valet. Leo seemed to delight in this part, and his scene with Donald, when he is being persuaded to be a jockey, was very funny. As the third member of this 'unholy trio', Ken Govier (Flash Harry) was suitably seedy and delivered his dialogue in a lovely cockney (?) accent, spluttering his way through mouthfuls of food. There was a truly wonderful performance by Jess Abbo as Albert Polignac, the 'very' French jockey. Whether his French was accurate or not, I cannot say, but his whole performance was terrific. Joan Foster as Sergeant Fire did not really have the command the part needed. She needed to have been more in control of the situation, and her dialogue should have been delivered with more authority. Completing the cast, although unseen, was Grahame Edwards as the radio commentator. His description of the race was good, although it tended to drown some of the dialogue taking part on stage. Timing the commentary and the stage dialogue should have made a better balance. The set was rather drab, and although the 'hotel' was supposed to be rather dreary, the set could have been a little brighter and less depressing. The sliding panel worked well (although it seemed that Leo kept kicking a wrong part of the flat in order that the panel should open). The confusion in giving a signal to Flash Harry by knocking three times to show the coast was clear, and trying to convince the owners that they were looking for dry rot, was funny. There were no problems with the lighting and sound in the capable hands of Richard Lees, Alec James and Martin (Redston?). The props were fine, but I felt the men's costumes were, in the main, rather drab and in some cases ill fitting. The director, Simon Rawlings managed to get the most out of this play, and the cast seemed to cope reasonably well with a farce that somehow seemed to be rather dated.
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Society: Madhatters Theatre Club
The Madhatters Theatre Club is a registered charity
(Registered charity No. 1095317)