Review of Summer End by Bob Lawson

Performed 3rd – 8th April 2017 by Cleadon Village Drama Club

Summer End by Eric Chappell

Extracts from Bob Lawson’s personal view

As most of the audience are hardly in the first flush of youth, they can appreciate and feel some empathy with at least one character as portrayed.

Producing and directing a play is a hazardous business, so it gives me great pleasure in saying that Sonia McDonnell in her first attempt at directing has done a very worthwhile job. Whilst she has had very able assistance from Bill Dodds, the final responsibility has been hers. The Cleadon stage is very small and to accommodate two beds and room for other furniture, including a wheelchair, into that area, must have been a director’s nightmare!

The stage crew have done a very good job in building everything needed and, helped by their efforts, have created an authentic room in an old people’s care home.

The newcomer to the Cleadon stage, Philip Holland as Alan, fitted in well, and looked every inch a policeman. I look forward to seeing him in more demanding parts in future. Gillian Crossley as Mrs Lang takes this kind of role with the consummate ease of an experienced actress. Her metamorphosis from smooth trouble shooting manager to greedy villain was every bit a key ingredient of the climax. Jessica Henderson is serving her apprenticeship on the Cleadon stage very well. As Sally, she was the Aunt Sally of the play, having to bear all the recriminations when things either went wrong or were not to others’ liking.

Now to the two main players. I have left them until last because their two characters and the way they were played are the rocks upon which the play depends. It must be said that Pat Thompson as May and Kathleen Dodds as Emily were both an absolute delight. I am sure that no amateur theatre in the North could have bettered these two performances and I speak as one who has seen hundreds of plays in amateur theatres. One of the key aspects of the show was in the first half of the first act when only the two principals were speaking. The timbre of their voices was a harmony in itself regardless of what was being said, one higher pitched one mature and deeper; one so well attuned to the relentless pessimism of Emily and the other to the much more caring May.

Pat Thompson has been a stalwart of Cleadon for many years and recently has only taken lesser parts, but here she has taken a big role which must have taken a great deal of physical and mental effort. It was a joy to see all the old skill being shown for all to see. I especially liked the part when she was displaying her feelings at the neglect of her son and his family.

Kathleen Dodds, since her renaissance on the Cleadon stage, has taken a number of major roles but none have been printed on my memory as strongly as this one has been. Emily’s acerbic tongue was straight from acquaintances which many of the audience will recognise! Eric Chappell must have heard these tones and sentiments in the old people’s homes when he researched the play! The audience loved the dry humour of the piece as well as the setting which must be familiar to many.

All those associated with the production of the play must be congratulated on offering such a course which must surely be ranked as one of the best of recent years. It is certain that the audience went homeward with that feeling of satisfaction at such a dish being offered by such a minute cookhouse in such a small refectory.

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Review of Day of Reckoning by Bob Lawson

Performed 23rd – 28th January 2017 by Cleadon Village Drama Club

Day of Reckoning by Pam Valentine

Extracts from Bob Lawson’s personal view

The stage was simply too small for eight players and the furniture.

Actors did their very best to bring out the very different characteristics of each part, with varying degrees of success. Mary Stephenson as Ethel the gossip and nosy parker, brought out her character with skill and effectiveness.

Apart from the newcomer Jessica, all the rest of the cast were very experienced and it showed because one great characteristic needed in actors is CONFIDENCE. This showed very clearly and added to the enjoyment of the play.

After the interval a very different and much more enjoyable play emerged. The great difference was the emerging of a series of distinctive small scenes, usually with just two or three characters. In some of these small scenes we learn much more of each stage person and a series of very interesting story lines emerged, and it has to be said all were very well acted and directed. My favourite mini-scene was the one between the Vicar, Geoffrey, so well played by David Beston and the careworn Gloria (Sonia McDonnell). It was thoroughly worthwhile on a bitter winter’s night to come out and see.

It’s lovely to observe an actress of the ability of Kathleen Dodds to easily fit in as the adulterous wife Sally, and also Pat Thompson’s portrayal as the doddering knitter. Denise Wilson is a natural actress who is able to fill so many different CVD roles with authenticity and empathy. Gillian Crossley took her part with authority especially in the mini scene with Angela, played by Jessica Henderson. Jessica who was making her first appearance on the Cleadon Stage made a decent beginning but has some basic things to learn to be really effective. One basic is that a speaker on stage must be able to be heard by everyone at the back of the audience, another is not to drop your voice when sitting down or when speaking to someone close to you on stage. Well done Jessica, see you again soon on the Cleadon Stage.

It’s a hard task to direct a large cast on the small CVDC stage so a big thank you is due to Frank Ditchburn for all the work and worry he has put in in order to make the production a success.

Overall I enjoyed the play especially the second half.

Review of Audacity by BobLawson

16th  April 2016 Cleadon Village Drama Club

Audacity by Simon Mawdsley

Extracts from Bob Lawson’s personal view

This play is known as a comedy thriller. It has a good interesting story line with plenty of humour.

The First Act sets the scene for the real meat of the play which occurs in the Second Act. John Errington plays Phillip with the consummate ease of the experienced actor asked to perform the straight man in contrast to all the other characters. The first half hour of the play did not have much drama, apart from the menace of the unexpected handgun though David Beston’s welcome re-appearance on the Cleadon stage had brought more life to the stage as the exuberant Dave.

Stan Dix was a revelation playing the diffident John; his acting was to become by far the best he has shown at Cleadon. His timidity and ability to get things not quite right brought some of the best laughs during the evening.

When the two ladies came into action, the play achieved another dimension. The reaction between the two vastly different women was a joy. It portrayed two fine actresses blending arguing over the puzzling behaviour of their husbands. The whole of the Second Act was full of dramatic scenes all played so well that it more than made up for the rather flat First Act.

Helen Irving’s Gillian was well played, quiet when need be but equally strong when necessary. When she confessed to her marital indiscretions she conveyed just the right amount of contrition and defiance.

Camilla Robinson is very welcome indeed to the Cleadon Stage. Cleadon has had a long tradition of really good lady actors, some in our present pool I hasten to say! It’s a great joy to see such a terrific debut! What an impression she made, a real natural.

Mention must be made of the argument scene near the end of the play which must have been so difficult to plot and get just right, but got right it was. I was particularly struck with Stan’s acting whilst sitting at the table with his head often in his hands as he regretted his part in the robbery, this was fine acting.

I offer congratulations to the cast for giving the audience such a good evening’s entertainment. Mention must be made of the great job Bill Dodds has done in directing this play.

Well done John Thornton and his team for a good set which suited the play so well, and to the lighting and sound crew.

Review of Natural Causes by Bob Lawson

22nd June 2014 Cleadon Village Drama Club

Natural Causes by Eric Chappell

Bob Lawson’s personal view:

Recently there has been some controversy on TV news programmes and in the press about the possible recommendations of the Independent Commission on Assisted Dying. This seems to be a strange sentence to begin a report on this play, but it does have some relevance. The play is a black comedy, but in fact it is much more a farce. As such it is to be expected that at least the playing of some characters must be OTT.

Exodus purports to be an organisation that, as a service, will arrange death for a person wishing to die. Walter Bryce engages Exodus to perform this service for his depressive wife. Vincent is the agent who arrives at the Bryces’ country cottage with the poison to perform the deadly service. Walter is only too keen to have his wife dispatched discretely so he can continue his affair with Angie, his much younger and very attractive secretary. Thereafter the play shows confusion after confusion as all the characters find themselves close to supping a drink which contains the poison. Into the mix comes Withers from the Samaritans, who blunders his way into the proceedings producing mayhem where only confusion reigned.

Frank Ditchburn plays Exodus agent whose manner changes from bluff carefulness to nasty blackmail as he realises the real idea behind his visit. Frank’s long experience on the stage comes to the fore as his character clearly shows his lack of true education, with the oft repeated line about his only leaving school at sixteen being almost unnecessary. Frank dominates the stage whenever he appears but his skill is such that he gives the other players room to play their parts effectively.

The part of Walter Bryce is the most important one in the play and Ian Reah gives the audience full value for its money with a no hold barred array of histrionics as he ranges from delight with prospect of going to Montego Bay with his lady love, to being terrified at the prospect of death with his wife.

Nicola Michelle Airey acts the part of Angie with the confidence of a seasoned performer. Her’s is really the only straight part in the play. With her looks and ability she will be an asset to Cleadon Drama for many years to come. I look forward to seeing her in a much more demanding part.

Gillian Crossley always looks on stage as if she is really enjoying playing her part. As Celia Bryce, Walter’s depressive wife, Gillian looks just a little cheerful in the role except of course near the end when her husband’s real affections are exposed. But it’s always a joy to see Gillian playing on the Cleadon stage, whatever her role may be.

Withers, the Samaritan, was played by Chris Bradley. That touch of manic enthusiasm which the role demanded, Chris caught exactly right. His attempts to persuade any character away from suicide were some of the finest moments in the play. Well Done.

The audience seem to have thoroughly enjoyed the play, responding to the many funny situations, innuendos and wise cracks.

Corinne Kilvington has done a great job in directing the piece. I hope we see her many times in the future. The rest of the support staff may feel well pleased with themselves for a sleek production with no apparent mistakes on or off stage.

Review of Lettice & Lovage by Bob Lawson

24th March 2014       Cleadon Village Drama Club.

Lettice and Lovage  by  Peter Schaffer

Bob Lawson’s personal view.

I had seen two versions of this play, both professionally produced. I was not keen on the play as presented by either of the versions. It appeared to be wordy, long winded and without the humour promised in the publicity. Yet here we are with an amateur production by a small village company in a tiny theatre conjuring a mini-masterpiece which enraptured the audience. Whence the incredible difference? There are several very cogent reasons.

Firstly the director had to have a very clear vision of what he wanted in every facet of the production. Quite clearly Bill Dodds had this vision and it was realised by a very talented group of actors and the stage crew. The playing of the piece in the round helped in many ways in spite of the inherent difficulties of this form of presentation. Inevitably masking occurs much more than it would in a proscenium production, but this can be weakened by the actors never staying in one position for too long and yet must never wander aimlessly round the playing area. This was achieved with careful direction and the skill of the actors. The result being that all the audience could see clearly where everyone was positioned, especially when an actor was speaking.

The second reason that the show was so good was the sheer skill of the four main actors. Sonia McDonnell as Lettice was a delight. She obviously loved the part she was asked to play and it came across to every one just how much she was enjoying being on stage. She must have put an enormous amount of time in learning the lines, the movements and the expressions of face and body; but what a dividend this work paid in audience reaction. I look forward to seeing a very different Sonia in the next play she is in. Will I always see in future performances echoes of Lettice ? A wonderful portrayal of an imaginative but self centred woman, thank you Sonia.

Denise Wilson seemed on her first appearance to have an easy part to play as Lottie, the representative of the Trust who own Fustian Hall. Lottie is a real ‘jobsworth’, without imagination and understanding. But once Lottie falls under the spell of Lettice then we see a very different lady and Denise shows just what a very fine actress is. The scenes when Lettice & Lottie speak and react to each other show just how good amateur actors can become. They are a delight to anyone who likes to witness good actors whatever the roles they are asked to play.

What is a cameo on the stage ? To me it is a small part in a drama that leaves a vivid memory. Doreen Shannon as the shy, browbeaten Miss Framer leaves such a memory. A real cameo that evokes sympathy and humour together from the audience.

The other main character was Mr. Bardolph (echoes of Falstaff)the solicitor, played by Stan Dix. He was, to begin with, the voice of common sense  allied to a thorough down-to- earthiness. As his interview with Lettice crept on his exasperation grew. Stan was just the man for the job. He looked right and his voice was spot on. When he too  fell under the spell of Lettice, the funniest sequence of the play was to enfold. Never has a drum beat and roll been as humorous. I look forward to seeing Stan in bigger roles in future plays.

Mention must be made of the crowd of players needed in the first act. How all eight must have enjoyed trying to disguise themselves for each brief, but so necessary, appearance. I hope the three newcomers caught the acting bug, a bug that has no cure.

The stage crew dressed in black made all the needed changes seamlessly and deserve a mention for their efficiency. Where all the props and costumes were hidden in the small off stage areas, I do not know. The costumes played their part in the production and a real appreciation is awarded to all involved in their procurement.

A most enjoyable evening that should go down in the annals of CVDC as an outstanding success. I feel sorry for the many people who have not had the good fortune to obtain tickets. Norma Chapman must have had a busy, even harrowing time dealing with disappointed enquiries ! Well done everyone who has had anything to do with the production.

Bob Lawson, 26th March 2014.