Sunday, 19 July 2015

Someone Else's Pretty Toys, The Phoenix Theatre Company Chelmsford, Christchurch Hall, London Road, Chelmsford

Billed as a "Drama of Mystery and Suspense" this play by Sam Bate is set in the 1960s. It would appear to have been written back then because as a result of missing curtain up by a minute. I honestly felt I had wandered back into the glorious age of Women's Institute drama with all its innocence and naivety.
So either Mr Bate (I assume this Sam is a he) wrote this some decades ago or his memory is not necessarily as trustworthy as he might hope. Both dialogue and the plot are all too obvious and signalled well ahead of revelations. Plus the writer's time scales appeared at with the casting ages as in my memory it was my mother who had danced to the Black Bottom, not my grandmother as in the script.
There were some quarrels among the costumes too with the Policewoman dressed in a modern costume although the transistor radio and telephone looked of the right vintage and there was a gorgeous black dress for one character complete with correct net petticoat.
Unusually for Phoenix, for the first time they were fielding an all female cast of seven actresses while their husbands and boyfriends looked after the front of house and interval drinks, although the director Chris Wright is male.
One thing casts need to remember about Christchurch Hall is its enormous size from back to front and side to side so that voices get so easily lost. While there is a tendency for directors to underestimate how far upstage they are placing their acting areas. In this case placing of the sofa so far back meant that the cast voices were lost if they were underprojected. 
Sarah Wilson playing Mrs Appleby has a light voice and tended to drop her voice level when talking across the stage. Of course the so far upstage sofa position didn't help her so we  missed some vital clues. The transition from Writtle Cards tiny stage and hall to Christchurch made life difficult for her too.
Jo Fosker playing Nancy was a very strong, level-headed character and full of energy as the older daughter of Mrs Faire the village shopkeeper with a secret. As Judith the depressed teenage daughter Gemma Anthony alternated between the depths of despair and elation. Angie Gee played their mother well except that she appeared strangely unmoved when it came to recounting her husband's imprisonment and the shocking events leading to his incarceration.
As it turned out it wasn't teenage pregnancy that caused Judith to swing from one extreme to another. It was blackmail and drug dealing.
The set could usefully have been made smaller which would have helped with the dropped voices and the upstage left door needed some attention as it refused to stay shut. 
Finally the curtain call was too slow. This breaks the atmosphere that the cast have built up
over the length of the play. With this production I think it was just the wrong play to choose 
for this particular cast.
Mary Redman
July 18 2015.

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