Friday, 30 October 2015

Entertaining Angels, Greville Theatre Club, The Barn Theatre, Little Easton, Great Dunmow

Despite the best efforts of The Guardian to rubbish the first production of Richard Everett's play at Chichester, I was not the only audience member in tears on first night of this Greville show. Not because it was awful but because so many of us recognised in ourselves just what he was writing about where family relationships are concerned.
It opens in a lovely rural English vicarage garden where Diana Bradley's recently widowed Grace sits and ponders life without the presence of her beloved Bardolph, believably created by Michael Gray in battered straw hat, shirt and corduroy trousers. Believably created are the right words as by some miracle Grace is able to talk to a doppelganger  of the man she was married to for umpteen years and who was faithful to the last. Or so she thinks...
For Grace is also moaning about the unwanted presence of so many people around her - fussing, and the prospective loss of her beloved house and garden, since the clergy are like farm worker - they live in tied properties.
Among those included who irritate Grace intently, there is her long lost missionary sister Ruth, with director Jan Ford playing a blinder. She has turned up from Darkest Africa with some very unexpected news. For a strange and very weird moment I thought the writer had come up with a copy cat, middle class version of Dancing at Lughnasa.
Grace's daughter Jo (played by her real life daughter Laura Bradley) is gruffly told off for fussing around her. While to add extra joy to the occasion Carol Parradine's honest new Vicar Sarah has turned up for a recce and presses all the wrong buttons for the widow, including the fact of being a woman. 
The cat is most definitely amongst these pigeons as each one of them is carrying a secret, even including the saintly Bardolph.
You may well guess what the secret is but I'm not going to reveal it to you in case you have an opportunity  to see the play in the future.
Suffice it to say that Jan Ford has carried off with great elan the theatre pitfall that traps so many unwary, and inexperienced, directors - appearing in a play that you are directing. It is one of the Mount Everest's of dramatic productions. Carefully and thoughtfully she inspire her team of actors and technicians alike.
Supported by an experienced onstage team and an equally good backstage one the enjoyment starts with the details of the set. From the trellis fence creating a further garden beyond, a very believable greenhouse created without any glass, and across the front apron of the stage a stream with real waterside plants. The garden is also full of real flowers including black-eyed Susans, geraniums and tomatoes on their plants.
The stream's watery sound track rising at the end of scenes and falling back for the action is thanks to the art of Steve Bradley and Adrian Hoodless and Lynda Shelverton did duty on the props while Richard Pickford ran the lighting.
One of Richard Everett's talents which he shares with the director is honesty especially when asking Grace and Ruth to argue and fight like cat and dog when reliving their childhood antagonisms. These were another aspect of what our audience shared too. Just who is the victim and who the saint?
The Barn Theatre has been in existence since Tudor times. More recently it was converted by Edward VII's mistress Daisy, Countess of Warwick, to "amuse my growing family".
Long may this relationship between the Greville and The Barn endure if it means we can enjoy such entertainment.
Mary Redman
October 30 2015