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NODA is the national body that represents amateur theatre

These are independant reviews of our productions, reproduced here by kind permission of NODA

Gaslight. March 2024

Over many years “Gaslight” has seen many iterations – two cinematic versions – the 1944 version becoming one of, if not the, definitive psychological thriller, variations stage adaptations from its debut in 1938 and a staple of touring companies and amateur dramatic societies ever since. It has also become part of the popular lexicon in the form of ‘gaslighting’ a term owing its derivation to Patrick Hamilton’s play, put at its most basic it is a term for emotional abuse, where one person seeks to exert control over another by twisting reality – the plot of this classic in a nutshell.

I was intrigued when I first saw Dudley Little Theatre’s promotional material, that this was not going to be the familiar Victorian piece. I was definitely not wrong.

Directors Nic Lawton and Jane Fisher, on the surface, had made some fundamental changes to the usual Hamilton fayre – the play’s setting was pushed forward to the 1950’s, probably the last era when it would have been the middle-class norm for the lady of the household to be subservient to her husband, also it meant that it was an era where gas lighting in houses was no longer relevant, the gender of one of the servants was changed and a younger and more savvy detective performing not only as their character but almost as a narrator for the scene that unfolds. Will these changes work or should he let things alone – well I can tell you that they worked beautifully!

The characters still maintained their Victorian values and traits. Michael Willis’ “Jack Manningham” lulled you into thinking he was a caring soul, only there to support his delicate wife, “Bella” played with great feeling by Shelly Blackmore. The development of their relationship was subtly handled with only glimpses of the devious manipulation that was to unfold revealed initially. Michael’s almost instantaneous flipping between the sycophantic and the manic was achieved superbly and made the final denouement all the more chilling and satisfying at the same time. As for Shelly, the audience were painfully on her side, seeing the constant doubting of herself and the anguish that she as going through couldn’t fail to melt even the hardest of hearts. In “Bella’s” eyes, everyone seems to be conspiring against her – for instance, the seemingly loyal “Nancy”, played with great confidence by Julie Bywater gave this character a truly cruel side, constantly sniping behind her mistress’ back and at the same time cosying up to the Master. You were willing for that smug smile to be wiped from her face! The real revelation was the introduction of a male servant, “Elliot”, replacing the Elizabeth of the original. My recollections of the Elizabeth character from previous versions are that whilst sympathetic to her mistress, she really did not want to get involved, whereas Connor McGee’s excellent portrayal, gave the relationship between Mistress and Servant, a much deeper side. You really felt that “Eliot” cared and was going to do his level best to help “Bella” realise that she was not going insane.

By re-imagining the character of the Detective, “Rough”, a defining and engrossing characterisation, executed brilliantly by David Field, gave the production a different edge. We felt that “Rough” was not only an integral part of the action but he was also the eyes and ears of the audience, giving context and analysis of what was going on and adding a youthful enthusiasm to the investigation. “Rough” did not accept everything on face value and ultimately showed implicit belief in “Bella” and ensuring that the despicably dishonest “Jack Manningham” got his just desserts.

Dudley Little Theatre seem to have now settled into their new home at St. Peter’s Church Hall with consummate ease. The space does have it’s limitations but these are used to their advantage in “Gaslight”, the claustrophobic set gave ample opportunity for in-your-face confrontations and there not being an opportunity to have your own space. Subtle use of the stage apron gave the audience the chance to feel as if they were the not only observers as the plot unfolded but were also a key part of the action.

Technically, this could be a very demanding production – flickering lights and things that go bump in the night can come sometime come across as tongue-in-cheek but in the capable hands of Dave Holt’s sound design and Richard Clee’s lighting, the audience found themselves equally on edge just like the characters on stage. Another nod to the 1950’s was the fact that in Victorian times when the lights went out – you reached for the candles, whereas in the Manningham household you would obviously grab a torch – also used to great effect for eerie hand-held lighting effects!

As for the omission of the gas light of the title – the answer is obvious, you replace it with the modern electric light – as we all know from painful experience, the interruption of the power supply can be just as frightening when you don’t expect it!

Sincere congratulations to Dudley Little Theatre and everyone involved in this thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding evening and my most grateful thanks for your kind hospitality as always.

Sleeping Beauty. December 2023

The resourcefulness of amateur theatre companies never ceases to amaze and never more so than Dudley Little Theatre’s simple but very effective innovative approaches to the limited facilities available at St Peter’s Church Hall.

That said, it still only works if you deliver the right product and Tony Stamp’s production of Dudley Little Theatre’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ certainly hit that spot. From the point that we meet the villain of the piece, James Silvers’ excellent panto baddie, Magnificent by name and by performance, whose dramatic entrance excellently executed each time via the main tabs, ably facilitated by his henchman accomplices, Dumb and Dumber (open and closing the curtains in view and covered by dialogue, played by Katy Pearson and Louise Reed, whose performances grew in confidence with the predictable audience booing!

An excellent script by Joshua and Lewis Clarke was pitched perfectly to keep both adults and children thoroughly entertained throughout, especially in the competent hands of Jack Fern’s Nurse and his stupid and highly comic son, Ellis Daker as Tommy. Jack played the audience superbly, with just the right innuendo and comedy – my favourite line of the night was as Fairy exhorts the audience to show their contempt for Magnificent – “Show us your boo’s” she shouts, the audience responds according, but one unsuspecting audience member is admonished with, “No, madam, your boo’s!”.

The small cast and tight storyline relied more on situation and dialogue rather than large musical numbers and traditional set pieces and this ideally suited both the company and the location as well as breaking a few rules. Lucy Jaye’s ‘Aurora’, the sleeping beauty of the title, was a feisty partner to Alex Hill’s more traditional, Prince Orlando, giving us a different Principal Boy/Girl dynamic and worked really well. Some great comedy interludes between Aurora and her confidante, Bella, played with black country charm by Gina Lovell, showed a refreshing new side to the Panto Princess.
Maurice Felton and Sharon Hopkins as the dotty King and Queen made the most of their brief appearances, Jackie Salter’s ‘Fairy’, Magnificent’s nemesis, was suitably ditzy and utterly engaging and along with Dumb and Dumber, moved the fast-paced production along to its traditional happy ending.

Some clever staging allowed the minimal set to be used to its full effect, imaginative use of auditorium entrances enabling some great ad lib banter but extra special mention should go to Musical Director, Ray Curran, not only offering suitable atmospheric background accompaniment to the various settings and scenarios but also the addition of some great original music and lyrics that fitted the plot superbly.

A great night out and looking forward to DLT’s next production, Patrick Hamilton’s ‘Gaslight’ in March 2024.

One Man, Two Guvnors. September 2023

Dudley Little Theatre seem thoroughly at home in what has now become their base after all their efforts to get Netherton Arts Centre re-established as a venue.

Richard Bean’s adaptation of Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, has all the hallmarks and pedigree of a laugh out loud, raucous comedy and Dudley Little Theatre’s version met all the criteria. Bean, having moved the setting of the original Commedia dell’arte style play to Brighton in the 1960s gives full rein to all comedy stalwarts – mistaken identity, comedy disguises, running jokes, larger than life characters, audience (or are they?) participation and a comedy elderly waiter for good measure and if that wasn’t enough, they are all encompassed in a send up of the gangster underworld of the decade paying homage to the Krays!

Rebecca Clee’s production cleverly took advantage of the restricted space that St Peter’s Church Hall offered by successfully integrating scene changes with the action, performed by the characters themselves and the inventive use of auditorium entrances and actions diverting the attention of the audience. The story opens at the engagement party of Pauline Clench (played by Gina Lovell) to Alan Dangle (played by Harry Fox) who worked beautifully together - the delightfully practical and matter of fact Pauline up against the totally unrealistic aspiring actor dreams of Alan. The engagement has been brought about due to the untimely death of Pauline’s original fiancé, deviously arranged by Pauline’s father and local mobster, Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench, given a remarkably true-to-life touch by Tony Stamp, bobbing and weaving, adapting every situation to his advantage. Other guests at the party include: Alan’s father Harry, an unscrupulous, slimy, always-trying-to-please-because-he-knew-what-the-consequences-would-be-if-he-didn’t, solicitor, portrayed with just the right amount of unctuousness by John Lucock; Dolly, Charlie’s long-suffering book-keeper, hosting the soiree with the aplomb and confidence of the long-suffering but proud loyal employee, played superbly by Debra Attwood, who seemed to relish in the power behind the throne role and Lloyd, a member of the criminal fraternity played with a mischievous glint in his eye by Michael Willis – dropping in the odd bon mot – normally when it is not wanted!

Roscoe Crabbe was owed money by Charlie and has come to collect his money, in the guise of his right-hand man – Francis Henshall, the part made famous by James Corden at the National Theatre but in the safe and capable and extremely funny hands of Ellis Daker, squeezing every ounce of humour and pathos and everything in between out of the part by sheer charm and guile and stage presence – but there’s a twist. Because of Roscoe’s untimely demise, he is being impersonated by Roscoe’s twin sister, Rachel, a brilliant opportunity to play a thoroughly endearing but suitably menacing and seized with both hands by Flora Deeley added to which, she is engaged to the utterly annoying Stanley Stubbers a hooray-henry before his time, given great comic treatment by Gareth May. Rachel’s relationships with these characters give her great freedom to run the gamut of all emotions and achieves it by making it all look so easy.

Francis – still with me?, always with one eye open for the next easy buck, get himself employed by Stanley, a recipe for disaster if there ever was one, due to his relationship with Rachel gives numerous opportunities for mix-ups and embarrassing situations and the actors take full advantage of every situation that they are presented with.

Francis, also seems to not only to have an interest in money but also an obsession with food. This is demonstrated to its fullest in the scenes in the hotel where two dining rooms are in operation at the same time, serviced by Francis ably supported by the extremely old retainer (humorously played by the youthful Marc Blakemore) picked on unmercifully with various slapstick scenarios and overseen by the more senior and stern taskmaster, Gareth, played with suitable officiousness by Liam Smith offering all three some great comic moments which were lapped up by the audience. Talking of which – just when you thought it was safe to sit back and enjoy the mayhem that ensues – you become part of the play – or at least one person does – who ends up not only exchanging banter with Francis but ultimately ends up part of the slapstick routine! Of course, the supposed surprised member of the audience is actually a plant and the role was carried off very realistically by Katy Pearson who seemed to thoroughly embrace pulling the wool over the audiences eyes.

There were some great comedic touches in this delightful production – some excellently played jokes using the benefit of the 1960’s setting forecasting the future - the unlikelihood of the female prime minister, how skiffle player Fracis missed out on being one of ‘The Beatles’ and the only reason for anyone going to Australia is because they are interested in opera! Congratulations to all involved on a splendid achievement, meeting the challenges of the venue head on, and turning them into triumphs.

With grateful thanks for making me most welcome and onwards and upwards for DLT’s pantomime, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – oh, yes it is!

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