Written by Richard Gaunt, School Ties is a light comedy-drama telling the alleged theft of a valuable necklace. I write all edged since the necklace only disappears before being returned by its owner in order to protect an old school friend. Added to this are two undercover police officers one of which is an old flame of the man of the house and there's plenty of scope for confusion.
To call it a true comedy or a farce would be incorrect since the humour is often very subtle interspersed with large portions of dialogue and plot. Indeed the character with most of the funny lines is the son of the household who's quick observations are often very witty.
The cast consists of two couples one child and a school friend. Taking on the duties of the house owners and intended targets for the jewellery theft were Stella played by Joyce, and Derek played by Steve. Joyce's character's already stressed predicament, due to a house sale, isn't helped by the appearance of an old school friend, Romaine, played by Natalie. This visitor from the past dredges up old memories that were best forgotten. Steve, caught in the middle of the two school chums was often seen sat on the sofa looking as if the whole of the proceedings were passing him by (as can be seen by a number of the photographs).
Help came in the form an old flame of Derek's. and her husband. Amy, played by Mary and Ray played by Rod were more than met the eye, actually undercover policemen on the trail of Romaine the jewel thief. The final cast member was David playing Brian, Stella and Derek's son.
The play drifts along with no-one really knowing what the truth is except the two old school friends and ultimately a school debt is repaid and the only losers are the police although Romaine does make it out of the house with £250.
Performance wise, it's a script that's very wordy and seems to take a while to make points. Consequentially the action was far more restrained than someone expecting a pure comedy would expect. It had its moments particularly Joyce appearing with hair full of feathers after a "dorm pillow fight" and the mistaken bottle smash (although it we weren't allowed to spend the money for proper breakable glass bottles which really annoys me. I mean, we have a four-figure bank account and won't spend £70 on a professional theatre prop. It belittles all the efforts of the actors. Rant over).
The performances were more impressive since all but David had parts one of the other plays. In particular Joyce, Mary, Natalie and Steve appeared in the third play meaning that they effectively played in a full length production without any of the continuity. It's something that not even I was daft enough to do and something that they vowed not to do again.
So overall, it made a very pleasant beginning to the evening. However after the interval things started to get decidedly silly!
A Collier's Tuesday Tea.
Those of you who have been religiously scanning all the pages of my site and have not fallen asleep (or worse) as a result will have come across a similarly titled play performed by The British Library Players. This is the same play although unlike then, we had other plays to perform and so didn't have to fill the evening up with religious nonsense. However, like then, we had a number of actors who had never acted in a play before a paying audience. Still there's no better type of play for people to cut their teeth than a Coarse Acting one (assuming you ignore the whole 'need to be a good actor to be a coarse actor' debate). It's only entertainment after all.
A take off the various DH Lawrence bluff Northern kitchen sink drama, A Collier's Tuesday Tea by Michael Green is an extremely funny play with great lines, characters and business. The action is based around a table full of plastic food, odd stuck down plates and, in our case, sausages made of stockings. It also has very dodgy legs that fall off 'by accident' at regular intervals during the play. A variety of family members and friends of the Hepplethwaite household come in, say their lines and then have to struggle holding up the weighty table top.
The family consist of Ida, played by Yvonne and Dan played by Clive who arrives soaked to the skin since it had been raining for three days. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of Mary throwing two buckets of water over Clive in the car park to get the desired effect. Their children are Albert, played by Peter who inconveniently forgets to put his trousers on and consequentially has to act with his long coat on and Vicky, played by Nikki, who struggles to say her lines through mouthfuls of biscuits.
Paul played the part of Granddad using a homemade wheelchair, lots of cackles and rude ad-libs while Pam played Marge a friend of the family. Towards the end, Rod as Jed and Mollie as a policewoman bring the grave news that the pit has collapsed. The terrified cast have no other option than to take the table off through the audience to rapturous applause. Jed and the policewoman carry on regardless until they rush off leaving poor old Granddad stuck on stage in his wheelchair. Eventually he has enough and runs offstage.
What of yours truly? Well, having been passed over for the part of Jed Throttle, I played Lionel Headbracket, Vicky's sweetheart. Dan's opinion of me is summed up with the line "Lionel! What sore of a bloody name's that?". I stumbled on, delivered my seven lines like a rabbit looking into headlights and knelt down at the table like the good coarse actor that I am. It was probably the easiest part I've ever had and was a very nice introduction to the more involved play later that evening.
Overall Colliers's was extremely well received; hopefully we can do some more of the coarse plays in the future.
The main event of the evening was Babysitting Calvin by John Newmeir. It was a play that I thought would be funny when it first appeared in Frenches catalogue around four years ago and so bought myself a copy. I never got around to producing it so it languished in my largish script collection until Rachel, our producer, asked to have a look at what comedies I had.
The story is quite unique. The Calvin in the title was a ten month old child played by a grown-up, in this case Steve. He proceeded to tell the audience that all babies can remember their past lives until they are one year old or speak their first word. In his previous life he was called Tommy and was married to Laura. His mum, played by Natalie was preparing for her first night out accompanied by her friend Donna, played by Mary. The baby sitter just happens to be Laura, played by Joyce, who was Calvin/Tommy's wife before his untimely death. She was accompanied by Bob, yours truly, who was Tommy's best friend and always was trying it on with Laura. It is therefore up to Calvin to stop Bob from accomplishing his wish of having his evil way with Laura during the babysitting session.
Still with me? Good. It seems complicated reading it but it is all perfectly explained during Calvin's first speech. It's actually a very well written and funny play. The first half sets the scene and confirms that Bob is indeed a slimy lecher while the second half has Calvin ensuring that Bob gets nothing but his comeuppance.
As is usually the case with a good script, the actors tend to make that little bit of extra effort and it is always good to get the audience on your side early on. This was accomplished by the sight of Steve crawling into his oversized playpen dressed in a fetching blue baby grow with a pink rabbit motif. He played the part extremely well and his facial expressions regularly served to add weight to the dialogue.
The roles for Natalie and Mary were smaller, and I'm sure that they appreciated that having appeared in a the first play. Natalie, once again, spent most of her time in towels/dressing gowns while Mary won approving gasps from the audience as she held Steve in her bosom and tried to seduce me. Joyce played the object of my desire for the evening. She struggled to fend of my amourous advances then had to keep a straight face while I was being stressed out by the little monster.
For my sins, I was dressed in an outfit that almost broke the budget at £8.00. £5.00 for the most hideous suit that Judy and I could find in a charity shop in York along with a, get this, new shirt for £3.00 from that well known gentlemen's outfitters Greenwoods. I've always disliked shirts with white collar and cuffs and got the idea from a colleague at work... Playing the part of Bob was a bit of challenge for me since I'm actually a nice guy and nothing at all like the character. This is just as well particularly if being a cad always results in what I had to put up with.
Let's see now. There was porridge, milk in the face, beer in the face, more porridge, a painful hand for a week from being hit with a rattle by Joyce as I attempted to grope her, sore knees from crawling round the stage with Steve being rather enthusiastic on Saturday and porridge.
Did I mention porridge? There was copious amounts of the stuff although I have to be honest that, as far as I was concerned, most of it went on the outside, poor Steve actually had to eat the stuff. It's amazing just how it turned up all over the set, particularly at one rehearsal when Steve stood in it and proceeded to pad around leaving porridgy footprints everywhere. Each evening after the shows was a desperate effort trying to get the stains of it out of everything. Hint, wash in cold water.
So overall a great finish to the evening that was thoroughly enjoyed by cast and audience alike.
I know that I said it at the bottom of the 2002 report but once again, the set must come in for praise. Paul's creation looked very much the part with its three working doors and solid construction. It really does make a difference for the actors when they are greeted with such a stage for their art. Our sound and lighting is also improving each production thanks to the hard work of Dave. Final mention must go to the two producers for the evening. Max for the first and Rachel for the final two. Having produced I know full well how much hard work and stress in involved. They are to be commended for their efforts since without them there would be no shows.