So it was that our first farce was greeted two full houses with over 210 people in the audiences over the two nights, and a small gaggle coming to watch the dress rehearsal no less. And judging by the reaction on the nights and subsequent reports, they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves and are highly likely to come back next time.
So what was the play that we decided to perform for such swelling audiences? It was a comedy/farce called Look No Hans by Michael Pertwee and John Chapman. I take full responsibility for the choice of the play even though I was not producing it. I thought that it sounded interesting when I was thumbing through Samuel French's catalogue. The final clincher was that originally it was performed with David Jason in the lead role. The theory being that it must be good if he had agreed to be in it since at the time, 1983, he was already a well established actor and wouldn't appear in any old rubbish. There were also a couple of other well known actors in the other two main parts Richard Vernon and Linda Bellingham.
Unlike the traditional farces, it was written in the 80s not the 70s and so doesn't have lots of middle aged gentlemen wandering around with their trousers around their ankles waiting for the vicar to call. It is still a farce though and has a rather stereotypical view of two of the female characters who spend the majority of the play either in a bikini or the trappings of a stripper. As expected they get the upper hand over the two male characters in the end but it probably wouldn't be seen as 100% PC (if anything ever could be).
Anyway enough moralising, what of the play itself?
Set in a car showroom based in Berlin it follows the fortunes of Peter Fisher as he tries to make a living selling British cars to the Germans. Naturally not an entirely successful venture especially when their brand new model, the Cyclone, has a faulty gearbox. In addition to his onerous duties for Midland Motors, he is also a member of BSI (British Security of Industry) an industrial spying organisation. The events take place on Fisher's birthday but it is anything but happy. Throughout the day a succession of people come and go spoiling what celebrations he might have had planned.
The first of these celebrations was the visit of his mistress, Heidi who makes her intentions perfectly clear as soon as she walks on stage. All very nice you might think except that Monica, Fisher's wife turns up unexpectedly as a result of her plane being delayed. Adding to Fisher's stress, one of his colleagues from Hamburg has arranged a singing telegram girl/stripper called Mitzi to arrive at the most inconvenient moment possible.
It is the arrival of an agent called Cadwallader from BSI that causes him the largest problem, however. A hugely important operation is about to take place involving the mysterious Hans bring vital industrial information from the former Soviet Union. The final piece involves Tregunter-Jones, a rep from Midland motors who carried with her details of a recall of the company's new Cyclone for gearbox modifications.
So the scene is set whereby Fisher has to keep the parties apart as much as possible and where they do meet, to make up “plausible” identities for them. So for example, Mitzi the stripper becomes Fisher's deaf and short-sighted wife and the cook and Heidi becomes the maid. Cadwallader becomes the butler, head of Berlin's vice squad, a private detective and a British Sanitary Inspector and Monica becomes Fisher's sister-in-law Moo-moo who just happens to be an sex mad, axe-wielding, homicidal maniac. Add to this the fact that they all mistake Tregunter-Jones for Hans in drag and things get a bit chaotic. Not to mention Fisher's assistant Kurt from the showroom whose command of English isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Of course things get more and more hectic as all of Fisher's alternative personas for his visitors start clashing and meeting at the wrong time and practically all the humour is derived from this. At the end it all takes a turn for the worst as far as fisher goes as he discovers that Monica is in collusion with Kurt, working for the Americans, Heidi is actually working for a Japanese consortium and that TJ (as she calls herself) is from Midland Motors and is a woman.
Feeling betrayed and beaten, Fisher finally has the last laugh as Monica heads off to the USA with TJ's gearbox modification plans and Heidi heads off to Tokyo with a video that Fisher's friend Hans had given to him for his birthday. In the end the real Hans delivers the goods and Peter Fisher is victorious. He still has time to accidentally dump Cadwallader into the nearby canal although not fatally.
So in reality, if you like that sort of thing, it's an extremely funny play with a whole host of very funny lines and situations. It is largely built around Fisher and his interactions with the other characters but oddly enough two of the funniest scenes take place during the two times he isn't off stage.
Cast wise we had plenty to choose from as there have been a number of new additions to our previously small pool. So we actually had readings for parts although the casting of me as Fisher tended to limit the women's parts to people within my age range. There was also the requirement for two of the women to be comfortable with being significantly undressed on stage. One in a stripper's costume, the other in a bikini.
One of the women who does keep her clothes on (although she does appear in the silliest costume of a bathrobe and shower cap) was taken by my other half Judy. Playing Monica, Fisher's wife she has to act as if she was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and is an accomplished horse woman. With her roots firmly from the Home Counties and a large collection show-jumping rosettes from her past it wasn't too much of a change acting wise for Judy. Although she has mentioned that she's getting tired of being cast as the "posh bird with a gun". See here for her previous outing in a similar role. The gun part is of course a reference to her treachery at the end with Kurt.
As befits Judy, she also got the part that required the most costume changes and allowed the wearing of some of her large collection of very nice summer dresses.
Heidi, Fisher's mistress was a welcome back onstage for Natalie. She was helping backstage for the Farndale last year. She seemed more than happy to be wearing the least amount of clothing and even more so find me as Fisher utterly irresistible. This latter point must surely have been a good demonstration of her acting abilities. As she flitted around with her sweet accent she gave no indication as to what was to come at the end as she also does the dirty on the already desolated Fisher and runs off with her husband off to Japan.
And bless her heart for taking on a role with so much body on show. She certainly looked comfortable with the (lack of) costume.
Mitzi, the stripper from Hamburg, was played by HADDS regular Joyce. Arriving initially in a black jump suit and crash helmet, Fisher thinks that she is a man. During an ensuing phonecall she removes the coveralls revealing the Basque, stockings and suspenders that can be seen in the photographs. She spends most of her time trying to cook and omelette and all of her time wondering why everyone thinks that she is deaf. Since the character was from Streatham, Joyce had a London accent that was very blunt and, given I played scenes very near to her, very loud!
As with Natalie, Joyce should be commended for being willing to play a part with such a risqué costume. I'm only glad that there wasn't a lot of jumping up and down for her to do otherwise there might have been a lot more on show...
Tregunter-Jones was played by another HADDS stalwart Yvonne. TJ is played as a salt of the earth woman, the sort that everyone knows at least one of. Think Tweed, Barbour and Labradors and you're probably in the right area. Although TJ only appears half way through the second act, she has a vital role to play in that everyone thinks that she is Hans and that her car modifications are the information from Russia that everyone is desperate to get their hands on.
This is the sort of part that Yvonne plays well, a well written character part that allows her scope for interpretation. When she debuted her rather tipsy "If I'm to discuss faulty gearboxes with due sobriety…" we were worried for the health of Steve our prompt, such was his laughter.
Kurt from the Showroom is a reasonably straightforward part to play in comparison since it is purely a voice over an intercom. New face (or rather voice) John took on that part and spent his time sat behind the set with his script and microphone. He also took on the role of filing cabinet drawer operator, slamming them into Fisher at regular intervals.
The final part was that of Cadwallader, the BSI Agent and it was again nice to be able to cast someone new in this role. David had never done anything acting wise before and the part of Cadwallader is the next largest after that of Fisher. It required David to take on the role of a stiff upper lipped civil servant with suit, bowler and moustache. His character gets more and more frustrated as the absurdity of Fisher's explanations becomes more obvious. Eventually he decides to take matters into his own hands and attempt to drug the women who are jeopardising his operation.
Although not cast as it was written, David probably being rather too young, he definitely made the part his own. He was very convincing as his stress levels rose, looked scared stiff of Monica believing her to be the mad axe murderess and shook me by the lapels very robustly!
So what of yours truly? Well, you'll have gathered that I was playing the part of Peter Fisher. This involved being completely out of touch with reality for the whole play as he makes up more and more ludicrous stories to cover the mess he's in. It also involved learning over 50 pages of text and only getting three pages offstage throughout the whole play. Believe me that occasionally while learning lines with Judy the talk would often stray to bladder related matters!
There are benefits for this work on line learning and enforced self control in that the part of Peter gets to paw three lovely ladies on stage at quite regular intervals throughout the play. This is predominantly with Heidi but there are plenty of hugs and tender moments with Monica and Mitzi is dragged around the stage as Fisher tries to keep her away from everyone else. This last point is worth mentioning in that due to Joyce's costume I had to be very careful what I was holding to drag her around! For information TJ, assuming that Fisher is some drunken little pervert sensibly keeps her distance.
It was certainly lots of fun doing it and learning all the lines with Judy regularly broke down into fits of laughter, particular when we played the characters as if they were from the West Country.
Acting wise there were few major mistakes and a minimal number of prompts. Chivalry dictates that I won't reveal who they were but they weren't me! That's not to say I was perfect. I distinctly remember on Friday being stood on stage with Natalie in my arms gazing into her eyes and thinking "what am I supposed to do with you now, darling?" After what always seems like an eternity on stage the eventual answer came into my brain and I shoved her through the door as per the stage directions.
Not technically an actor, Steve, the prompt, turned up for practically all rehearsals and had a great feel of the play and how we acted it. So much so that he was considered as one of the actors even though we only needed him two of three times over both nights.
Production wise, it was Rachel's turn and she did a good job as usual. To be fair it was helped by the good humour amongst the cast and, towards the latter stages of rehearsal once we knew that both nights were sold out, an increased determination to make the play the best HADDS had ever done. Rachel also benefited from a backstage crew who took on total responsibility for props and the set. It's amazing what a difference such things make.
Talking of the set, Paul excelled himself yet again by providing the largest, strongest and most complicated set that we had ever had. It was certainly the best stage I've played on. Three doors, three other entrances, a raised dais and plenty of room for us to mess about in. And we used that to good effect when lots of action taking place in lots of different locations. We even utilised the 2CV car front from last year as we re-created a German car showroom in the foyer. The servicing and lubrication department seemed to go down well!
With more lights this year, things were that little bit brighter although we will look into getting more next year. And the new audio that we had again upped the production values that little bit more.
We videoed the dress rehearsal for personal viewing. It was actually not too bad but did have a funny moment towards the end as Natalie inadvertedly presses the trigger of the gun, lets out a little "ooh" and looks at it. I'm reliably informed that Judy and Joyce were killing themselves with suppressed laughter backstage. The 5mb Windows Media Player clip is available for all to see.