Before the Party ~ Malvern Theatres

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

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Written by Rodney Ackland and based upon an original short story by W. Somerset Maugham, ‘Before the Party’ explores a dysfunctional family (the Skinner family) in post-war Britain as they prepare to attend a garden party.

With three daughters living in their rather splendid house (reflected well on stage by way of a magnificent set), Aubrey and Blanche Skinner (played by Tom Conti and Gwen Taylor) have a chaotic home. Blanche’s antics could rival those of Mrs Bennett from ‘Pride and Prejudice’, she’s of a nervous, slightly dippy disposition and wants to make sure her daughters are either mixing with the right people or avoiding becoming the subject of ridicule. The height of her concerns as the story unfolds, is whether her hat looks right. Aubrey appears as though he lives in a state of confusion, he in the legal profession but only deals with ‘clean’ cases. No explanation is offered for the obvious age gap between their youngest daughter (Susan, played by Eleanor Thorn) and the two older daughters (Laura, played by Carol Starks and Kathleen, played by Elizabeth Payne).

To begin with, we are introduced to Laura who is having second thoughts about marrying a Mr David Marshall (Peter Sandys-Clarke) and we come to realise that she has not long been widowed, in circumstances that come to light and alter as the plot builds. Indeed her sister, Kathleen airs her disapproval of the chosen colour of Laura’s party dress, pink, and wears black, herself to make the point. There is a strong sense of sibling rivalry between the two and it is played excellently by Starks and Payne. Their younger sister, Susan skulks about talking of gruesome findings, having watched a pig being slaughtered and taking delight in seeing the discomfort her musings bring.

Mr Marshall is not deemed to be a suitable husband for Laura, and the family are none too pleased with his dealings with the black-market, even though they’re willing participants, themselves when it suits them. The cook is also unsuitable it seem and indeed, a Nazi!

With the word ‘dysfunctional’ applying to the bedroom door-knob as well as the family situation (and with hilarious consequences, thanks to the subtlety of Conti’s performance) this piece almost borders on a farce, but has enough twists, turns and censure to steer it away from that category. The scene having been set in act one makes way for an altogether ‘livelier’ and ‘bouncier’ act two, there was also more notable chemistry between the characters during the second act, too. However, Conti and Taylor give consistently solid performances throughout and make for a sublime duo, it’s a wonder they’ve not performed together, before. They sit comfortably at the helm and are perfectly cast. Conti also directs the play and I feel he has demonstrated a flair for this, even while he is in character, it appears that he never takes his eye off the ‘ball’ and has an exceptional eye for detail.

The tour remains in Malvern until Saturday 3rd October and will move to Cheltenham, Bath and Eastbourne.  For more information and to book tickets please follow this link: http://www.kenwright.com/microsite/before-the-party/?id=576#tickets

 

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Spotlight On… Cath Shipton

*** Spotlight On… Cath Shipton***

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After a 9 year break from the role of ‘Duffy’, actress Cath Shipton returned to our screens as the much-loved original character in ‘Casualty’ in August this year. We know there is a huge demand for the character to return full-time and we’re here to lead that campaign with our exclusive interview with the talented lady who has played her, on and off since 1986.

It was a delight to see Duffy return to our screens, we’ve missed her ‘experience’ and it’s evident there’s still a place for her to fit right back into. How did you feel when you were asked to come back, and do you also feel that she’d slide right back in as if she never left?
I was so surprised when I was asked to come back for Eps 1 & 2 – it
came like a bolt from the blue. When I heard that Paul Unwin – one the
series creators had written the scripts and was directing them, my
immediate answer was yes. When I eventually read the scripts, I was
even more surprised to see that Duffy wasn’t just popping in to say
hello, but actually nursing on the night-shift – and what a
night-shift!

I was apprehensive about joining the cast – the only person I knew was
Derek – Charlie and I would be joining them in Cardiff, all new
surroundings. I needn’t have worried. Once I put the uniform on and
stepped onto the set, the years fell away and after a few teary
moments with Derek – who was very moved to see me, it was ‘business as
usual’ It was great to be part of the new talented and very committed
team. No wonder the show has lasted for so long!

Did you find getting into the character an easy transition after all this time?
Getting back into character wasn’t difficult having created Duffy and
played her at various times over the last 29(!) series. She is
obviously based loosely on me, and one new element was that Paul had
given her new skills and an air of quiet authority that comes with age
and experience and so it felt like the character had been developed
and was moving into new territory.
What do you feel you learned as an actor from such a lengthy period on a hit TV show?
One of the hardest things about being in a long running show is to
keep everything fresh. Most characters will be on their own path –
with information only shared by the audience eg Dylan and OCD. Duffy
knows nothing of this and treats him quite harshly – she just sees a
doctor behaving badly. However she does make him think and he must
have gone back to the pregnant woman as the next time you see him he
is resus asking Connie to let his patient go to the Cath Lab instead
of Charlie. He flicks a look at Duffy to acknowledge that he was maybe
out of order. As a character you do share your secrets with the
audience and that is a great feeling. They see the secret side and
thoughts of a character.
One thing that has also amazed me is just how much the audience absorb
and retain – they know so much about the characters. One episode years
ago Duffy had a quiet night and wasn’t on screen much. A member of the
public came up to me on the Monday and said ‘ You were busy on
Saturday’ – I looked confused and he said, ‘Well we didn’t see much of
you, you must have been busy with patients!’ He had built another
scenario of Duffy’s night.
Do you have any comic out-take memories or highlights that you can share with us from your days on the show?
Sometimes the crew have been known to do funny things during takes –
once as I stood listening in a cubicle, with little dialogue, someone
put a tied-up surgical glove filled with banana into my hand –
squishy! Of course I couldn’t laugh but I found out who did it and
threw it at him.
Another time, a young guest artist in resus was very fussy about us
cutting a bandage off his head. He was worried we’d cut his hair. In a
break, Derek and I trimmed bits of hair off the cast and crew and made
a pile under his head. When we revealed our ‘mistake’ the poor guy
went ballistic – bit cruel really. We did let him know.
Once I overheard Ian Kelsey saying he didn’t like goatee beards, when
they were the height of fashion. I told him I’d overheard a make-up
artist saying that was to be the new look for Patrick Spiller. I also
got a script editor to join in. We kept it going for about 2 weeks and
he was really worried and talking about it non-stop. Eventually it got
up to the producer and before the meeting I came clean with Ian that
it was only a joke.
If you went back as a permanent fixture, again (assuming you would want to) where would you like to see the character ‘go’?
If they were to develop the character in the future – there is quite a
lot of mileage already set up – Duffy having left her family in NZ, do
they follow/split-up? There could be dramatic story tensions in the
department with several of the present characters, and who knows even
romance? Lots of scope!
Moving away from ‘Casualty’, you’ve enjoyed a varied acting career, have you any particular ambitions for future roles or shows you would like to be involved with?
I really enjoyed performing the one woman show – ‘Soldiers’ Wives’ by
Sarah Daniels. I was nominated as best solo performer 2012 in
Edinburgh. Until you go solo it is a terrifying prospect, but really
it is telling a story – the foundation of what we do as actors. I am
currently working on the next project with Sarah, as well as a new TV
project.
Future ambitions – classical roles: Shakespeare, Ibsen & Chekhov, and
one day I’d love to play Miss Marple!
Marathon running is one of your passions (and you’ve written a manual about it!) so what inspired you to run marathons and where have you most enjoyed running one?
I have run 4 London Marathons – only London and written a book. I was
inspired because I was asked to run for \the British Heart Foundation,
having lost my dad to heart disease in 1985, once I started running I
couldn’t stop, it just suited me. I did that for over 10 years and
every London was great and I still watch it on TV – the crowd is
amazing and really gets you through.
I’m a trained aerobics teacher – the fad of the 80’s, now I do
pilates, gym and walking. Marathon days are behind me!
Finally, if you cold have a dinner party with any five famous people (dead or alive), who would they be?
John Lennon, Mary Seacole, Dalai Llama, Joan Rivers and Albert Einstein!
Favourite things (quick-fire questions):
Favourite television programme?
The Bridge/any Nordic drama
Favourite film?
Some like it Hot!
Favourite childhood memory?
Flying my homemade kite for hours on the cliffs at
Highcliffe in summer holidays.
Favourite hobby?
Reading/Walking
Favourite holiday destination?
Cornwall

 

 

 

 

This Thing Called Love ~ So and So Arts Club, London

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

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‘This Thing Called Love’ written by Shelley Silas, appears in the Ever Hopefull Rep season at the So and So Arts Club, this is one of four new plays. The So and So Arts Club supports new writing, among other things and you can find our interview with its founder, Sarah Berger here: https://breakalegreviewblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/spotlight-on-sarah-jane-berger/

What struck me with this play, is that not only is it a new piece, but also a two-hander, which in my opinion and experience can be a precarious mix. It is imperative that the actors are of equal ability in order to hold the audience’s attention while ‘telling’ the story between them. In this case, the casting of seasoned television and theatre actress, Felicity Dean as Maggie together with Walter Van Dyk (who also has an impressive list of credits to his name) as Jack, were the proverbial ‘dream team’. One felt that this was not a play we were watching, but rather a window into the lives of the couple, almost (at certain times) as one would observe while ‘people-watching’.

Following the blossoming romance of a couple who had known one other platonically, the story opens on a hotel room where Jack and Maggie are meeting in clandestine circumstances, some elements of this meeting are left almost deliberately ambiguous, but explained more fully as the piece moves on. Maggie is not a straight forward individual, her insecurities, absurdities and fear all contribute towards her feisty characteristics, she has been crafted with great attention to detail in a highly observational way. Dean plays her with a natural and under-stated, almost demure quality and is effortless in her portrayal. Jack is a well-rounded mature male character, egotistical, with a need for self assurance and an occasional sense of hopelessness coming across as the relationship flourishes and does indeed turn into ‘love’. Van Dyk plays him with minimal fuss, to the point where slipping into the role seems as second nature as it does to that of Dean as Maggie.

There is a sense that the ‘thing’ which essentially is ‘love’, is not exclusive to them as their previous relationships with their deceased spouses are explored, sometimes when least expected which moves the play along well. Not forgetting the children that both characters have, whose opinions of their relationship are vital to them. There is a suggestion of the bigger picture, which detracts from the fact that it is a two-hander, cleverly written, in my opinion.

The direction by Ben Caplan suits the pace of the piece and the set is uncomplicated yet compelling, every scene change moves the audience on with the characters. Overall, it’s a play I could watch repeatedly as I feel it would evoke new emotions each time.

The rep season runs until 27th September, plenty of time to catch this play and indeed the other three: ‘American Venus’, ‘Mercy’ and ‘The House’. Visit http://buyticketsat/thesoandsoartsclub/30580 to book your tickets, you won’t regret it!

 

Spotlight On… Helen McWilliams

Here’s your opportunity to get to know me 🙂

*** Spotlight On… Helen McWilliams ***

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Why did you start ‘Break A Leg Review’?

I was contributing as a reviewer and interviewer to another online review site, I told one of my favourite actresses (during an interview) that I was considering setting up my own site, and she was very encouraging about it. I had been building up a network of contacts around the  West Midlands and wanted to continue to do that for ourselves, with Garry (my husband) in tow. Garry takes a backseat these days as his own career is taking a few exciting turns. I owe thanks to Tracey Childs who was the actress encouraging me to ‘go it alone’!

What piqued your interest in becoming a writer?

I was always interested in writing stories when I was a child. However entertainment journalism became a career goal due to the vast amount of theatre shows that my parents took me to see from a young age, coupled with the fact I was a little telly addict  (and still am), I was hugely inspired by many actors and actresses and the idea of being able to promote them via articles and interviews was appealing.

Who inspired you in your youth when you were first thinking about this career?

Judy Buxton, Tracey Childs, Felicity Dean, Sandra Huggett, Liz Robertson, Carol Royle and Cath Shipton were my real heroes when I was in my youth and all of them remain  my heroes. They’re my magnificent seven!

I was and still am hugely inspired by Robert Daws, Sylvester McCoy, Jeffrey Holland and Derek Thompson.

What is your ambition for the site?

My ambition for this year (2015) was to include interviews with authors as well as actors and other industry-related individuals. The new ‘Spotlight On…’ page has drawn in a few more excellent interviewees from many walks of the arts. Our links with London theatres have opened up this year and I hope to expand on that, which is a huge ambition for the site. I wanted to interview as many of my personal heroes as possible, as well. That is happening and overwhelming me, constantly!

What are you writing in your fictional ‘career’ at the moment?

I’m so busy with this site and working for ‘Union Times’, ‘Theatre and Performance Magazine’, I have let the fictional work take  a lower priority, for now…

What is your advice for budding writers?

Write about what you know, network with other writers and have your work read aloud to see if it works. It should always be an enjoyable experience, not a chore – and try your hand at a number of genres, you might surprise yourself!

Favourite Things (quick-fire questions):

Favourite Actor?

Oh, I love so many actors – I’m going to have to say Jeffrey Holland AND Robert Daws. Both appeared in hit television shows which were a big part of my youth. They’ve both gone on to great things, too!

Favourite Actress?

Nooooo, don’t ask me! Ok, Carol Royle AND Judy Buxton – I’ve loved them both since I was a little girl, seen them on television and in Judy’s case, I’ve seen her on stage many times. (I have a short list of ten favourite actresses, so this was hard!!!).

Favourite Television Programme?

Home Fires

Favourite Play?

This changes so often, this year (2015) my favourite play has been ‘Harvey’.

Favourite Musical?

Rocky Horror Show and Phantom of the Opera. I am hopeless at choosing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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