Plays for Coarse Actors - Review

There was a cracker of a Christmas treat to be had at the New Venture. Not for them the usual festive fare of Pantomime or Dickens instead a hilarious look at the world of amateur dramatics.

Three short plays were enacted by the inept drama group that rejoiced under the name of the Celia Ramsbottom Amateur Players (C.R.A.P. for short).

The Cherry Sisters turned out to be a parody of Chekov. The ineptitude of C.R.A.P and its director was swiftly established as the play opened to Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago with one of the characters reading the Morning Star newspaper – both being post rather than pre revolution references.

In order to establish the oppressive ennui of Chekov's world, director Brandon McGuire was bold enough to allow several moments elapse with nothing happening on stage apart from bird song and the occasional sigh. Eventually dialogue broke out with the three sisters voicing their dreams of making it to Moscow with the coming of the railway.

With the arrival of stock Chekhovian characters the solemn mood was punctured as mayhem took over with the samovar springing a leak. This led to some wonderfully choreographed business with every character having to balance innumerable cups whilst the old servant, Piles, (a delightful study in decrepitude from Carl Boardman), struggled to stem the flow.

Streuth lampooned the world of the Who-Dunnit with everything that could go wrong, going wrong. The detective pointing to a body that was not there – a dummy was then flung on from the wings and began to fall apart as the action continued. In addition to falling scenery, the French windows could not be opened resulting in the vicar making his entrance through the fireplace.

Shakespeare's history plays were wickedly sent up in Henry the Tenth (Part Seven). Playing the king gave Martin Nichols the opportunity to go over the top in the manner of the old actor managers. Sir Donald Wolfit lived on!

The usurper to the throne, the Earl of Wolverhampton complete with a Black Country accent, was one of three excellent portrayals from Sam Wolstenholme. His bad actor's monotone staccato delivery and jerky body movements in Streuth contrasted well with his goose stepping and heavily accented Russian soldier, Sodov.

The running gag with the Herald always bearing bad news and getting beaten up was simply a joy. Sean Williams extracted the maximum humour from this as he did with the role of James, the butler in Streuth, played in the manner of Rocky Horror's Riff Raff.

An inventive feature was Peta Taylor's two monologues as the Chairwoman of C.R.A.P. The characterisation and the content of the dialogue were hilarious.

With such a strong cast of excellent actors, many taking on multiple roles, there is not space to mention other outstanding performances. Everyone succeeded in the difficult task of reproducing bad acting and maintaining straight faces whilst the audience howled with laughter.

I don't know who came up with the idea of the Christmas Stamp at the end of the show but they are to be congratulated for it. It was a lively and cheeky melange of dance styles that managed to include the Haka, Irish dancing and the cast's own interpretation of Stomp.

For the second production running that rarest of visitors to the New Venture was heard – laughter!

Barrie Jerram
28 December 2007