Reviews and Comments

Reviews of StageOne performances by StageOne Christian Drama Co-operative by various authors and writers.

Please send your reviews and feedback to info@StageOne.org.uk.

Summer Show 2015

"Great show guys, best one yet"

"What talented people you work with, there wasn't an act I didn't enjoy"

"I quite enjoyed St Eanswythe, I'd love to see the full version (after I explained that was a snippet)"

"Loved Churches together, very well written, great plug too for the big event"

"The show was brilliant, I hope Phil comes back to help you again"

"It was great to see audience participation. That young lad was brilliant and Phil made us all laugh, not that my daughter understood some of it but she got the gist "

"What a pretty lady Malcolm makes (a lady who has seen the shows in the past 5 years? She was a bit confused on what the first play was that she saw but said she's only ever seen Jack or Roger play the dame) that act was full of surprises. I couldn't stop laughing at the gentleman in the dress, he was very expressive and I couldn't believe it was the same man with the big drum (she then asked if it was the same person)"

"'What a brilliant take on Soldier Soldier, I remember that from school, you were brilliant playing the wife. I didn't expect that!' "

Beauty and The Beast - A Play by Stuart Arden (2015)

A review of the Beauty and The Beast pantomime by "Jack Stinker".

For the third year in a row, StageOne  has presented a pantomime based, however freely, on a story from the folk tales popularised by Charles Perrault in his Tales of my Mother Goose. Where would British panto have been without him? This year it was Beauty and the Beast as envisaged by Stuart Arden  and confidently and efficiently produced by John Simpson.

It all made for an engaging story, with some imaginative invention and characterisation, and  dialogue that  was often very witty and original.
The scenes  featuring Belle’s greedy and selfish sisters, the Witch and  Guardsman Henry  were particularly well-written and maintained a level of high comedy, as  (perhaps more surprisingly) did the interjections of the talented chorus in their interplay with the castle servants. Occasionally, however, the humour was more laboured (as with Mrs Bustle’s long history of the castle) or even a shade abstruse. Producer John Simpson wisely cut some of the more tedious and elaborate slapstick , but what remained needed yet more pace and confidence than even this well-drilled team could achieve on the first night.

StageOne boldly showcased newcomers to the group and consequently some older hands nobly took on more minor parts or chorus work.
As Prince Pavel Siobhan Guerts had great gusto and panache in the best tradition of principal boy, with command of stage and audience alike,  and delivered her lines with magnificent audibility and aplomb.
Hannah  Packman  in the long and comically demanding rôle of Mrs Bustle, the Beast’s reluctant housekeeper, acquitted herself well.
Richard  Middleton’s StageOne début  was an impressive one as Prudence’s fiancé, a cameo of Hooray-Henryism.
Denny Bateman (in her biggest rôle to date) and Rosie Abbot  created a memorably magnificent pair of outrageously grasping and materialistic sisters, nicely differentiated as Prudence, with her wayward avidity for men and for materialistic   possessions of all kinds, and Charity with her almost more sinisterly comic focus on accruing massive piles of unspent cash.
Exploiting the vices and selfishness of the last three was seasoned performer Shelley Holmes, utterly at ease in her part, and establishing great pantomimic rapport with the audience.   Roger Smith and Adam Grannell  were another comic duo strongly differentiated as the servants/henchmen of the Beast, and former employees of Count Dracula and Dr Frank N.Stein –much macabre humour here - and splendid make-up and costuming. And Anaïs Stein brought real character to an affectionate and talkative long-case clock
Malcolm Robertson is an old hand at playing put-upon fathers, and though infinitely exploited by his two ‘bad’daughters in this piece, managed to convey an impression of gentleness and resilience to good comic effect.
As Belle, the sincere and loving beauty of the title, Cat Milburn built on her previous experience as Cinderella and came over as convincingly, movingly, and not the least bit prissily, kind and noble. She was most touching in her growing love for the Beast.
As the ‘enforced’ baddie, the Beast himself, the prince made ugly and hateful under a spell, Jack Byrne showed yet another aspect of that versatility that has marked his many and much varied roles for the group. He was both effectively shouty and bullying to his servants and villagers, but also touchingly tender in his growing love for Belle, which surprises no one more than himself.

The production had many strong points - costumes under the direction of Denny Bateman were excellent, make-up, highly important in this show, was first-rate and Richard Baulch and Bill Regan provided  highly professional live-music for the songs of the show with their witty and incisive lyrics.
And John Simpson (with his small but hard-working stage and effects team – a plethora of props!) is to be congratulated on the precision and smooth running of this production. Never has a StageOne show been slicker in scene changes, entrances and exits, all the mechanics of a good performance.
I must stress, as I have before, that I am not judging this show as if it were a professional one or even the work of  an established and major local amateur drama society (whose routine  standards today often far exceed many professional productions of former times).
This is community drama by members of a local community for members of that community, whether friends or strangers. Participants are at different stages of learning the crafts of theatre. Some are more experienced than others, who are learning fast, but who have not yet achieved the competence that they will attain with more practice and coaching. Projection and pointing up of the comedy and interplay with the audience could have  been  better in some  cases, that goes without saying, and  is almost inevitable.  That said,  I very much enjoyed this show, and due honour to the hard work of all those involved.

Puss in Boots - A play by Damian Trasler, David Lovesy and Steve Clark (2013)

A review of the Puss in Boots pantomime by "Jack Stinker".

For this year’s February half-term offering, StageOne chose another pantomime: Puss in Boots. In many ways this was their finest production yet in this genre, notable for there being almost no ‘weak links’.

It was very much an ensemble triumph, with strengths across the board. All the cast (and producer/directors Sue Roe and Roger Smith), must be praised for the very high level of stagecraft apparent throughout: gesture, positioning, projection, interaction, physical contact, and command of both the stage and the audience.

The show was quite long, but rarely ‘dragged’, thanks to the talents of the performers, but also to a funny and absorbing script – a good choice on the group’s part.

‘Puss’ was played with professional confidence by Shelley Holmes whose feline intellectual superiority to the hopeless humans around was beautifully pointed up by a ‘gor-blimey’ accent.

Adam Grannell progresses by leaps and bounds as an actor, making Jack, the cat’s master, both comic and sympathetic. His virtuosity seems to know no bounds these days as he wowed the audience with his energetic ‘rap’ numbers.

Roger Smith took on a new type of rôle as the dastardly Lord Roger (pure coincidence of name!) He played the double-dyed villain, now smarmy, now menacing, now made ridiculous, with great power and force and with a wide range of vocal technique and no monotony of gesture.

Jack Byrne made a strikingly modern dame, more Julian Clary in drag than your old-fashioned Widow Twankey of yore, and highly apt for this principal of a School of Etiquette.

He made the most of his set jokes by superb timing.

David Savage and Sue Roe made a fine, daftly comic duo as the bumbling King and snooty Queen, and ‘newcomer’ Nicola Morphew was appropriately beautiful and (initially) fed-up and bored, as Princess Alice.

Another successful duo were Wayne Quigley and Christopher Davidson as the pair of heavy ‘thickies’, Nosmo and Nopar, Lord Roger’s disastrous henchmen.

David Hellens, as the Narrator who sometimes gets short shrift from the characters, brought greater confidence and fluidy to his compère rôle as the run went on.

And all praise, too, to those in smaller supporting parts. Daniel Quigley showing great versatility from page boy to dragon, Megan Ovenden and Kacey Quigley as a genuinely endearing pair of ‘bunnies’, Eddie Edwards as an hilariously camp personal trainer, or ‘Royal Coach’ (inter alia) and Ann Edwards and Deny Bateman forming the backbone of the chorus, as well as producing truly excellent costumes for the whole show.

Mark Fletcher had painted fine scenery, but perhaps the greatest back-stage accolade should go to John Simpson, who despite being bereft of his ‘number two’, due to bereavement, produced almost single-handed not only the good lighting but the most amazing set of quality sound effects, worthy of the old Goon Show, which form a key part of the plot.

And a final word for the unsung heroes, under Paul Robbins’ direction, shifting scenery etc.

Any negative points?

Well, one or two of the general musical numbers went on just a bit too long for the inevitably limited choreographic capabilities of the chorus.

Just one or two of the cast (they know who they are!) needed to work doughty prompt Paul Wimsett far too hard during the opening performances. A shame that they had not initially given learning the words the same attention as they had clearly given to movement and developing the character.

But otherwise, an excellent show and all congratulations to Sue Roe and Roger Smith.

Aladdin - A play by James Barry (2012)

Theatre review by Rupert Bristow

We were a bit sparse in numbers in the audience on the Friday night at the Methodist Church, but we made up for that in enthusiasm, we felt.  Other performances were better attended – a full house was expected on the Saturday – but, as they say, when two or three are gathered together…

As for the performance and the enjoyment, well, we couldn’t have been better entertained.  Of course the story and plot are timeless and preposterous, the basic structure worked out over decades, a century even!  But the combination of very competent acting (well done, everyone!), awful (but I liked them) jokes, some very clever “business” (especially with the washing machine and tumble-dryer), and the uniquely British craziness of the female principal boy and male pantomime dame, were true to form and excellently played, as were the evil Abenazar and the insultingly named policeman in full British bobby’s uniform, Flung Dung.

It all teetered on the edge of political incorrectness, which probably could be said of any pantomime, but, with plenty of opportunities for youngsters to dance and act, great audience participation, and a due sprinkling of local jokes – usually with Dover at the receiving end – we went out into Sandgate Road having, quite simply, enjoyed ourselves.  Don’t let’s over–analyse the whys and wherefores of the pantomime experience.  Let’s just say: “Thank you, Stage One”.

Theatre review by ‘Jack Stinker’

This year’s February offering by StageOne can be reckoned, without the least doubt, another feather in this young company’s hat. I have occasionally had reservations about the scripts used by the group, though they have always transmuted them into an excellent performance, but this script by James Barry, one of the closest to true pantomime to date, gave excellent opportunities, which the ensemble seized. There was a lively and enthralling story, good character sketching and many novel and humorous angles on the traditional tale. The characters really came alive and we became involved with them and their escapades.
The company, smaller this year, were extremely well drilled by producer John Simpson. There was room and opportunity for the actors to develop and deepen their roles. And admirable interaction with each other and the audience.

Shelley Holmes and Sue Roe were on unsurpassed form as Aladdin and his Princess, managing to make us both laugh at their 'lerve at first sight' and to believe in it, and take them to our hearts.

Jack Byrne was outstanding as Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee, providing a rich backbone of humour, and likewise emerging as a person with whom we could all identify. Like all the cast, he had an infinite range of comic gesture, expressions and poses and would not be out of place as one of Moliere’s celebrated comic servants. He even made his Chinese hat as expressive as his body.

Malcolm Robertson, as the ubiquitous Imperial policeman Flung Dung, combined well choreographed Keystone Cops comic chases with superb audience control, throwing himself into his farcical role with gusto and energy, and providing well received comic tours de force, as with his unseen gang of brutes.

Roger Smith now has a whole history of dames behind him with this group, but manages to differentiate them all, not least in terms of costume. (And considering he has at least three changes of attire in each production, that is quite an achievement.) He had plenty of comic moments here and made the most of them as usual, but never at the expense of the ensemble playing.

As the baddie Abanazar, played as a ‘sheik to make you shriek’, Adam Grannell was a revelation, showing a gift, entirely appropriate here, for over-the-top villainy, snarling his lines, laughing with consummate evil, and getting the audience booing to the rafters (but not finally getting his hands on the princess, only much coveted silk knickers.)

Wayne Quigley made a commanding (as well as commanded) genie, with good stage presence, and Eve Neilly contributed a very likeable and expressive Slave girl, who made the most of her becoming human again near the end, and easily enslaving in her turn Wishee Washee.
And those in smaller parts acquitted themselves well.

The costumes assembled were excellent, all highly appropriate. Perhaps the outstanding get-ups were those of Abanazar, but all deserve praise.

But we must come back to John Simpson who not only brought this highly creditable production together, but was responsible for so much on the technical side that made the show run smoothly and with style. He even found time and energy to play a truly awesome mummy, loose bandages, and tomb-crippled walk and all. Not a creature to meet on a dark night!
So, not a word of adverse criticism? Well, maybe the finale and curtain call was a shade too strung-out, but that is to quibble.

All in all, a very worth-while entertainment and the audiences looked happy throughout. I have never seen a toddler clap with such enthusiasm! And she was not alone.

Alice In Wonderland Adapted By V. A Pearn (February 2011)

Theatre Review by 'Jack Stinker' of The Daily Grail

It was a great tonic to a groggy theatre critic to see the creativity and sensitivity of this show!

Notwithstanding - I love that word, so here it is again - notwithstanding the admirable performances of the cast, I must first pay tribute to the look of the show. Presumably Ann Edwards and Deny Bateman (costumes) did a mixture of making, hiring and cadging, as is often par for the course in these cases, but there was a wonderful unity about most of them, with bold, co-ordinated, themed colours and great ingenuity shown in the design. The face-painting and masks were excellent too and visually the performance was a delight from start to finish. The work presents an enormous challenge in this regard but StageOne rose to it magnificently.

Some of the most striking costumes were those of the Queen of Hearts, the Knave, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the three changes of the Duchess (!) the Mock Turtle, Alice herself and the White Rabbit, but they were all thoughtfully created (or chosen) and expressive. John Simpson and Penny Moss (set) wisely settled for a simple black backdrop to all the movement and colour on stage, but the numerous props and scene markers, from portals to rosebushes, many home-made, gave them plenty of scope for ingenuity.

Shelley Holmes (director) had her varied and numerous cast use the space of the stage to maximum effect. She handled the crowded ensembles, like the race, the dances and the croquet match brilliantly. Everybody seemed to know where they were going and exactly what they were doing in a way that was most professional. Nothing looked ragged or under-rehearsed, but natural and inevitable.

Movement is a forte of Stage One (all those workshops on stagecraft!) and the ‘stalwarts’, particularly, scored here. Watching the suppleness and mimic effects from the likes of John Simpson, Sue Roe, Roger Smith, Malcolm Robertson, Geoff Dunstall, Oliver Tatt, as well as ‘newcomer’ young Kacey Quigley was a constant pleasure and some of the most memorable moments were ones of silence and mime or accompanying gesture.

But what of the acting? Well, one of the interesting things about this play was that, apart from Alice herself (of whom more later), there were no ‘big parts’ just a lot of interesting cameos. There were no weak links, and though space and the size of the cast prevents me from mentioning everyone, it was a wonderful ensemble effort, with everyone making a valuable contribution.

I shall never forget the representation of the Queen of Hearts by Olivia Savage. It was a highly original take on the character. Instead of the expected middle-aged, shrieking harridan we got a young, bored, cold as ice, fashion model whose quiet but utterly chilling orders of ‘off with his head’ must have made others besides me, surely, think of the ghastly dictators and tyrants who inhabit our world. Her stillness and impassiveness as she sat on her throne spoke volumes of autocratic power and ruthlessness. As her consort, Malcolm Robertson showed in the ‘trial scene’ how bumbling idiocy in a despot can be just as perilous to justice. (I should love to see him as the mad Judge in Racine’s Sue Crazy.) He was also good as the Dodo, asserting, so to speak, that his extinction had been greatly exaggerated!

As the White Rabbit John Simpson created a real character under all that endearing fur, and his movements were brilliant. And making every word audible was no mean achievement either. The trumpet fanfares were hilarious.

As the Duchess, Roger Smith managed to make this ‘dame’ very different from the other ‘dame’ roles we have seen him in, and as with all the StageOne veterans, he was perfectly audible at all times and pointed up the words excellently. And, as I have already said – what costumes – all of them very up-front!

David Savage made a superbly lugubrious Mock Turtle, and I was most touched by Wayne Quigley’s unforgettably miserable mouse! Geoff Dunstall seemed to relish his part as the scoffing (literally) Knave of Hearts, complete with superb mohican hair-do. David Hellens as the somnolent dormouse was so good he made me yawn in sympathy – and I do mean that as a compliment!

But so far this is ‘Hamlet without the Prince’ – what of young Alce herself? Well, Hannah Fitzgerald, for whom I imagine this must have been the first part on a such a demanding scale, rose to the challenge with great aplomb. She delivered her lines with confidence and showed no sign whatever of stage nerves. She remained the anchor of common sense and logic in a crazy world and she gave the character a modern edge, both in looks and delivery, that was never jarring.

So what then of the play? The author wisely concentrated on Carroll’s big set-piece scenes, like the Mad Hatter’s tea party and all the rest of them, and cleverly side-stepped the changes in size and other fantastical events that are possible on film but not easily suggested on stage.The play is very faithful and deferential to the author, perhaps at times even too much so, to get quite the same sense of zany creativity as in the original book. No one advertised this as a pantomime, and it certainly wasn’t; indeed this show is not very strong on laughs – at least there weren’t many from the matinee audience when I attended, but they seemed thoroughly absorbed and interested. The story held the attention.

If you want the absurd, ask an Oxford Professor of Mathematics (!) and Alice never ceases to amaze in its surreal extravagance. Yet it precedes the Surrealists, both artistic, like Dali, and dramatic like Ionesco by decades. People tend to love it or be left cold by it, but it has become a fixed part of our culture, even if known, by many, better from Disney adaptations or television presentations than from the book itself. (I couldn’t help wondering, by the way, how many youngsters today know what treacle is, or how many have ever tasted Mock Turtle soup!)

It may seem strange, coming from me, who often bewails the West End’s (and most schools’ and colleges’) obsession with musicals rather than straight plays, but I felt the performance, excellent as it was in so many ways, might have been lifted even further and sent everyone home with smiles on their faces, as well as thoughts in their heads, if there had been just a little bit more incidental music and one or two songs. When we did get a bit (like the Brahms Lullaby) it made a big impact. But this is to carp. Shelley Holmes and her whole team deserve all praise for this solid and memorable achievement, and it is another feather in the company’s diverse cap!

The Thwarting Of Baron Bolligrew By Robert Bolt (February 2010)

Trinity Benefice (Folkestone) Magazine

From the depths of winter into the dragon’s den stepped Stage One for their latest production at the Methodist Church. For some in the audience too it was a case of emerging from near hibernation to experience an afternoon/evening of live entertainment after a surfeit of TV, books and evenings in. So expectations were running high and we were duly and royally entertained by this early work from the famed playwright and screenplay writer Robert Bolt (Lawrence of Arabia and A Man for All Seasons were amongst his many successes). Originally for radio, it nevertheless lent itself well to the amateur stage and the cast, as we have come to expect, rose magnificently to the challenge.

There was much good banter in a play which seemed to combine elements of pantomime, morality play and even a hint of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The main players, Geoff Dunstall as the (un)lovable rogue, Baron Bolligrew (played in the manner of Jeremy Clarkson), and Shelley Holmes as the dashing hero, Sir Oblong Fitz Oblong, equally adept at sword-play, dragon-slaying and hard politics, were excellent, as were the support and cameo actors, notably Malcolm Robertson as the spooky, smooth spell-maker, Roger Smith as the wise-cracking, larger than life Duke, and Sue Roe as the oppressed Obidiah Bobblenob. Everyone really deserves a mention, as all the cast were good, but I must pick out the sheer inventiveness of Oliver Tatt and Charlie Byrne as Michael Magpie and Mazeppa Magpie, constantly twitching and twittering, as if auditioning for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s next animal production!

I went to the afternoon performance, which I understand was less well attended than the evenings, but everyone seemed to have a really good time and entered into the spirit of things, worried that Roger would fall off the stage as he staggered about and enjoying the topical repartee. The evening shows, with more people, had an even better atmosphere, by all accounts. And a princely sum was raised for the Marie Curie Cancer Care, which can’t be bad.

Roll on the next Stage One production – and congratulations to all involved in this play, which must have involved many hours of rehearsal and preparation on cold winter nights.