It’s a double dose of Christmas cheer for me this year because, at a matinee on Sunday, I have filled up on decorated trees and garishly wrapped presents and crazy relatives. It’s Christmas in June for Hunters Hill Theatre as they sled confidently into their second production for 2018, SEASONS GREETINGS. This Alan Ayckbourn comic offering is black in places, farcical in others and always entertaining. It’s a great choice for me on a wet Sunday afternoon and for the company … this kind of complicated, character driven comedy is the sort of thing community theatres do so well.
We meet Belinda. It’s Christmas eve and she is putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree. Harried and irritated she has much to put up with. Her husband, Neville, is a tinkerer and he has manifestly overdone the mechanisation of Christmas cheer with a gadget that brings on lights you can see from space and blaring carols that would deafen anyone in the house. Not that Uncle Harvey cares, he just ups the level of the TV where he is watching his own brand of traditional Christmas media, violently bloody war stories…to which he adds he own enthusiastic commentary. There are nine adults, in all, who will inhabit this story, each one as dysfunctional as these three. Continue reading SEASONS GREETINGS – ENOUGH XMAS TO LAST YOU TILL XMAS→
In Alan Ayckbourn’s ABSENT FRIENDS (1974) big hearted and good natured soul Di has organised an afternoon tea for Colin, one of her husband Paul’s best friends.
She has been worried about how Colin has been going after his recent tragic loss of his newly wed wife Carol in a drowning accident. With this in mind Di invites two of Colin’s best friends, John, along with his wife, Evelyn, and Gordon, along with his wife Marge, to join her husband and her in their family home, and hopefully this will help to cheer him up…
Oh…if only Di had a crystal ball! The afternoon soiree turns out very differently to how Di had hoped. Her husband Paul has come home from golf in a grumpy, cantankerous mood. He is rude, belligerent, even abusive to her.
Gordon doesn’t even turn up, his wife Marge attends and says her husband couldn’t make it. He isn’t feeling well. An absent friend as per the play’s titlle.
John is edgy and can’t stand still, his wife Evelyn is droll and bitchy. To top it all off, Diana has heard rumours that Paul and Evelyn have been having an affair.
“It is in everyone’s nature to try and protect yourself and the people you love, but I think taken to the absolute extreme, that can be quite isolating, counterproductive and even dangerous. Ayckbourn has done a brilliant job in exploring that theme in a hilarious play. It is so funny and so dry and I think it’s one of his best works.” Anna Crawford, Director, NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH
A well crafted cautionary tale which catches audiences ‘on the hop’, often not knowing whether to laugh or to cry, awaits theatre patrons who make their way across you to Kirribilli’s waterfront Ensemble Theatre.
It is one thing for brother and sister pair Martin and Hilda to start up a Neighbourhood Watch group after an unpleasant incident takes place shortly after they move in to the plush new Bluebell Hill housing estate which is unfortunately situated close to a Council estate, populated by some less than charming individuals.
It is something altogether more bizarre, after tensions escalate between the group and riff raff from the council estate, that a mere fortnight after the Neighbourhood Watch group’s first meeting, Bluebill Hill has become a full-on gated community with security fences and armed patrols. The committee members, no longer believing in the ability of the police to enforce security, have taken the matter into their own hands and become their own erstwhile vigilante group.
It is a dark world that Ayckbourn shows us, where people’s small mindedness and pettiness dominate. Anna Crawford’s production, (the play had its world premiere in Scarborough in the UK in September, 2011),serves this incisive play well. Designer Amanda McNamara and lighting man Peter Neufeld set up the play’s world well, and Crawford wins strong performances from a good cast.
Brian Meegan and Fiona Press play the leads, Martin and Hilda, a rather precious, conservative pairing who get rattled far too easily.
Bill Young and Jamie Oxenbould have the most colourful roles ,playing ‘headcases’ former security guard Ron and unemployed engineer Gareth who almost take a para-military approach to the escalating conflict.
Douglas Hansell plays the menacing, volcanic Luther. Lizzie Mitchell gives a touching performance as Luther’s mistreated, fragile wife, Magda.
Olivia Pigeot performs the role of the promiscuous, sharp witted Amy- unfaithful wife to Gareth- with verve, as does veteran performer Gillian Axtell who plays Bluebell Hill gossip queen, Dorothy.
Recommended, the Australian premiere production of NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH opened at the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli, on Wednesday 18th December and runs until Saturday 24th January, 2014.
Anna Crawford’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s laconic comedy ‘My Wonderful Day’ is a well crafted and performed night at the theatre,
‘My Wonderful Day’ features two black actors in leading roles. The scenario sees a nine year old black girl Winnie Barnstairs (Belinda Jombwe) take a day off school and accompany her heavily pregnant mum Laverne (Shareena Clanton) to work. Laverne is cleaning the house of a cantankerous television personality, Kevin Tate (Mark Owen-Taylor), Laverrne tells Winnie that she must be quiet and do her homework, which is to write her essay/journal that she entitles ‘My Wonderful Day’.
Life in the Tate household is far from serene! Tate is a difficult man whose life is made more difficult by his BAFTA award winning wife Paula (Danielle Carter) having left him. His ditzy secretary Tiffany comes to his aid and things are more than a little chaotic.
A sweet natured young girl, Winnie is also bright and astute, and as the day unfolds, with director Anna Crawford, (an Ensemble theatre director’s fellow), flashing the changing times on the back wall, Winnie witnesses the adults’ comical, and at times, irrational behaviour first hand. Winnie will never look at adults in quite the same way!
‘My Wonderful Day’ runs straight through for ninety minutes without interval. Typical of Ayckbourn’s plays, as ‘dramatic’ as the action is, the playwright’s trademark one liners are interspersed through the play with lines such as ‘I married an angel/ I divorced a monster’, and the young Winnie with her ever present pen and exercise book is jokingly portrayed as a young Emily Bronte.
The roles are neatly played. Mark Owen-Taylor is well cast as the highly strung, comical Kevin Tate. As Paula, Danielle Carter makes a major impression in a scene where she discovers infidelity. Shareena Clanton gives a warm performance as the good natured, hard working Laverne and has a funny, chaotic scene where her waters break in the living room. Young actress Belinda Jombwe plays something of a leading role as Winnie who is trying to discreetly fathom what’s happening. Belinda’s timing is first class. Matilda Ridgeway gives a typically assured performance as the ‘accomodating’ secretary. Brian Meegan plays Kevin’s gregarious mate who tries everything to protect him.
‘My Wonderful Day’ features good production values. Anna Crawford’s direction is clear and relaxed. Rita Carmody’s set design is sparse but suffices. featuring a few chairs, a long bed sofa, and top left is the main bedroom. There are some lovely lighting moments by lighting designer Gavan Swift. Claire Maloney’s character revealing costumes work well, and dialect coach Jennifer White gets the cast working with funtional British accents.
An Australian premiere, and master British playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s 73rd play, ‘My Wonderful Day’ opened at the Ensemble theatre, 98 MacDougall Street, Kirribilli on Friday 20th May and runs until Sunday 26th June, 2011.
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