Image Credit: Many thanks to Lionel Elliott and the Chameleons for supplying the images.
It was good to be back at the Richie Memorial Hall to watch the Chameleons’ latest production on Thursday, 26th April. They staged three plays in one show. All were set in different times and backgrounds.
Oh What a Lovers’ War
The first, Oh What a Lovers’ War by Karen Ince, was probably my favourite as I love a good historical play. The title owes something to the stage show and film, Oh What a Lovely War. That questioned the way World War One was won and highlighted the number of casualties (something Blackadder Goes Forth went on to do so well later. Talking of Blackadder, the Chameleons will be staging three episodes of this later on in the year so do keep an eye out for that).
The setting for Karen’s work is Britain in August 1914. War has just been declared on Germany and there is strong emphasis on the prevailing belief it would all be over by Christmas. Everyone believed it then. (Hindsight can be dreadful at times).
We meet two families, one is a newly wed young couple from a lowly background, and the other are an upper class older married couple. The young girl, Doris, does not want her husband, Frank, to fight. This is not how she envisaged the start of her married life.
The older woman, Margaret, supports her husband, Arthur, in wanting to do his duty by King and Country one more time, given her spouse had fought in the Boer War. The play also shows how the role of women changed from going out into jobs men had traditionally done or, in Margaret’s case as she stayed at home, she took over her husband’s decision making role.
I liked the juxtaposition of the two couples as it showed how, regardless of status and class, all were affected by the war. As for the ending, that was poignant too. We see Doris, expecting her first baby, opening up the dreaded telegram that brought bad news to loved ones.
We see Margaret welcoming her severely injured Arthur home. Both women have had their lives turned around by events beyond their control – and the likes of Arthur would not have taken to being an invalid that well either. As for the tragedy of Frank’s loss, how often was that reflected up and down the country?
The play was interspersed by archive film clips (reflected on to the stage curtain) and audio clips of the era. A very moving play and well acted.
The Dreaming by Richard James had nods to the Jean Paul Sartre play, No Exit, which starred Omar Sharif.
No Exit sees three people trapped in a room, which we soon find out is Hell, and they discover the truth, as the play progresses, of the view “hell is other people”. It is a very intense play.
The Dreaming has that same intensity (and is almost hypnotic with it). There are two characters – unimaginatively called One and Two. They too are in a strange room with no windows or doors and have no idea who or where they are. (In No Exit the characters do know). All they have in the room with them is a table with two chairs and paper scattered all over the floor. During the play, the two discover these papers keep being added to and they eventually conclude they are characters in a play.
Ben Williams sums things up very well on this play in his review. I loved the writing in-jokes here. I can’t think of any fiction writer who hasn’t felt “their characters come to life on the page”. I’ve done so and it is what you want as it means your characters can be identified with by your reader and so they will want to find out what happens to your “people”. Here the phrase was taken literally!
The play sent up rotten dialogue and awful writing. Character Two had a long-winded speech as he tried to figure out if he was a doctor. No “real” writer would write such a speech in this way unless doing so ironically. I would describe The Dreaming as a parody with a heavy emphasis on irony (as opposed to a more subtle approach).
Both characters were frustrated at what they were coming out with in speech, at there being no plot or story, and indeed Character Two felt if they were in a play, it was a pretentious one! My sympathy was entirely with the characters here (which, ironically, kept you watching to see if things improved for them. They didn’t!).
Amongst my book collection is a wonderful compilation put together by the late and much missed Frank Muir and it covers 500 years of humorous prose. There are many wonderful examples in the book but one of them, going back into Victoria’s reign, has characters coming to life and berating the writer for putting them in stereotypical situations. The Dreaming reminded me of this piece too and I felt if Characters One and Two could have “got” to their creator somehow, they would’ve given him/her at the least a piece of their mind. (Or bashed them around the head with the writer’s own PC! It would’ve been merited too!).
A very interesting contrast to the first play too.
Pina Coladas was written by the Chameleons’ Matthew Meehan and revolves around the song by Rupert Holmes, which was a huge hit in 1979.
Three people – Katherine, Peter and Richard, meet in a bar (the moody bar person, Katherine, loathes it when Richard insists on trying to call her Kathy or Cath. She puts him down in no uncertain terms). The drink on offer is Pina Colada and both men are intrigued at why they’ve been invited, anonymously, to this bar on the promise of an unforgettable night. In fairness, that promise is delivered!
We discover as the evening goes on the three have someone in common – the person who invited them to this event, who still hasn’t turned up to reveal all. We find out from Katherine that this person has an obsession with pop lyrics and quotes a Cradle of Filth “song”. (Be fair, this is NOT my genre in music! An awful lot is but not that…). Richard and Peter discuss the Rupert Holmes song. Katherine makes it clear what she thinks of people who are obsessed with pop lyrics.
We also discover all three are in a relationship with this person. This revelation does not go down well with any of them.
At this point, you might expect the person to come in and be roundly condemned by the three for betraying them. Not here. Peter and Richard are, by this stage, at least three over the eight (!) and so Katherine finds it easy enough to get them to have yet another Pina Colada, only this one has a special ingredient in it – poison.
With the two men slumped dead in their chairs, Katherine goes over to a box and opens it. Her partner comes out and berates her for the pop lyric obsession. Katherine points out it achieved their objective. These two women have targeted this men, yes the partner, Samantha, did sleep with them (Katherine is clearly jealous about that), and now rob them. However, there is a further twist to come.
As Katherine leads the way out, we see Samantha take a gun out of her bag. Katherine herself is clearly not long destined to stay in the world! And that’s where the play ends.
I have to say it makes a change for men to be the victims of ruthless women. I actually felt sorry for Katherine as she did love Samantha, who was using her, just as much as she’d used the two men.
Very strong characterisation and great performances.
So a real mixed bag of stories and characters here, all excellently performed. Well done to all!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.