Apologies but the title of this spoof is so long for the boxes CFT has for its posts, I thought it best to truncate it. Truncate or not to truncate, that is the question… (oh and apologies to Shakespeare too).
Image Credit: As ever a huge thank you to Lionel Elliott, Mike Morris, and all of The Chameleons for the pictures.
I discussed titles in last week’s post and the latest production from The Chameleon Theatre Company has one which is a humdinger! They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning doesn’t trip off the tongue but is a classic example of a title showing clearly what the story is – a spoof!
The play is in fact a double spoof. It sends up sci-fi (especially from the 50s and 60s) and amateur theatre. The Farndale Avenue series of plays was written to send up the latter and now the good (or lamentably awful) Farndale people are trying to stage a sci-fi production.
One of the hardest things to get right with a spoof is setting the level of silliness! Humour is subjective (which is why I feel it is the hardest to write), so you have to pitch it broadly. This was done brilliantly here. It is also one of those plays where you take it at face value. It is silly for the point of being silly!
It was huge fun to spot jokes and other references throughout the play. For example, see the picture of the production’s idea of the Milky Way. Remind you of a certain chocolate bar wrapper? We’re not talking subtle here. But the laugh out loud moments (of which there were far too many to keep count of) all worked and that is what you’re after.
I also picked up on the Oscar Wilde “A handbag?” joke too from the great The Importance of Being Earnest. Ben Williams has already alluded to sci-fi and other links in his review. It was actually hard to keep track of them all. You’d need to see the play at least twice I think to do that.
The basic storyline is the Townswomen are putting on an amateur production which is going badly wrong about a Martian invasion. The Martians are desperately seeking a human who can show them how to do crafts like macrame. As they would… It’s bound to be an invading alien’s first priority!
Spoofing It Up
As for the Townswomen’s play, anything that can go wrong does. All of the props are put on the stage because Felicity, played wonderfully by Kayleigh Fagence, takes literally the instruction to put on everything! This was cleverly done. How so?
The stage looked a mess as it was meant to do but every item was put on in such a way the actors could still move etc. The planning for this must have taken some time. Well done to all who worked this out. This chaos was planned to the last detail.
Also the props were made to look amateurish. This was in clear contrast with the brilliant Blackadder set built by The Chameleons last year.
The acting was wooden but that is the best way to send up bad amateur productions. Well done, all! Praise must go to Nick Coleman for speaking so stiltedly and keeping up the monotone required of his character, the Reverend Allsopp, all evening. I never thought I’d write that in a review! But to act really badly deliberately takes considerable skill.
I was reminded of Les Dawson and his awful piano playing, but it was all done for comic effect. He had to play well to know how to play badly.
I would’ve thought the main issue for the cast here was to fight all their acting instincts to “act properly”. You wouldn’t read out the stage directions or get lines the wrong way round or miscue deliberately, unless it was for a spoof like this. Anything you can think of that an actor shouldn’t do was done here and all credit to the writers here. To deliberately write “wrong” isn’t easy. You really do have to know what you’re doing and why.
Some Comedic Rules…
The other point about spoofs is they are relatively short in length. You don’t want to spread the joke too thinly or let it go on for too long. Knowing when to stop so your audience loves the great big running gag, which is what a spoof is, and doesn’t tire of it is also hard to get right. There were only two acts to this play, rather than the standard three, for this reason.
This spoof was a play within a play where the “real” Farndale Avenue people “forgot” they were performing to an audience and they’d squabble or glare at each other every time something went wrong. Cue big laughs from the audience.
The secret of really good comedy is for those performing it to treat it deadly seriously. It is well known that Eric Morecambe famously told Andre Previn that he mustn’t find what Morecambe and Wise were going to do in the least bit funny for their gloriously funny Grieg Piano Concerto sketch. How Previn managed that I’ll never know but the same principle was at work here too and all credit to The Chameleons for pulling that off. You tell me I mustn’t laugh and guess what I want to do?!
Farndale Avenue “characters”
Mrs Reece – Marilyn Dunbar
Thelma – Liz Strevens
Gordon – Nick Coleman
Felicity – Kayleigh Fagence
Norah – Carrie Laythorpe
Joyce – Sian Hayden
Characters in the Play the Farndale Avenue Players were staging!
Professor Einstein – Marilyn Dunbar
Reverend Allsopp – Nick Coleman
Mrs Allsopp and Indesit the Martian – Kayleigh Fagence
Susan and Jimmy Allsopp – Liz Strevens
Mrs Tempkins and Roberta the Robot – Carrie Laythorpe
Jack Braithwaite – Sian Hayden
I liked the idea of Roberta the Robot. That was a lovely nod to things like Lost in Space where was a “family robot”, Incidentally, what did happen to the notion of the robots doing all the chores etc for us? Hmm…).
What Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong Especially in a Farndale Avenue production
Jack Braithwaite’s character was never seen due to the actor being stuck on the loo with a bout of something unpleasant. The Farndale Avenue people were keen to help their colleague and do all that they could to help her be well enough to come and perform with them. I won’t tell you what they thought she should do with the ornamental privet!
This also led to much fun later when romantic interludes were meant to take place between Susan Allsopp and Jack. For some reason, Susan Allsopp really didn’t fancy “playing with herself” but it was pointed out the local reporter was in and “Susan” decided to do what she could. After all, there could be a good review in this!
Act 1 comprised the lovely Mrs Reece (played by Marilyn Dunbar) welcoming us to the Farndale Avenue play and she proceeded to distribute programmes around the audience. Yes, a fake programme! Oh hang on. No it was a real programme because of course we really were at a play put on at Farndale Avenue, weren’t we? Mrs Reece also told us who the other characters would be.
Joyce (played by Sian Hayden), was also being given instructions over making a cake. Hmm… can’t think of any production where someone is trying to stage a play and oversee a cake bake at the same time, but then that’s the point. After the palaver of having all the props on the stage, the play finally begins but nothing goes right.
Cues are missed, lines are given in the wrong order, oh and the sound tape is out of sequence too. None of the props are where they’re meant to be and the iron is being used as a telephone because the actors can’t find the actual phone prop and are having to improvise. Every cast member has to double up and their attempt to stage a sci-fi play is not going swimmingly at all.
Then the story continues with the Martians landing (well, there was only one actually but she managed phenomenally well!), neutralising Norah the housekeeper, who is supposed to stay frozen (but naturally moves around all over the place irritating her fellow FA actors, particularly Mrs Reece). The Professor is enlisted to free Norah with a special potion (there are always special potions, conveniently kept in a test tube, for these things) but things go wrong, Roberta the Robot is taken off by the Martians.
To add to the confusion the frozen Norah is being played by the same person playing this super duper robot, who looked anything but, given poor Norah had been given valium by mistake by the Professor. Have you ever seen a doped up robot? Well, I did on Thursday… it’s not a sight you forget in a hurry.
As for the actual play within a play, I noted the Martian (also played by Kayleigh Fagence) wore a red and green costume with helmet. Now I know what I thought when I first saw that and I was confirmed right by the Youtube clip of the classic Looney Tunes cartoon below. Yes, they were sending up the classic cartoons here as well. Marvin the Martian was always portrayed in this kind of outfit!
Local interviewer, Jack Braithwaite (played by Sian Hayden but she was the one stuck in the loo so we never got to actually see Jack!), has come to the vicarage to interview the Vicar’s lodger, Professor Einstein (played by Marilyn Dunbar). Think of the all of the mad scientists gags you can and they put in an appearance in this play. Naturally the Professor had very wild hair.
Act 2 – There is a wonderful montage of music to start us off with. Mars from Holst’s Planet Suite, the themes from Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who, and Bowie’s Life On Mars to name but a few. There was Sinatra in there too. A great deal of fun was to be had remembering the tunes! I can’t remember when I last heard Northern Lights but it was good to hear it again.
While the music was going on, members of The Chameleons dressed in head to toe in black moved around the stage with pictures of the rocket our heroes were travelling in to go and get their robot back, the stars, a rainbow (don’t ask – I assume it’s a reference to Over the Rainbow – but then Mars would be!), and so on. There was also a wonderful spoken word section which I took to be an homage to the renowned War of the Worlds radio production produced by Orson Welles. (Oh and there was music from Jeff Wayne’s renowned album of War of the Worlds, which is a wonderful record – and yes we still have it at home on good old vinyl).
Act 2 shows the Professor, Gordon, and Susan tracing down the Martian and Roberta. The Martian does explain that their women are desperate for someone to show them the kind of skills Roberta can teach (everything from hoovering to macrame) and an agreement is reached that Earth and Mars will share the magnificent robot. All ends well and the Farndale Avenue Players have somehow reached the end of their play!
I thoroughly enjoyed the silliness of the whole thing. The performances were very good (and wooden all at the same time). I don’t know if it’s a peculiarly British tradition to stage something that is simply silly for the sake of it but I do know it was good fun. There is a kind of nod to pantomime here too I think.
Given the title of The Chameleon’s next production is My Husband’s Nuts, I have the feeling there will be more laughs to come from them later on in the year! I look forward to it.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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