I saw A Comedy Trio by The Chameleon Theatre Group on 27th April 2017. Despite feeling miserable due to a heavy cold, (I am not the world’s best patient!), I am glad to say the production made me laugh and I went home feeling considerably better in spirit, at least, than when I arrived! Now there’s a review for you…
Many thanks, as ever, to Lionel Elliott for supplying CFT with the pictures.
Image credit: Liz Strevens.
The production consisted of Housebound, Dancers and The House of Fog. The titles alone promised an intriguing mix and the audience wasn’t disappointed. The first two plays were about 20 to 25 minutes long with Fog coming in at about 40 to 45.
Housebound by Simon Mawdsley
Directed by Lorraine Biddlecombe, Housebound is a classic “two-hander”. It is also an excellent combination of character and observational comedy and, due to that, reminded me of the structure of Steptoe and Son. In that classic BBC comedy, you have a father and son who are effectively stuck with each other and the comedy revolves around that.
In Housebound, there is a hostage taker (Bone played by Nick Coleman) and the wife of a bank manager (Fiona played by Marilyn Dunbar). The idea is at a set time she will ring her husband to warn him Bone’s accomplice is about to see him, she is being held hostage and the demand is for £100,000.
However, she is agoraphobic and as the play develops we find Bone and Fiona have more in common than you might think. Both hate being cooped up (Fiona guesses correctly Bone has been in prison when he admits he too hates being in a confined space). He develops more sympathy for her as it is clear she is in a prison herself – we find out she hasn’t been outside for weeks. There is a lot of wonderful word play and banter.
The problem with comedy structured like this is you can only have so many situations from which to generate the humour. The great strength of Housebound is that is it one situation, the play is not long and so the structure works. (My feeling is that if it had gone on for too long it would have fallen flat). The play also generated the feeling that both Bone and Fiona had been badly let down by their respective partners and deserved better.
I can’t think of many stories where you end up feeling sympathy for the hostage taker and the victim but this was one. I can think of even fewer stories where, what is a horrible situation (especially for Fiona), ends up being both funny and touching. Nothing goes right with the planned heist and Bone ends up walking away. Fiona does not “shop” him even though she could and the ending feels right for the story.
A good story will make you wonder what happened to the characters after the tale ends. In this case, did Bone turn from his life of crime given this incident clearly showed he was no good at it and how often would he get the chance to walk away? In Fiona’s case, did her increasing frustration at her own agoraphobia (at one point she had the chance to run away but couldn’t bring herself to go through her own front door) mean she finally got help for it?
It was an interesting and touching play.
Dancers by Jean McConnell
This was directed by Sheila Hardiman and is another two-hander. Two dancers, Betty (played by Sarah Phipps) and Wynn (played by Diana Mills), have a good old moan at the lack of male dancing partners but it soon becomes clear it is not just on the dance floor these two ladies are missing eligible men. Betty is portrayed as really liking the men and Wynn gets in some bitchy and very funny remarks about that.
Yet the two are fond of each other. They save their venom for the other women dancers, Peggy and Alice. Betty and Wynn despise these two for being the quiet domestic types, yet they wonder at the fact so often the quiet domestic types are often the ones to “get their man”.
Betty has hopes of two recent new male recruits to their dance troupe. Towards the end of the play the ladies see the men in the distance and wave to them eagerly, feeling this could be where their luck changes. However, to their dismay, they soon realise the two men are waving to Peggy and Alice in the distance beyond them and our heroines leave the stage. The quiet domestic types have won again.
Betty, as portrayed, reminded me of some of the characters Maureen Lipman has played in her time. It wouldn’t surprise me if the character was specifically based on this. Wynn’s character reminds me of the type that can’t quite bring herself to be as “keen with the men” as Betty clearly had been in her younger days, but likes Betty all the same. I had the impression Wynn needed someone to feel superior over (and with Betty she could feel morally superior).
You were left with the impression these two ladies, by being bitchy and condescending, were the authors of their own misfortune when it came to the men. They could not see their own personalities would put a lot of men off (certainly from any long-term commitment, which the women were clearly hankering after).
A great little play, well acted by the two leads and perhaps a morality tale. I felt sorry for the never seen Peggy and Alice and pleased they won out in the end. But then I have a soft spot for the quiet domestic type…. I am one. (Have I come across the bitchy, stab every other woman in the back type as portrayed by Betty and Wynn? Oh yes! There are few women who haven’t I think. Says she stabbing… well, you get the picture. Character recognition is a vital part in making a story a success and there was a lot of this in Dancers. The types all rang true and believable characters are crucial to the success (or otherwise) of any story).
House of Fog by Peter Brammer
Directed by Liz Strevens. My comments here I hope add to Epicduda’s excellent review. The lead characters, Timothy Rackonsfield (played by Paul Jones) and Lucy Lackenspiel (played by Kayleigh Fagence), reminded me of Brad and Janet in the Rocky Horror Picture Show with their naivety as they showed up at the doors of Timothy’s suitably creepy ancestral home.
I was expecting by the end of the play, as a result of this, for them not to be so naive any more. I’ve not seen Rocky Horror (not really my cup of tea) but I know enough of the plot. And I was right. One of them wasn’t naive at all – Lucy!
Count Silvio (played by Stuart Wineberg) was an obvious fake with his slimy, smooth personality. (I’ve come across those in my time too – – they’re usually trying and failing to sell me something but that’s another story). He was meant to be a two-dimensional character and because this was a spoof it worked well.
Normally two-dimensional characters fall flat. You want depth to a character. Count Silvio was about as deep as your average puddle – even the nice but dim Tim could see that (his mother, Lady Rackonsfield, played by Sian Hayden, couldn’t and hadn’t. She’d married the guy after the death of her husband and if you think you spot a Hamlet motif, you’re right. More on this later!).
I loved the use of the narrator in this play. Naomi Scott was excellent as the exceedingly grumpy narrator who made her opinions of the story she was being asked to narrate very clear. She complained about the script, the fact she’d been told this would help her career and is now realising it won’t (”And I’ve played Ophelia too!”), about the actors and she had to retrieve her narrator’s chair, much to her disgust. She also fired complaints at the lighting and technical team. All set up, of course, but very funny.
The whole country house murder mystery was beautifully sent up (and amateur dramatics to a certain extent too) and all the things going wrong (for example, the actors moaning they were actors and shouldn’t have to move the furniture around) was very funny. As was the faulty fog machine and the use of dramatic music and “looks to camera” from the actors every time said dramatic music was played. (This could be every few seconds!). Every cliche that could be used was – and spoofed to great effect. An incompetent spoof was in fact performed very competently indeed.
None of the characters were entirely what they seemed to be and you wouldn’t have wanted to get the wrong side of Timothy’s Nanny Marksworth. She turned out to be an undercover cop/female James Bond! Oh and naturally there had to be a star-crossed lovers element to the story too which was covered nicely when Timothy’s childhood sweetheart, Lotty (played by Fiona Winchester), turned up at the house after being invited there by Lady Rackonsfield. It is fair to say Lucy was not best pleased.
The main nod to Hamlet was that Timothy was meant to avenge the murder of his father, Lord Rackonsfield, who did indeed turn up on stage as the ghost. The white sheet with the holes cut it in for eyes was rightly laughed at – but that was the intent!
Oh and the country house gardener turned out to be a werewolf. There was no reason for a werewolf to ever be in a spoof murder mystery play but they were also sending up the Hammer House of Horror films here and to great effect.
Timothy ends up being bitten and, having discovered the truth about his fiancee Lucy, turns back to his childhood sweetheart, Lotty. Right at the end of the play, you hear off stage “oh Timothy” to indicate she’s discovered he’s now a werewolf but you had the impression she quite liked him being a bit of an animal!!
Each play was too short to be shown individually but together they made up a funny and entertaining mix and, as a result, the whole evening was great fun.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.