Hello and welcome to another installment from The Chameleon Theatre Group looking at life behind the scenes. This week, they share with us what some of their most memorable productions have been and why.
The Chameleons start with All My Sons, which they presented in October 2016.
Image Credit: As ever, a big thanks to The Chameleons for the images.
All my Sons was written by Arthur Miller during the final stages of World War ll and was first performed in 1947 when the War, in all its aspects, was still a raw memory.
The Keller family have their own unfinished business from the War – one son still “missing” and the other, surviving the horrors of war, determined to be worthy of the freedom granted by the heroism and sacrifice of so many.
But events from the past which come to light as the action unfolds bring him face to face with compromise, expedience, and deceit in his own family forcing him to deal with the unwelcome reality of the world as it is. This is a powerful and dramatic play which had been on been on Geoff Dodsworth’s “wish list” to present at Chameleons for some time.
Geoff Dodsworth comments:-
All My Sons made me very proud of what we as a group can achieve. We had people coming to see it who don’t come very often and their reaction and comments about the play indicated that the standard was way higher than their expectations.
Liz Strevens added:-
I played Kate Keller, the mother. I usually prefer comedy roles and that one definitely exercised my dramatic muscles.
We loved the story surrounding another production, Murder in Company, which we staged in October 1988. Sadly there are no photos of this one. Jan Bradshaw has this as her favourite.
This is because it’s the play where Wayne and I fell for each other (in the play and beyond!). Joining all those years ago changed everything for me.
Jan and Wayne have been married 27 years next month!!!!
Sheila Hardiman tells us of some productions which have stayed in her mind, although not always for good reasons! (15th April 2020)
In Spring 2007, we put on Brush up Your Shakespeare, three one acts loosely connected to the Bard. I directed Merry Regiment of Women which featured Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Cleopatra, Katherine, Juliet and, of course, Juliet’s nurse.
This play stands out for me as a difficult episode; my original Lady Macbeth dropped out so I stepped in, there were three male characters and one man to play them, two of the cast were in one of the two other plays, and at the eleventh hour, Margaret Skipper, wardrobe mistress and playing the nurse, fell off her bike and broke her knee. All was all right on the night though!
Brush Up Your Shakespeare
A few years before, we put on a really challenging play, Female Transport by Steve Gooch, directed by Janet Ransom. Six female prisoners in a transport ship going to the penal colonies in Australia was difficult to stage. The officers’ quarters and the deck were on the stage itself, whilst the cell was built from blocks out into the hall as a small thrust stage.
Costume was of course very drab and makeup mainly mud from the car park! Definitely no glamour roles and I for one was immensely glad to get to the hairdressers the following week! This was probably my favourite play from my time with Chameleons.
I have also directed four pantomimes, each of which I have loved seeing come to life on our stage. Little Red Riding Hood in 2006 featured a petite principal boy who turned into a six foot plus werewolf, The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe in 2008 had a cast of fairytale characters, and Hansel and Gretel in 2012 had a gingerbread house with boys and girls made by the very creative props person, Marianne Potts.
I love pantomime although it’s a lot of work before rehearsals start to choose songs to fit the plot, adapt the script where necessary to fit the confines of our stage, discuss costumes and set etc. I started work on Atlantis the Panto in the summer of 2018! It’s such hard work I am never directing panto again …wait a minute, I said that in 2006, 2008 and 2012!
Stuart Wineberg writes:-
I guess this has to be the memories of things I was in that had the most impact on me.
I got best actor for Donald Duck in Blue Remembered Hills, apparently because of my ability to inject pathos during massive chunks where I was sitting on a hay bale looking at the floor and not speaking. Clearly, more parts where I don’t speak are required.
I am personally most proud of the role of Michael in Dancing at Lughnasa. By far the most technically challenging and nerve racking role. Huge chunks of monologue delivered from a low podium at the level of the audience in a sustained soft Irish accent. Having to react and respond to the actors on stage without turning to them.
Most fun definitely was playing Herr Flick in Liz’s ‘Allo ‘Allo back in 2002. Fantastic ensemble production, great characterisation from Andrew Craddock as René and loads of people enjoying going fabulously over the top. Dave Leland as the camp Lt Gruber, Geoff as Capt Bertorelli (yes, he didn’t sound like Edna Everidge), Vicky Berryman as Olga and others whose roles I apologise for not remembering.
Why that one? It was where I learnt to read the script before auditioning. It seemed an easy challenge to limp and speak with a German accent. However I hadn’t spotted the need to dress as a French maid, really learn to play the stripper on a violin (an instrument I had never picked up before) and be fastened to an inflatable Goerring.
It was also a Summer production in the days before LED lights and our leather greatcoats were actually fabricated from plastic sheeting. The wine on the cafe tables was Ribena and we went through pints of it every night. I also remember a prop (I think it was a mousetrap) flying into the audience one evening and having to ad lib my way off stage and back again in character to retrieve it.
Since we have recently seen Shakespeare’s 456th birthday pass us in lockdown, we thought we might dip our toe into the small amount of his plays we have referenced over the years! Chameleons have never put on one of the Bard’s works in its entirety, rather we have performed plays which are based (quite loosely!) on some of his better known pieces. Many are really just titles taken from some of the many quotations, starting back in 1967 when we performed Noel Coward’s This Happy Breed, a reference to the English people using a phrase from John of Gaunt’s monologue in Act II, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s Richard II.
In 1990, we touched briefly on Hamlet in Don’t Blame It On The Boots, and returned in the sequel Easy Stages in 1997.
In 2007, we got a little closer to the real thing; our one act plays were all loosely Shakespeare related and bore the overall title of Brush Up Your Shakespeare, after the song from Kiss Me Kate.
Merry Regiment of Women had somewhat Shakespearean dialogue and featured Lady Macbeth attempting to get Cleopatra, Desdemona, Juliet and Kate the Shrew to protest that William wrote poor parts for women, but struggled with the lovelorn women as Henry V, Romeo and Petrucchio appear. The Droitwich Discovery introduced us to the ghost of Shakespeare’s brother, Terry, who claimed he had written all the plays first but then Will ruined them all!
In 2016, we performed The Pocket Dream, in which a theatre company was planning on performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but problems arise meaning the actors are reduced to two and the stage manager, a stagehand, the actress’s boyfriend and the front of house manager have to ensure the production goes on and play all the parts. The cast in this had to learn a great many of the Bard’s lines as the plot included many of the most familiar scenes, including the Rude Mechanicals and Titania’s flowery bower where Bottom is transformed to an Ass.
Most recently, our summer production in 2018, was A Bunch of Amateurs, in which the team tackled the tragedy, King Lear. A somewhat washed up action movie hero arrives in Stratford to play Lear, only to discover it’s a little amateur production in a tiny village in Suffolk. A very funny play, and our cast pulled out all the stops, Shakespearean or otherwise!
Many thanks to The Chameleons for sharing their favourite performances. I very much look forward to getting along to see their next production whenever that may be.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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