Image Credit: A huge thank you to The Chameleons for the pictures. I took the screenshots of the programme and the Chameleon Facebook page. (Do check that out – see the link!).
It was a joy to finally return to Ritchie Hall to watch The Chameleon Theatre Group take to the stage for the first time since the pandemic “broke” in March 2020. It has been a long year without you all.
(Though it was a pleasure to share posts here during lockdown – The Chameleons Say Hello. See the Related Posts section at the end of this for links to these and also for when my last review of a Chameleon production was – ages ago, basically).
The Return of The Chameleons
I thought it highly appropriate The Chameleons were back with comedies. Who hasn’t needed a good laugh after the last year?
The first play staged was Lockdown in Little Grimley by David Tristram which is about the trials of a small amateur theatre group trying to make a comeback after lockdown. Hmm…. you know there is the old saying about write what you know? It’s ringing a loud bell here for some reason. It’s also ticking the highly topical box!
The other play was Bombshells by Joanna Murray-Smith providing insights into the lives of five women. The ladies each tell their story with wit, poignancy, and humour. (For my flash fiction work, I would see these as character studies and these work best when kept short and to the point. Bombshells does exactly that for these ladies).
The New “Normal” for Local Theatre
Booking online for my ticket was easy (done via Ticket Source) and I was impressed with the social distancing measures. The moment I booked my seat, the seats immediately next to it were blocked out. Rows of seats were also blocked out between where you could sit and there was a clear one way system in place for the loo, the bar etc., all explained on a leaflet left on the seats you could use. All that could be done was done. Well done to all for the planning. I suspect that took some time.
Having The Chameleons back is one sign of a gradual return to normality (as was my being able to sing in church recently for the first time in well over a year albeit having to do so through a mask).
The arts (singing, writing, acting etc) are not just good things in and of themselves but, in my view, are beneficial for health, especially mental health. The arts can and do take you out of yourself for a while. So, on those grounds too, it is wonderful to have our local amateur theatre company back.
It was also good to see the return of The Chameleon raffle. They’re raising funds this year (rolled over from last year) for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance service. (I was also pleased to win a lovely floral toiletry set. My success with raffles is legendary – it’s bad! – so this was a nice turnaround).
Review of Lockdown In Little Grimley
This is a four “hander” with the characters of Gordon (played by Geoff Dodsworth), Margaret (played by Liz Strevens), Joyce (played by Sian Hayden), and Bernard (played by Dave Collis). The director for this was Sheila Hardiman and the production assistant was Merle Dodsworth.
The play starts with the four characters turning up for a meeting set up by Geoff who wants to stage a comeback play after lockdown. His big idea is to raise funds for the NHS, believing that would bring in a good audience. Margaret is reluctant and makes several scathing (and funny) comments about the standards of the company’s acting (and why audience figures have been low).
There is no love lost between Margaret and Bernard either. This was a wonderful foundation for much of the comedy in this play. Margaret’s antipathy towards Bernard is not entirely unjustified given he starts the evening by nicking the theatre company’s loo rolls, which in turn gives poor Joyce something of an urgent problem when she came to the meeting late, thanks to being held up in traffic. Yes, the problem was resolved, the loo rolls get put back, much to the relief in every sense for poor Joyce.
So do the company get to put on that play? Does Gordon get away with naming his play on a dreadful pun and a well known musical (The Phantom of the Opera…ting Theatre)? Does Joyce’s legendary banana cake kill Bernard?
Those questions will give you a good idea of the humour this play demonstrated so well.
Fabulous fun, wonderful performances, and many laugh out loud moments. I loved the sniping between Margaret and roguish Bernard as this showed wonderful characterisation, which is my great love. The dialogue sparkled and there was wonderful interplay between the four characters.
Also this is the only play where discussion about the blue whale’s penis made sense! Can’t see that happening again soon. It’s also not something I expected to write on Chandler’s Ford Today but there you go!
Review of Bombshells
Bombshells is a series of five character studies. The directors for Bombshells were Carrie Laythorpe and Clare Britton. The production assistant was Liz Finbrow. The voice of the announcer/Mr Burbridge was provided by Stuart Wineberg and the piano music provided by Carrie Laythorpe. (The songs in some of the character studies had music arranged for them by Carrie).
Theresa McTerry played by Carrie Laythorpe introduces us to Theresa on her wedding day.
Winsome Webster played by Clare Britton showed us a widow who is a lot more lively than she appeared at first.
Mary O’Donnell again played by Carrie Laythorpe shows us a girl desperate to win the local talent show again (and has to think of a new act in two minutes given her rival, the dreaded Angela, “nicks” what Mary was going to do and Mary realises she has to do something unrehearsed to stand any chance of winning).
Tiggy Entwhistle played by Jenni Prior is about a woman giving a talk on cacti but nothing goes right with the presentation and the truth about her relationship breakdown with the unfaithful Harry also comes out.
Zoe Struthers played by Lizzie Harden is about a former bombshell who is determined to show she still has “it” but is knocking back the alcohol as she talks to us.
Each of the stories showed humour and pathos. Tiggy is the one I felt for the most. You could feel her anger and bitterness at Harry but I also worried about what she might go on to do. Her character had the potential to self-harm or, more likely, in my view go after Harry and make him pay.
Zoe, unless she could face up to her alcohol problem, would almost certainly end up as a dead drunk, probably literally and there was a hint of that tragedy likely to come.
Theresa showed us as her story went on just how shallow she is without seeming to realise she was giving herself away.
But I liked Winsome. She’s the kind of older lady who will not be browbeaten by anything or anyone and still loves life (and, it has to be said, men!). I love characters like that.
What I found interesting was that Mary refers back to Theresa in her sketch. That helps bring both characters to life. It is a technique I’ve used in my own flash and short story writing. We are also left in no doubt what Mary thinks of Theresa. You can get a lot of venom into one word – trollop!
The monologues were great character portrayals. Each of the ladies revealed more than they realised as their stories unravelled and the performances were excellent.
My favourite part of the evening was Lockdown in Little Grimley though. I love the kind of humour that comes through in plays like this.
You can sometimes get what I call flash moments in a story when the character reveals something of themselves they did not mean to show (all part of the performance of course).
In this case, the flash moment for me was Gordon deliberately leaving one of the nicked loo rolls in Bernard’s holdall. Why? Because Gordon knows Bernard has had a tough time of it (partly because Bernard did not just have lockdown to contend with, Bernard spent lockdown with his wife!). I loved that. Thought it was nicely done. (And it tells you all you need to know about Bernard’s wife. A similar technique was used for Mrs Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, the original TV and radio series).
Am already looking forward to the next Chameleons performance. Welcome back, everyone. It is so good to have you back.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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