A miserable rainy evening in February but the thought of a Farnborough Dramatic Society production in the village hall is inviting. But what is happening? Scenery is literally falling apart on the stage. Some actors are missing their cues while others break off in the middle of their lines to complain to the producer about their make-up, their costumes and any other gripe that suddenly assails them. Is the FDS falling apart? Have they reached the end of their dramatic road?
Fear not! For this is FDS's production of the Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's latest venture; a story about an eloping couple who get caught in a snowstorm and who then take refuge in a haunted castle where resides evil Lady Madge Graves and Crematia, her crackpot of a maid. The complications of this production soon become clear. FDS members are playing not only their role of a character in the Townswomen's Guild but also that of the character or characters in the play within a play they are performing. Got it? Or just clear as mud?
Nicola Hollow makes a welcome return to the stage playing the part of the Townswomen's June playing the part of Thelma, the eloping bride. Her intended bridegroom Marty, Townswomen's Lottie, is played by Wendy McDonnell. (You might want to take a break here for a cuppa to revive your wits!). Bear in mind the cast of the play within a play is, of course, an all women production. Make way now for the superb Sue Williams in her roles as Mrs Reece playing mad Lady Madge Graves and Mrs Slaughter and whose masterful ownership of these parts is accompanied by the most hilarious facial contortions.
Louise Friend wins many of the audience's appreciative gasps of laughter as Felicity playing Crematia the maid and, to top it all, award winning Holly Seijo takes on Jasmine who plays the all-male roles of Yokel, Arnold Death, Dr. Blood and Rev. Tombs, all of which are accompanied by mad costume changes, including the use of facial hair, and having to apply various expressions and a variety of voices. Only David Fewkes gets away with one part - that of the Townswomen's producer David who has the unenviable task of trying to get his cast in order.
As the play within a play gets underway the comedy continues at a rattling pace as anything that can go wrong does just that. Doors fly open when they should remain shut. Doors which should remain shut fly open, bookcases fall flat to the stage and in each instance Mark Hollidge, Chris Franks, Barbara Jones and Sylvia Addison can clearly be seen acting the silent parts of the Townswomen's Guild stage crew with the appropriate hilarious facial expressions.
If this wasn't enough there was another treat in store. A poetry competition no less. Louise Friend in her role as Felicity read her 'kitchen disaster' lengthy poem in her bid to win the competition. Nicola Hollow as June read her four-line entry with a suitable sneer at her rival. And then came the third finalist, one Edna Walker. Formerly introduced by Sue Williams playing Mrs Reece the formidable Chairwoman of the Townswomen's Guild, there rose from the hall's audience a familiar and well-loved figure to read her poem entitled 'Tupperware'. This was a superb piece of casting. Here was an actress in Oscar winning mode. An actress who not only sounded like the real thing but who even looked the part. The audience erupted into rapturous applause. I had never seen such a winning portrayal of a real-life character.
A quick referral to the programme announces that the actress playing the role was.... Edna Walker. Had director, Robin Walker, pulled all the stops out to find such a fine actress as this with the same name? An incredible coup for the man obviously in the running of the director of the year award. And the poetry competition? Need you ask? Won of course by Edna Walker whose poem 'Tupperware' will obviously now be included in the BBC's Poetry Please programme.
The Farnborough audience erupted into much applause and even cheering at the end of the real drama society's performance. How difficult it must be, after years of training to get your parts just right, to suddenly be required to make every mistake in the book, miss your cue and to forget who you are meant to be. I was reminded of a feature from the act of the late comedian, Les Dawson, when he sat at a piano and the song he played would result in mayhem. In the words of Eric Morecame "all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order”. Dawson was an accomplished pianist which would make this particular part of his act probably the most difficult. FDS achieved a similar success in this enjoyable production which received well deserved audience approbation.
Oh, and the title? 'The Haunted Through Lounge and Recessed Dining Nook at Farndale Castle' by David McGillivray and Water Zerlin Jnr.
Originally printed in The Farnborough Village Parish Magazine