Great Baddow Memorial Hall, Chelmsford
Wednesday 2nd May 2012
In celebration of their 30th anniversary year, TAB have chosen to produce an evening of one-act plays wittily entitled 4Play. With no discernible connection between the four pieces at all, they were chosen perhaps for their diversity, and offered an overall cast of 14 different performers the opportunity to tread the boards to mark the occasion.
The entertainment began with Jimmie Chinn's In By The Half, a sentimental black comedy directed by Joanna Windley-Poole, who also played daughter Ursula, the surprise visitor. Madam, expertly portrayed by Sara Nower despite being decades too young, is a veteran actress assisted through her eccentric advancement in years by beleaguered housemaid Doris, wonderfully characterised by Barbara Llewellyn. A charming cameo by founder member David Saddington as the Doctor, and a sprightly performance by promising young actress Hannah Mears as acting student Sylvia, with her speech impediment wrapping its way around a series of tongue twisters, completed the cast. A rounded and engaging plot with artfully developed characters made this a well chosen and entertaining playlet.
Helen Quigley directed the next piece, Joining the Club by David Tristram, a relationship comedy examining the moment Jenny (Helena Jeavons) is to tell her husband Tom (Gary Penman) of her newly discovered pregnancy. A well written sketch with a particularly amusing script, which could have been played upon much more if the cast had a far surer grasp of the lines. The appreciative audience were certainly left chuckling into the interval however, despite the periods of hesitancy, so if the cast relax through the week this should develop into a very funny end to the first half.
Supernatural drama The Edge by Steve Carley opened the second act with suspense and intrigue. Three well cast actors; Jacob Burtenshaw as confident broker Stuart, Mike Nower as intense psychiatrist Paul, Roger Saddington as protagonist Marcus; worked hard to maintain both pace in their delivery and tension in the revelation of the story. A little predictable perhaps - one-act doesn't allow time for the twists and turns one may expect from a full length play of this style - but the cast were committed to the story and never allowed the plot to become melodramatic. Well directed by John Mabey, with particularly effective use of lighting in the denouement, this choice worked well to contrast to the evening's lighter pieces.
Visitors from Chicago by Neil Simon was the excerpt chosen to complete the series, taken from the film California Suite (for which the superlative Maggie Smith won her first Oscar), directed by Joe Kennedy. Two couples have been playing tennis on their shared summer holiday and Mort (Matthew Jones) has had to bring his wife Beth (Kelly McGibney) back to their hotel room with an injured ankle, supposedly the fault of overenthusiastic game play by their friends Stu (Bruce Thomson) and his wife Bree (Joanna Gent). Styled as a farce, there was not enough control over the choreography of each imbricating comedy element - both words and actions too often overlapped making the scene confusingly, rather than amusingly, frantic. That said, Bruce Thomson's performance, as Stu vents his frustration in a lengthy diatribe against his friend, was an individual highlight of the night.
Overall, Theatre at Baddow have produced an enjoyable evening of entertainment, although it sometimes felt as though it had been brought together in a bit of a rush. The high quality achieved in their last few productions is what we have come to expect, and hopefully their new branch out into "Studio Productions" in July will not allow focus to be lost for October's Deathtrap.