Reviews: I Thought I Heard A Rustling
|Carol Monzeglio & Andy Kirtley|
Which leaves only the interaction between the two main characters to rescue us from a potentially mind-numbing evening's theatre. Even here, Plater seems to have deliberately tried to make things more difficult for himself. Sparks are hard to strike between Ellen and Bill when she so quickly falls in with his deception and he so rapidly succumbs to the arcane joys of library cataloguing. Nor is there any sexual attraction between them to spice the dish. As for the final moral dilemma she faces, when she has to decide whether to go along with a pack of lies in order to save her "little palace of truth", she gives in far too easily to make the problem appear anything like the weighty issue we're invited to believe it is.
Well, that's what I thought after reading the script and before seeing the CoPS production. The greatest compliment I can pay the company is that I had an enjoyable evening despite the shortcomings of the play, though their undoubted skill didn't make me revise my basic opinion of the piece. Having now seen it as well as read it, I'm not sure anyone could have done that, not even Dame Judi.
Carol Monzeglio, as librarian Ellen, and Andy Kirtley, as the fraudulent "poet" Bill, both gave excellent performances which convinced us we were seeing real people. They worked together very well, and both had mastered the difficult art of appearing to be really listening to what the other was saying, without the kind of exaggerated reactions that less experienced actors sometimes stoop to in pursuit of that aim. Most important of all, they (and indeed all the cast) got the comedy right. I didn't spot a single joke that flopped, which is pretty unusual on the amateur stage. It's fair to say that between them they made the evening. I thought though that Bill could have smiled a bit more, and Ellen a bit less; a more coolly ironic demeanour, especially at the beginning, would have made her eventual capitulation more effective. The only other general criticism I have of them applies to some extent to all the actors: not enough was thrown away; too much emphasis was sometimes applied to lines that would have benefited from a more casual approach. You have a wonderfully intimate space at COPS, which allows you a subtlety denied to those who act in bigger theatres. There were several occasions when a lighter touch would have worked better.
Mark James, who played the journalist and unpublished novelist Nutley, is an excellent comic actor who added a lot to the success of the main partnership. I particularly enjoyed his embarrassed reaction after proposing "I love you" as one of the routine lies used in everyday life, a nice bit of business that was exaggerated enough to be funny but not so much as to jeopardise its truthfulness. But he should beware of over-exploiting his marvellously mobile face: his reaction to Bill's hatchet job on his trilogy sacrificed truth for comic effect, and the director should have reined him in at that point.
|Carol Monzeglio, Claudia McKelvey & Mark James|
It was a good set, with one important reservation: it had fewer books in it than any library work room I've ever seen, and I worked in public libraries for ten years. Given the plot-line emphasis on the lack of space, that was an unfortunate failing. More bookshelves, especially downstage right, would have given Ellen an excuse to get up from her desk more often than she did. A filing cabinet up-stage left would also have been useful for the same reason. I thought it a pity that the tabs were left partly open for the scenes in the civic centre, but I'm not familiar with the restrictions imposed by your stage, so that may be unfair comment. The placing of the two desks could have been improved - I would have put Bill's nearer the down-stage left corner and Ellen's nearer the up-stage right, which would have opened up the centre of the stage and also given a diagonal line between Bill and Ellen when they were both seated, always a more interesting arrangement than the almost straight-across line we actually got.
Props were excellent, and I particularly liked the trilogy, which was both funny and authentic looking. Most impressive of all was the match between the book titles mentioned by Ellen and the actual volumes she was holding. Nothing is more irritating than seeing a book used on stage which perfectly obviously can't be the one a character is referring to, but it's a distressingly common fault.
The music was well chosen, and the lighting - well, as someone who has in the past designed and operated lights, I will only say that I didn't notice it. No lighting designer can hope for higher praise.
Experienced directors know well that if a play flops it's their fault, whereas if it succeeds it's all down to the actors. I've pointed out the things I thought could have been better, but I haven't praised the directors for the much greater number of things that were absolutely right. So let me say in conclusion that I thought this an excellent production of a curate's egg of a play, and I'm certain that good direction had a great deal to do with the enjoyment I and the rest of the audience got from it.
John Davies has been involved in amateur theatre in various places for nearly forty years, mainly as an actor and director. For the last two years he has been Chairman of the Barn Theatre, Welwyn Garden City.
Review: John Davies
Photographs: Steve Beeston