Heatstroke by Eric Chappell - directed by Chris Wright
Eric Chapell's reputation for comedy is well known but I had not encountered this play before and it is sometimes difficult to imagine what it will be like when brought off the page. Comedy is a very demanding genre but can be hugely rewarding for both cast and audience. I was looking forward to see how the group would tackle this.
Front of House Dave Hancock, the company, Piers & Marion Potiphar
We were warmly welcomed to this spacious venue and all the front of house systems were well organised. A nice touch were the archive folders on display of previous productions for audience members to look through.
Programmes, publicity & box office Janet Hancock
The programmes used simple images well to enhance the theme of the play and information I thought the Production team page was fun. I also appreciated the information on Eric Chappell and the helpful cast notes.
Production manager Tricia Childs
The production certainly felt well co-ordinated with a good backstage team in place, efficient front of house and well supported cast.
Stage manager Chris Saxton
Changes to the set were managed quietly and efficiently - clearly a well rehearsed operation.
Set design & construction Chris Saxton, Geoff Hadley & the company
The set worked well, I liked the simple colour scheme and the touch of terracotta gave a Spanish feel to the room. Lots of effort had gone in to dressing the set appropriately with a nice blend of ornaments, plants and pictures. The furniture too was just like a holiday villa and the suggestion of a garden and pool beyond was effectively done.
Lighting Dave Hancock
This was gentle and unobtrusive with the feel of Spanish sunshine just outside. Well done.
Sound Chris Saxton
Sound cues were efficiently executed and supported the production well.
Prompt Tricia Childs
A necessary presence which gives the actors a sense of security it was disappointing you had to be used.
Props & continuity Carol Danaher
Carol did really well with this, finding identical holdalls and producing bundles of money, flippers, snorkel along with all the other requirements must have proved an interesting challenge. This is a role that people often relish when it requires something a little out of the ordinary and Carol certainly rose to the challenge.
Costumes The Company
These looked good and really helped the characterisations, Fay's comfortable travelling outfit and handbag in those gentle colours worked well and Dodie's red dress gave us a hint as to her role. Howard's hat and jacket on his first entrance just added a touch of artistic flamboyance to his appearance. Sam's rather understated outfit made the addition of the sombrero later on all the funnier. Moon's suit gave him an air of authority which helped with his disguise as the police officer while Rayner's slightly more casual combination of jacket and trousers led all of us to wonder if he really was the criminal. Good choices all round.
Sam Spencer Syd Smith
Syd looked right for this role and had an appropriately downtrodden air about him at the start of the play. He did seem very hesitant at times and was not secure with his lines in places which did slow the pace down. This was a shame as at other moments he showed he was capable of tackling moments of comedy with real gusto such as when he was speaking 'Spanish' complete with broom and sombrero. In conversations with other characters I would like to have heard more variety of pitch and tone to lend more expression to his lines. There was the potential to be more assertive at times and point up the changes that the character goes through.
Fay Spencer Helen Langley
From the beginning Helen gave us the portrait of the caring, considerate wife and she adopted a very gentle, almost cooing quality to her voice which supported this characterisation well. As the character who adopted the moral high ground while others succumbed to greed the moment when she had to empty her pockets was very funny. She also gave us some 'laugh out loud' moments when dressed with flippers and snorkel as her body language had been quite restrained until the grand swimming gestures. I would like to have seen her develop the sneakier side of her character more, the potential is there in the script.
Howard Booth Andy Millward
Andy's first entrance told us all we needed to know about this character. Strong body language and strident manner supported the character's sense of self importance. Vocally strong with plenty of declarative lines the exchanges between Howard and Dodie were particularly effective. He was also very good in the 'role' of the intruder and his delivery helped to sustain the pace. A very confident performance.
Dodie Angela Gee
For us this was the strongest performance in the play. Angela's timing and reactions were spot on making her portrayal of the character convincing. She managed the changes of mood well, nicely assertive with Howard highlighting his tiresome behaviour and suitably contrite when faced with the person she believed to be 'Rachel'. Angela has a good, clear voice and used intonation effectively to bring out nuances of expression.
Rayner Geoff Hadley
This smaller, supporting role was well handled especially when Geoff had to become increasingly sleepy. He had a solid, reliable air to him with just a hint that he could be the violent criminal. This ambiguity worked in his favour and allowed the other characters to respond and react well. Clear delivery of lines and stage business was confidently done,
Moon Jeremy Pruce
Although this character comes into the play at a very late stage Jeremy managed to make an impact as the criminal hiding behind the pretence, of being the police officer. His threatening demeanour was unfortunately undermined by a spoonerism which broke the tension and caused a laugh when Jeremy 'ad libbed' around it and as much as the play is a comedy this was unhelpful.
Director , Chris Wright
A play such as this requires good pace, clear, secure delivery and naturalistic movement to offset the complex plot and guide the audience through its twists and turns. The pace was inconsistent which meant that from time to time there was a laboured feel to the action. This occurred mostly in the first half in some of the exchanges between Sam and Fay. Prompts were also necessary and again this had the impact of both slowing the pace and disrupting the action. In the second half the pace was better and the cast seemed more settled. In terms of movement there was an amount of very repetitive gestures and blocking (particularly with Sam and Howard) and I acknowledge that the shape of the stage and the layout of the set may be partly responsible for this but the most convincing sections were where a mixture of levels were deployed. Both Fay and Dodie's movements seemed much more natural and believable. The more active parts of the text such as the 'speaking Spanish' and 'intruder' scenes worked really well with the cast moving fluidly around the set and each other. Switching the holdalls and other stage business was also very effectively handled. The technical side of the production ran very smoothly and there is a strong sense of teamwork within the group. The audience clearly enjoyed the production very much and I feel the cast also had fun. Thank you for your hospitality and the chance to see the production."
Maggi Fisher and Penny Davidson-North Essex Theatre Guild