The Coarse Acting Plays

The Coarse Acting Plays, by Michael Green, Rupert Bean & Simon Brett, was directed by Jan Rae with the assistance of Sharren Taylor, with interludes by Gill Daly, musical direction by Paul Grimwood and choreography by Jenny Gammon. The play was performed at the Alleyn's Great Hall, from 26th to 29th October 2016.

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Review by Bill Bailey

When I first heard that Jan Rae was intending to direct plays based on or inspired by Michael Green's book, I was a little surprised but mainly intrigued. How would she put on a successful production which would largely consist of a series of calamities on (and off ) stage? Would the plays require bad acting or possibly extra good acting i.e. Good actors acting badly? Is coarse acting different from bad acting?   In fact we had a highly entertaining evening in a series of four spoof plays, a classic whodunnit,  a Jane Austen romance, an over-the-top Chekhov and The Vagabond Prince, a cross between the Vagabond King and The Student Prince.

The entertainment began as soon as we arrived at the theatre when we were welcomed by the earnest vicar, Gill Daly and assorted members of The Sir James Smallbone Theatrical Society who were raising funds for The Miserable Mothers of Impropriety - a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dulwich Players! The local worthy who introduced the plays and provided continuity (sort of) was Lady Delia McStruthers-SmithGibbins magnificent looking and brilliantly played by Jenny Gammon. She was frequently interrupted by Helen the Stage Manager who was

in the midst of a relationship crisis and lets everyone know it. Lady Delia inadvertently lets slip a private address in one of her introductions and thereafter became increasingly tearful and very very drunk (as they say in The Fast Show).

The first play, Streuth, by Michael Green was an utterly corny whodunnit. The highlight was probably the entrance and cameo performance of the butler with the prosthetic arm played by Paul Sykes. Anita Etheridge was a very convincing Miss Marple lookalike and everyone else was believable in their various hackneyed roles.

In an evening like this both actors and the audience have to warm up and I felt that by the Jane Austen piece, Pride at Southanger Park, they  had done so.  William Squires, the reluctant and awkward suitor played by Michael Marsden made a wonderful contrast with Cecily's true love, Marcus D'Angelo, excellently played by David Gresham, a new member. The ladies were all suitably Jane Austen-ish and Stefan Nowak excelled as the Reverend Giles Henry, although looking like a rather exotic bishop - presumably the only clerical garb available.  At one point the religious tome he carries concealing his script is pinched by Sir Thomas Bottomley to prop up a chair one leg of which has collapsed leaving the Reverend literally speechless- a coarse acting classic. Another was when, after the lights went off and on in error the ice cream lady in the person of Tracy Brook came on loudly offering ice cream thinking we had reached the interval.

After the real interval we were entertained by The Cherry Sisters by Michael Green, a wonderful spoof of Chekhov. Having recently seen The Seagull at The National Theatre I was in Chekhov mode and it is not difficult to take him off. I loved the names of the characters! The initial tableau was superb with the sisters very well played by Judy Douglas, Rachael Crowther and Emily Lamm. The funniest moment was one of pure farce when the aged servant Piles played by Roger Orr was plying endless cups of tea from a very temperamental samovar ending with Michael Marsden's hat being filled with water which he then proceeded to put on. I hope Roger can now stand upright having been bent double for the entire part.

The last play, The Vagabond Prince was by Simon Brett who has done brilliant comedy on radio. At times one almost felt one was watching a straight rendering but the soldiers soon reminded us that this was a send up. Again the characters's names were very amusing. Philippa Watts, new to the Players, sang beautifully (no really!)  and Andrew Cunningham was a match for her. The whole play was performed with great energy.

The evening ended with song and dance and general jollification - well done,  Jan and all the actors and production crew!

Review by Brian Greene for the Dulwich Society Magazine

The Players have offered its loyal and increasingly large audience a varied fare of drama over the past year, Their production in October was no exception and comedy  much have brought welcome light relief to the cast and crew, following the brilliant but harrowing The House of Bernada Alba and Murder in the Cathedral. Coming ‘indoors’ also made life easier for the stage crew after the well received but technically difficult and strenuous production of The Merry Wives of Windsor staged in the Picture Gallery garden and Dulwich park in the summer.​

The venue, the Great Hall at Alleyn’s was new to the Players but not so to some of the older members of the audience who remember Sir Donald Wolfit congratulating a young John Stride on his Hamlet and where Michael Croft embryonic National Youth Theatre first got off the ground.

Long before The Play That Goes Wrong (and its subsequent reincarnations) appeared, charting the trials and tribulations of staging both amateur and professional productions, Michael Green provided a joyous tribute to the world of amateur theatre. Here often (but not in the Dulwich Players!) actors can remember his (or her) lines, but not the order in which they come or ‘who remembers everyone else’s lines apart from his/ her own’.    

Jan Rae’s presentation was spot-on, and one suspects, quite difficult to achieve,   the four playlets, Streuth, The Cherry Sisters, Pride of Southanger Park and The Vagabond Prince helpfully parody well-known works so the audience could mentally fill the gaps. And there were some hilarious intended gaps to fill. Jenny Gammon admirably played the role of the embarrassing am-dram chairman introducing the plays, perfectly interrupted by an inebriated love-lorn stage manager, and competition from the parish bazaar, but ‘calmed’ by the impossibly optimistic vicar, Gill Daly. Stefan Nowak gave us a splendid interpretation of

another cleric, and Paul Sykes presented us with a nightmarish butler. A great evening was rounded off with a boisterous musical finale.