With a title so wonderfully long, it is little wonder that most of the advertising failed to mention the start time of “They Came From Mars And Landed Outside The Farndale Church Hall In Time For The Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning” at the Shaftesbury Theatre, Dawlish between 9-13th August 2011. Louise Allison directs a comedy by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jnr from the range of Farndale plays.
At this stage, the Jolly Lion must confess to this being a first trip to Farndale, where bad am dram is at a premium. For this production The Farndale Avenue Ladies are staging a sci-fi thriller, with the joys of knowing that the author is in the audience. Poor Mrs Reece (with an adorably dry delivery from Marilyn Adams) is trying to control a production where the audience are in place but the set is not yet built. As she rallies her troops to bring all the furniture and props onto the stage, out came a range of items to dress the set of the vicarage that have surely never been seen in anybody’s home but seem to languish at the back of every am dram prop store.
Paula Smith as Norah gets a bulk of the early work, establishing early props shortages, having to make do using an iron as a telephone. When the alien invades, Kerry White-Chesire plays Felicity playing Indeset the Alien, complete with dramatic voice. A voice that she can’t sustain because it hurts too much. And so the tone is set for an evening of great hilarity.
These plays are clearly written for am dram lovers who can see their productions for what they are. Anyone who has ever acted on stage with somebody missing, late on, drunk or heavily medicated, somebody who learns and says their stage directions whilst performing, misplaced a prop and had to improvise quickly or spilt food and drink on stage will appreciate the humour here. There are even jokes for those working backstage, as people fail to get into their light or fluffed sound cues are given. And yet, the audience were loud and laughing, suggesting I narrow too much the scope of a play that all can enjoy.
For personal appeal, during the interval and after the show the laughing continued because it led us to look back and laugh at our own performance horror stories, but the truth of this show was the technical success. The scene immediately after the interval was a well choreographed ultraviolet journey into outer space – here the jokes were all sight gags crafted and executed without any suggestion of the amateurism mocked throughout the first half.
Highlights include Thelma, played by Liz Wedlake, venting her frustrations at having to play both Jimmy and his beautiful older sister Susan, and then having to play a love scene alone because Hilda (Emily Bainbridge) is too ill to make it to the stage.
Peter Hollands plays Gordon, who helps Felicity remove her helmet as Indeset so she can continue to play his stage wife Mrs Allsop in the next scene. He does so by trapping her head in a desk and pulling with a vigour that left this audience member with tears in his eyes.
An amateur group has to be confident of its abilities to stage a production that mocks itself to such an extent. With an audience onside from the outset, this was a successful show. Definately left laughing with them and not at them.
For more information visit: www.dawlishrep.com