MARGARET and JO - Laura Marvell-James
FIREMAN - Gary Davison
Review by Ian Clarke, EDP, Thursday 8 March 2018
"At the start of its 70th year, huge credit must go to Dereham Theatre Company for taking on the challenging Passionate Woman for its spring play.
With just four roles, a huge amount of narrative and a short rehearsal time, it was a daunting prospect.
But the cast excelled in bringing to life the stage version of Kay Mellor’s true story of doting mother Betty who finds it hard to accept losing her beloved son and on his wedding day relives the passionate affair she had in her youth.
Karen Bates brilliantly played the demanding lead role, with terrific support from Paul Ellingford (Mark), Pawel Jelenski (Craze) and Andy Lofthouse (Donald).
The disappointment was the size of the opening night audience of the moving and at times comical production. The society deserves more support from the town."
Review by Stephen P. E. Hayter, EDP, NODA Regional Representative Area 4 North, Friday 9 March 2018
"How wonderful it was to find myself back at Dereham’s impressive Memorial Hall for another Dereham Theatre Company production. I have to say, there were times when I wondered if I would ever see the inside of that hallowed building again, and if I would ever be re-acquainted with the lovely people there with whom I had become friends. But life (and Am Dram) is (in the words of Dick Van Dyke) indeed a “Rum Go” and here I was…. taking my seat for Kay Mellor’s “A Passionate Woman”. I was familiar with the playwright, but knew absolutely nothing of the play. I did know that Karen Bates was taking centre stage and there is never a time when that is not a truly marvellous thing.
The story was a little surreal if I am honest. Middle-aged housewife rather disrupts the smooth execution of her son’s wedding by hiding in the attic and imagining (or perhaps invoking) a lost love. Throw in an indifferent husband and that is the whole set up. Nothing much happens … except a lot of emotion and a ton and a half of superb acting.
Everything about this production was classy. The set (design by Paul Woodhouse and construction by Gary Davison, Adam Gooch, Kevin Jude and Chris Smart) was an excellent representation of the inside of an attic (or loft if you prefer) which effortlessly transformed into the outside roof of the house. It was brilliantly conceived and looked fantastic. The dressing was a masterpiece with plenty of the usual loft type suspects. Sound and Lighting (Technical Adviser Declan Matwij and ETS Sound and Light) were both truly amazing. The sound was consistent and at perfectly the right level with a breath-taking change from a record playing to the full sound when we slipped into a memory scene. Very creative, just like the lighting effects most notably the blue light towards the end. For a simple play a lot of effort had gone into the technicals which really gave this production the feel of a professional touring company presentation. Costumes (Wardrobe Mistress Michelle Blanks combined with Dereham Theatre Company) were contemporary and did everything they needed to do. I liked very much that the gentleman’s wedding suits fitted well and looked every bit like they had been hired for the forthcoming nuptials. Complimentary hair and make up (Sophie Blanks) did everything they needed to do and could not be faulted.
With only four in the cast (more or less!) there was no supporting cast, but in the smallest part (just) I loved Pawel Jelenski as Craze. As Betty’s former lover and a ghost from her past he was enigmatic and totally compelling. Confident with his lines, he delivered the perfect characterisation. The same can also be said of Andy Lofthouse as Donald. During the play he made me feel so desperately sorry for him as he managed to pull off a 360-degree character transformation from grumpy, disinterested husband to a dynamic fighter prepared to do anything to win back his wife. I found his performance moving and extremely powerful.
Having missed “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, I had missed Paul Ellingford’s debut with The Dereham Theatre Company. I am guessing it was pretty good because as devoted son, Mark, he was sublime. A light comic touch allowed him to get every ounce of laughter out of the delicate comedy whilst a strong connection to the emotion helped him demonstrate to me (and all the assembled audience) the close bond with his mother, and the complications with breaking away with his intended. He delivered his lines with robust certainty and never looked like he would miss one.
Karen Bates is an outstanding actress! She always has been and always will be. She can deliver two lines, over three minutes, with a forty second pause in the middle and hold your interest while you hold your breath. I don’t think anyone delivers lines better than she does and, in this production, she had a mountain of them. As well as being an accomplished wordsmith, Mrs Bates is a superb character actress. I have seen her do high comedy, the darkest of pathos and all points in between - each accomplished with a considerable amount of style. In this production of “A Passionate Woman”, she had to confront her past, deliberate on her present and consider her future, and the audience could do nothing but follow her through all her highs and lows. She was utterly mesmerising and, in a play with little action, she held it all together in way that I am not sure many other performers could. It was very simply a masterclass in character acting which frankly is what Karen Bates always delivers! To her, penultimate paragraph honours go…. with no-one else coming close!
Actually, that is not completely true because in a production like this, where next to nothing happens, it takes a Director of great skill to keep things crisp and exciting. My hat is completely off to Paul Woodhouse. Although it doesn’t say so in the programme notes … I am sure someone told me it was his first Directorial outing, although this is untrue after ‘Blackadder’ for Dereham and various credits at Old Buckenham. Mr Woodhouse should be extremely proud of himself, and his cast, for delivering such a quality production and for a piece of pin-point technical direction that simply could not be faulted! I am not entirely sure I share his devotion to this play - the ending took a sharp detour away from realism. After I had been convinced to accept the return of the dead lover and his direct impact on the present, the sudden appearance of a hot air balloon took my (normally accommodating) suspension of disbelief to its very limits … and maybe just a bit further. In a piece that was so totally grounded … and with characters that gave everyone someone to associate with, was it necessary to go out with such a big bang. But these are criticisms of the play and not of the performances or the production. Of those … I have none!"