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Play Produced

PLAY ON!

By Rick Abbot

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pertormed comedy at the 352­ seat. art deco, Stanford Hall

lileatre, Louql7/Jorouql7, three i1mes a year tor 4fj years.

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S e time ago new members o the company talked us into seeing their former company stage Play On!, a play from merica by Rick Abbot. It was wl1ll some trepidation that we crossed Leicestershire one December night to visit a vill age hall company performing a play about a village hall company producing a play in their village hall - in a village hall! We have successfully tackled the play­

cast wander back on" without any indication of precisely who, where from or to. (It's enough to have Noel Coward spinning in his grave.) The author frequently becomes confidentially chatty, and hopelessly colloquial, with instructions such as: "Now pay attention - here's where things get clever". This is irritating and , of course, useless. Furthermore there are no effects or lighting plots, so you

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"10 'lever there IS always the 'ear that we find this sort of 'l9 unny as we are 'in the ouslness ' but audiences won't ~ ssarily follow the in jokes. Ilh Play On! we need not ave worried. The audience­ luding ourselves - clearly v ed every minute and it qUickly found itself on our 'to do' Itst.

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PLOT AND

CHARACTERS

Play On! is not easy to produce. Indeed it is one of ' hose plays that if you first read it without seeing it fails to com mend itself at all. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the play is heavy with mericanisms. You can leave mese in if you want to set the play in America. But beware ­ 'ou will need ten actors who ::-all sustain the accent. In teal· ty the play makes the transition to rural England with ease. You will need to rc ughly anglicise the thing. his is an operation that I can only compare with the weeding o a large garden but it is worth tile effort. Once completed no one would realise it hadn't

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'oeen wi1'!'!en wl'!n an't:ngllsn village hall in mind. Secondly Play On! is not

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particularly well written. Stage

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yourselves. Why then bother with this play at all? Well Play On! has an inner structure that is very clever and the end result is painfully funny. The running gags are superb and the range of characters magnificent. The playwright also gives you a free hand to insert extra material so you can be creative. Play On! is written for a cast of ten. It is a play about an amateur company - a very amateur company - attempting a period mystery called Murder Most Foul. This is set in the great hall of "Dudley Manor" in any period from 1880 to 1930 as they can't get it right. Furniture, costumes and telephones don 't quite match, as the company doesn't really know what it is doing and in all cases of doubt follows the first maxim of the coarse actor, "the audience won't notice a thing ". Murder Most Foul has been specially written for them by local playwright Phyllis Montague who, amongst her many other failings, is blissfully unaware that the title has already been used by Agatha Christie. Phyllis is a highly

eccenlr'tc lady at 'Indeterminate age who can't remember her plot and who constantly writes and re-wates her pray to the

hopeless COrTtusiOrT at all concerned. Phyllis also has some undefined control over the use of the hall , which means the company is limited in its control over her. We had Phyllis as the widow of a local bigwig after whom the hall was named - the Walter Montague Memorial Hall. Other characters include the six-strong cast of Murder Most Foul led by Henry and Polly playing Lord and Lady Dudley. Henry and Polly are sixty-ish, ~~~ ~~ position as senior members of the company. Polly in particular never fails to remind all concerned that Phyllis Montague is a personal' friend of hers. Polly is also fat. The fatter the better as the play frequently dissolves in fat jokes. The ,i nstigator of most of these is Saul Watson who plays Dr. Rex Forbes the famous scientist. Here is your villain and you can make him as villainous as you like. Dr. Forbes is eventually unmasked as Stanley Grimes, criminal laboratory assistant to the late Dr. Forbes, who has murdered his master to get his hands on the fabulous White Ruby of Randipur. As in all the best melodramas ownership of this fabulous gem means inheriting the curse of Randipur as well. You get the idea. It would take a good company to get away with this nonsense but a good company this is not! Billy - wooden actor aged twenty-ish - plays Stephen Sellars the famous explorer, who exposes the perfidious Grimes and incidentally wins the hand of wealthy socialite Diana Lassiter. Diana is played by Violet - wooden actress

aged twenty-ish - whom we made messianic in her determination to fall foul of every conce{vable acc{dent

that can Irappen on a stage. Last of the six is Smithy, a schoolgirl playing Doris the maid with an utter inanity way beyond her years. Character parts for all. Play On! also gives us the Director, the Stage Manager and a technician for the company. This is another of its strengths. These parts can be either sex, giving you a play for three men and seven women, or a play for six men and four women, or any combination in ~~ ~ actresses and one actor, giving Gerry the Director to one of our most experienced actresses, herself a director. Aggie the Stage Manager went to one of our bright young hopefuls, and Lewis , the technician , to an experienced actor. These three characters are important as they provide anchors for the crowd of idiots they are tryi ng to control. Furthermore, the play is written with them shouting many lines offstage. But we decided to bring them on, resulting in a lot of frantic rushing about in stark contrast to the cast of Murder Most Foul who remained horrifically static throughout.

CASTING We had no trouble with auditions, as many members of the company had long identified Play On! as a play they wanted to be involved with. Indeed the author's carte blanche let us add two minor characters in the form of Mrs. Dillenger - a ferocious cleaning lady and Herbert her side-kick, replete with cloth cap and carpet cleaner. We had them popping on at the worst possible times to add an JANUARY


3. 'llost surreal air to the ongoing chaos. They gave us a Inal role cal1 of five men and seven women , including two 'le 'Icomers and a hefty o alanx of experienced aracter players .

REHEARSALS The great strength of Play On! is its inner structure. Act :)ne reveals a rehearsal of , rder Most Foul with a large part of Act III and the love scene from Act II. (One of the _hllghts) Act Two is a dress 'ehearsal for Murder Most Foul - .ct I with a large part of Act III "'~ain . Act Three is dominated , Ile parts of Murder Most ::_ul we have already seen, in "3 _:ual performance. This r'Tleans that the real aud ience s' to know Act III of Murder Foul and are waiting for - to disasters they have essed to happen once

- 'C . Except they don 't. The

e , and unexpected pops up

n al1y as the company get Ofse. Increasingly unable to ~ 'lith costumes , wigs , s and the mass re-writes : . : e Indefatigable Phyl1is. ;:;ehearsals followed our . • - - ard pattern of weekly casting at the end of _ e unti l the end of August. - _,; a week from then on. - 's: imes a week for the last : '. eel<5 , plus a walk­ : - .;:J on stage and two . : - rehearsals before first

E SET - "e se needed our -="::e to see a village hall .: J adual1y transformed - 00 set for Murder Most Play On! is a three-act _-'J I is not possible to _ :0 WOo The secret of ';...::~~ IS to keep the box set ;. : . e y simple, in line with

the portrayed amateurish company of Murder Most Foul. Act One opened with the sides of "Dudley Manor's" so­ called great hal1 in situ but the back wal1 of the Walter Montague Memorial Hall visible upstage. Fold-up chairs were in place of the period fu rn iture and stepladders, pots of paint and general brick-a-brac were in evidence. In the first interval (20 minutes) we flew in hal1way and garden backers and downstage of these, the entire back wal1 of the box set. Door flats were filled w ith bookcases on castors , doors were hung where necessary and the proper furniture was substituted for the fold-up chairs. This effected quite a transformation, such that the audience gasped in appreciation on curtain-up for Act Two . In the second interval (5 minutes) we needed only to add a drinks tray and some potted plants and "Dudley Manor" was complete.

LIGHTING AND EFFECTS Lighting was kept bright and simple. However, both Gerry and Phyl1is needed to enter and act from the auditorium for a part of the play and one seat on the front row was therefore reserved for Gerry in Acts One and Two , and Phyl1is in Act Three. This required a spot to light this seat. Also the house lights remained partially dimmed at the beginning of each act until the play within commenced. In addition we had to solve the problem of the Murder Most Foul intervals in Act Three. Play On! has speeded­ up action leading into quick

curtains. We decided this was unworkable and would only confuse the real audience who, despite the chaos , needed to perceive the difference between Murder Most Foul and reality throughout. As a result we ended each act of Murder Most Foul with a blackout and music that then cut to the next act. Effects are many and used with consummate inaccuracy by the Murder Most Foul company. Telephone bel1s, car horns, screeches, screams and gunshots al1 occur in the wrong places, with a crescendo stopping the show at the end of Act One. There is also a spectacular thunderstorm in Act Three. Of course al1 these were actually operated by our real backstage team who knew exactly what they were doing.

COSTUMES As befitted a rehearsal, everyone dressed casual1y (tee-shirts and jeans) in Act One. Of course Henry's casual was country tweed and Pol1y looked like Margot in The Good Life. Act Two saw the Murder Most Foul cast in period costume. Act Three had Gerry in appropriate evening dress and the stage crew in blacks. The exception to all this was the eccentric Phyllis who appeared increasingly exotic as the action progressed. Also Mrs. Dil1enger and Herbert wore overal1s throughout. Though we raised a laugh by having her appear at the end ­ gorgeously attired as for Royal Ascot - to present Phyllis with a bouquet.

MUSIC The use of music was important to subconsciously

tell the audience the difference between the play and the play within . Stanford Hal1 Theatre boasts a magnificent 1920's Wurlitzer theatre organ and we have our own organists, so there were no problems here. The music for Murder Most Foul needs to be as hackneyed as possible for a period drama so we chose a recording of The Ride of the Valkyries which had the audience tittering every night.

ON THE NIGHT On the night we let Mrs. Dillenger and Herbert loose in the auditorium for some cleaning as the audience were taking their seats. An angry manager (played by me) appeared trying to get rid of them. (The cleaning should have been finished hours ago!) This set the scene for qn evening that our audience enjoyed immensely. Running time without intervals was 135 minutes with curtain up at 7.30 and' down by 10.10. Try Play On! It's hard work but fun. Which is what the theatre is all about!

AI1 scripts, scores and libretti

featured in 'The Play Produced '

and 'The Musical Produced'

can be obtained from

SE RV IN G AMAT EUR TH EA TRF S: NCE 1899

Music and scripts available for all.

Discounts for members

Tel: 0870 770 2480 0 Fax: 0870 770 2490

email: everyone@noda.org.uk

webSite: www.noda.org.uk

Amateur Stage

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Play On! - January 2004