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by Eric Chappell

Mary Baird discusses her production for The Festival Players, Loughborough.


as possible. It's very easy to forg et where you left the gun when you were using two fingers of one hand to signify it'


The Festival Players was formed in 1954 when th ere was a death of ilmateur dramiltic gro ups in the area.

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Characterisation grew as rehea rsa ls prog ressed. We felt tha t the play needed a degree of farcical playing and thought that if we went over the top in rehearsal this could b toned down on the stage. John was a very dominant character - pron to loud shouting and over足 l'xcitement. Spriggs beca me ,1 lovable rogue with on irrepressible command of the English language who played on the emotions of each member of the household. Barbara developed a delicat drunkenness and was the twist in the tail whilst Trevor and Jenny remained remarkably wimpisr throughout.

one of mnny!

The orig inal concept was to provide d high level of drama with the entertainmen t of the audience as the primary co nsidern tion. The gToup has put o n four productions each year and th e Nove mb er productio n of TH EFT was the 172nd. We are very lucky to be able to usc Stanford Hall Theatre just o uts ide Lou ghborough. At present the hall belongs to the Co-operati ve Union but the we ll equipped and evoca ti vely decora ted thea tre was built in 1936 by Sir Julian Cahn w ho owned the hall at that time.

Sce~~ Wh en the committee read the script of THEFT we all ag reed that it was a "must" fl)r this seaso n. At las t we had found a th oroughly modern, well written pla y w ith well drawn characters and the potential for a grea t deal of laughter. John and Barbara Miles come back to their house after a celebratory dinn er for thei r 20th wedding anniversary to find that they have been burgled. Staying with them for the weekend are old school friends Trevor ilnd Jenny Farrington. Whilst they ilre allout of the room seil rching for th e burglar, out of the window seat pops Spriggs, forced to hide by their ret urn ilS he tried to open the sa fe. When faced with his victims, Spriggs ilttempts to pass himself off ilS a policeman, cil mplete with bright ye ll ow rubber gloves. Spriggs has obv iously had a good rummage around the house while they were out and throughout the play manages knowingly to destroy tw o seemingly hilpp y marriages and one strong friendship. The beauty of the play is that running throughout the comedy is the basic truth that there are many skeletohs hidden away in cupboards and that people's reactions, when confronted with challenge of temptation, can be quite unex pected .


The November play is always difficult to cast as some of our members do double duty by appearing for a musi cal society the week after our production . We started by cas ting a very experienced actor in the role of John. From that we had to ensure th a t Bar bara, Trevor and Jenn y were all of a similar age. We cast a much younger actor as Spriggs. Even though the original production hJd starred Georg e Cole, we felt that this need not res trict us, as Spriggs' ilge could conceivably be anywhere between 20 and SO!


sched ule of tw o rehearsals per 'Neek. The actress playing Barbara had a week's holiday booked at the beginning of the rehe,1[sal period, I WilS goi ng to be away for a week, and Spriggs worked shifts, so we had to make some adjustments to the pre pared sched ule. It was essentia l that lines were learnt as quickly as possible so we spent very little time blocking. As there was such a small cast the moves see med to change and evolve as we went along. It was nice to be able to tell the actors not to worry if they bumped into each other as this only added to the natural confusion of the action. We only had the chance to use the thea tre for the technical and dress rehearsa l, so doors, window seat and the exact position of entrances and exits had to be imagined in the rehearsa l roo m. We started by using as many of the actual props


We o nly had seven weeks to rehearse and early on agreed a

The Stage Manager and I discLlssed the design whilst he stage足 managed the Sep temb l'r production! I knew that I wanted plenty of open space inside an outside the house and tried t(1 persuade him to hire a ga rd en backcloth. This idea was quick l) qUilshed when we rea lised tha t the action takes place late on an October evening, so it would be dark anyway! We o pted for a largl' g lass area at the back w ith french doors and side w indows. The idea was that the actors would be seen as they chased off into the garden but unfortunately with a black backcloth in fron t of the cycloram:l there was not as much space as r had hoped. We decided not to hiiv another window as I wanted the: stage to sugges t a room that \vilS ill the middle of the house, enabling me to milke full use of exits stage left and right. The window se~ t was set in a sligh t recess stage right and a hole was cut in the ca nvas or the flat behind it to enable Sprigg, to crawl in ilt a suitable point rather than being inca rcerated for eleven pages of script' The stairs leading to the arched exit stage left were "足 godsend - enabling the actors tt) use the different levels to increil the dramatic impact of entrance_ and ex its. The all-important safe was hidd M in the bookcase to stage left of th windows. A most ingeniou, han dle was incorporated behind it to enable it to swing open as called



. e script. We pained marks - dial to signify the numbers . -e were unfortunately not III the audience. Too late w e _ that ins tead of painting the r of the safe black, it would ~n better painted grey to up the door and interior.







\ dy kept to a minimum of u re, much to the ho rror of who I felt knew better than I was one small easy -low backed so tha t it did not . the action be hind it, a d es k chair, a sideboard and a low tabl e centre s tage. Our Stage .-sings expe rt then filled in all ho les with plilnb, flowers ilnd . p' . I had great trouble uilding he r to leave e mpty ves in the bookcase to indica te theft of the Crown Derby and ftl At the start of the play we se t d ~k dra wers on the floor with ty of papers lying around. One - mark th e drawers so the actors I \\' exactly which pos ition they ClI py in the desk! Jolu1 was able leM the papers into the draw('rs the early action thus lea ving the w eI's still out of the d esk for r ba ra 's entrance. Tablecloths and -iett ' from the sideboard were wn about the stage, cushions the floor and the sma ll chair oped over. This gave the actors ~ t:nty to clear "way in the early t ion.

Lighting his was kept very simple with the -_1 1<0' lighting throug hout the play.

We opened the curtain to a shaft of moonlight on the garden statue which, at the sa me time, allowed some light into the room. Trevor switched on the main lights as he e.ntered thereby gently increasing the audience's awareness that the room was not as it should have been!


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Nice and easy. No changes, so costumes were decided on as characters formed during rehea rsa l. Barbara sophis ticated and chic in black with parkling jewell ery, Jenny rather m ore cas ual and the two men i.n jackets a.nd ties. Spriggs need ed a vast amount of pockets for all tlw bits and pi('ces that he had to carry and he need ed easy access to those pockets, so we end ed up with a combat jacket and jogging trousers. We had to bu y a supply of white tee-shirts as W ' were not prepared to was h the "port" stains out every night. We did sugges t he wore than back to front on a lte rnate ni g hts for economy but this idea was not ap preciated!

Music I wanted a catchy tune relevant to the plot that would put the audience in a cheerful mood before the curtain w nt up. Inspira tion came from the musical Oliver 足 "You've Cot to Pick a Pocket or Two". Listen to the words and you will find that they are very topical as far as THEFT is co ncerned. We used thi s for c urtain-up music, between the scenes and at the end of each Act. Probably the most important prop was the gUl1. This was often passed from hand to hand , put down on tables and actually fired on stage. The shot came at the end of Act I so during the interval the Stage manager completely unloaded it to ensure th at it was empty when held aga inst Spriggs' chest at the end of the play. The gunshots off were fired by the Stage Manager from another gun. The "port" mixture was the usual greatly diluted blackcurrant that seemed to get redder every night o f the performance I The tee-shirts came clean, so if anyone wants a set of five white tee-shirts, they know where to come! -


I would strongly recommend THEFT fun to rehearse, challenging to play and rewarding in performance.




We found out from one of our patrons that Eric Chappell, the author of THEFT, has connections with the Loughbo rough area and does not live too far away. We


invited him to the Saturda y night performance but lUlfortunately he was not well enough to join us. It was a great sha me as we had a house bursting a t the seams and the audience, judging by their laughter and a pplause, felt we had done his work justice.

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Theft - March 1999  
Theft - March 1999  

Mary Baird discusses her production of Theft by Eric Chappell for the Festival Players