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by Norman Robbins

Presented by The Teesdale Pla\'ers at Lartington Hall, near Ba rnard Castle in County Durham. he production is discussed by Peter Dixon (actor), John Lowdon !stage management and actor) and Jane Scally (make-up). The play is written in two acts with four scenes. The cast consist­ I:d o f ten actors, six women and tour men.

THE PLOT Alison Murchinson, who lives a t home with her widowed mother the!. Aunt Cilia (who has stopped upstairs for the last six years) and her Uncle Frank, is the last sort of girl one would visualise as a hero­ ne. She is over-weight, bespecta­ ded and it looks like she is going to be 'left on the shelf'. Frank decides t enter her in il Wedding of the leal: Competihon even before he ".l5 fo und her a suitable husband. Ills eye falls o.n Walter Thornton's , '.Idvyn, a frustrated inventor and a n appallingly clumsy young This is all to the disgust of friend, Peggy, who has - for her daughter winning the btion, and Melvyn's father, who had secret hopes of rn-ing Ethel. Visits from two old maiden aunts, who speak . i.n proverbs, add to the . 1eh \'n feels sorry for Alison roposes. The wedding date is :md Frank starts to make all the ~, including arranging for an mend , Harry Elphinstone the dress designer, to create a redding dress. In a series of on and off stage enls Melvyn becomes stuck to <II ::up ~,,;th his new wonder glue, dama e5 Ethel's new chair covers, . hi trousers, smashes a 300 \'ase, sets fire to the cur­ demolishes the local

• til marrY! Frank proposP' L e accepts and, as the .~ ;.ay, All's well that ends

BACKGROUND For several years the Players have produced programmes that included editorial about the history of the play. Although the play has been produced successfully by amateur groups since in was writ­ ten in the late '70s it has not been performed professionally. As we had few details of previous prod uc· tions we contacted the author, Norman Robbins. He was most helpful and in a long letter gave us enough information for our pro­ gramme and a few angles that were used in our press releases. Norman told us, "A girl Assistant Stage Manager, who was rather on the large side, but very pretty and talented, remarked to me bitterly, 'I wish someone would write a part for a fat girl and make her the lead. 1 never get a decent part in anything'. 1 know I saw a picture in the local paper, of a recent marriage, with the caption 'Bride of The year' .... and wondered why, as the girl in question looked to be the size of a house and quite plain, and I'd always thought this sort of accolade went to the rich and beautiful. I never learned the answer, but this gave me the situa­ tion I needed ." Three of the funniest characters in the play are the elderly aunts. Norman told us, "These three char­

acters were based on three elderly ladies living in my home town back in the Forties. The elder sister appeared quite normal and had lit­ tle patience with her siblings who were 'Pure Victorian' till the day they died. One never saw them dressed in anything other than Music Hall costumes, complete with large straw hats covered in cherries, berries and feathers. They constantly glanced at each other as their elder sister passed on the day's gOSSip, and an occasional knowing smirk would touch their lips."

ever since the group began in 19 In the Spring of 1992, a stage \\' constructed which gave the groll permanent base for rehearsals a productions. Mrs Claire RackhaJ:'" directed and appeared in this pr ~ duction. Sadly, this will be the lao theatrical production the Hall \\ see for some time as the ballroom currently being converted into recording studio.


We met each Thursday evenir . from the casting in May until production in November. Amon THE THEATRE or so before we opened this w extended to three nights a week. The play was produced in the Early in rehearsals we took ballroom of the seventeenth centu­ couple of weeks out to make a ta ry country house, Lartington Hall. recording of the script. All the cd'.> The ballroom was added in 1832 to found this a valuable aid to lear house the owner's collection of fos­ ing the lines. sils, rock specimens, fine paintings We did have the enormo ~ and books. In 1867 the well known benefit of being able to rehearse architect, Joseph Hansom (inventor our own stage, and, as the spa of the cab that bears his name) was not used for any other activi designed a grand entrance and cor­ with the set permanently in plac, ridor leading up to the ballroom. The group's approach to rehea By 1979, when the building could probably be described was taken over by its present own­ more "laid back" than many a ers, Robin and Claire Rackham, its teur groups. Many of our comp condition had deteriorated, but since then the entire Hall has been . are involved in other local grou or are regularly away on busin lovingly restored. The Rackhams have been great supporters of The so from the outset we all had accept that cast members wo Teesdale Players and they kindly often be unavailable. allowed them to use the ballroom


SCENERY The set d esign was quite sim­ We decided to set the play in original period of 1979 so the ,mgle sc t had to resemble the inte­ Ir of a 19705 living room. The ·.1 l1s comprised a series of framed - ft by 10ft plywood panels rps huf­ . I'd from our previous two produc­ ons of ARSENIC AND OLD ACE and WHE WE ARE MAR­ ED. Decorati.on com prised two mplementary '705 style waLlpa­ ers, bought from the "bin end box" It the loca l decora tors. TIw floor _,' as cilrpeted and covered with a arge central rug. There were three exits, fr ont ,tage left and right, with the main exit being thro ugh an arch to a dummy hallway in the centre rear panel. A sash window was placed in one of the windows left. The wall behind WilS decorated w ith leaf ca mouflage to give a garden wall effec t. We had the benefit of being able to pinch bits of furniture from the many rooms in L rtington Hall w ith a few other items supplied by cast members. On stage were a matching two-piece suite and two dining chairs either side of the archway. A small round coffee table in front of the sofa was used to place tea cups and biscuits. A iolding table was situated in a rear (Orner to hold a large tea tray rather than the actress having to bring it on stage. It was later used :0 di splay the wrapped wedding presents. A magazine rack was placed next to the armchair. A small table in the hallway was dec­ )rated with a lamp. Two large paintings and a mirror mounted on the walls completed the set. Ie .

LIGHTING There are no problems for the lighting designer of tills play. AU e equipment used was our own, .. ing a combination of exis ting 3mps and some recent second­ and purchases. We used two SCOW floods on the floor. Two T­ - nds were purchased in order to "flo unt four 500W spk spots in Jiagonal pairs approximatel y 15 ~ t from the front of the stage. "11ree 200W floods and three 200W , ots were used in the ceiling of the -..ain stage. Two 100W lights were -ed to light the hall area at the rear the stage.

COSTUMES Our wardrobe mistress and -t had great fun digging out their Seventies wardrobes. There "re no great difficulties with any the costumes, although aU the • had everyday clothes in the ,t three scenes and a change to o:!dding dress in the final scene.


Our director made the decision to dress the two maiden aunts in iden­ tical clothes so their two costumes had to be made specially, but it gave an excellent effect and set the tone fo r their de tty characters. Our Ali son was far trom over­ weight so a padded suit had to be made and worn under he r cos­ tume. A full body suit, with arms and legs, was created using six lay­ ers, each in size, of pol y­ es ter wadding.

MAK -UP The make-up plot is such that the make-up artist had to be pre­ sent throughout the performance. Many of Melvyn's disasters happen off stage and are recounted by the actors. An effective use of make-up added to the laughs as the victims made their entrance on stage. [n Act 1 Scene 2 Uncle Frank appears with a black eye and a few scra tches. Instead of the entire cir­ cle of the eye being coloured, only the upper cheekbone below the cor­ ner of the eye is affected. Later Melvyn appears with a black eye, but he ha s sustained a more serious knoc k than Frank. AU-shaped bruise is applied for Frank. For th e colouring of the bruising a combi­ nation of yellow-orange, blue azure and dark red creme make-up was used . A stubble sponge was used for the effects of scratches. This is an invaluable aid in make-up. It is also used for the appearance of bro­ ken capillaries, which the three old aunts needed. Plenty of time was required on the night to age our actresses. A grey / beige base was applied for a cadaverous look! In the first scene of the second act both Frank and Melvyn had to look like they had just survived the dem olition of the local pub. Soot from a real open fire was used on their faces, hands and chests. Straw was gelled through their hair. An open wound had to be a applied to Melvyn's knee. For this effect derma wax, coloured with bordeaux red creme, was worked onto the patella. A straight hori­ zontal furrow was made and film blood squeezed into it, with plenty running down the shin, producing the desired horror effect. Again the stubble sponge, using dark brown/black creme, was applied to give the effect of gravel grazing. The final scene took place ~ix weeks later, so "casualty" make-up bad to be removed and fresh basic reapplied. For basic foundation we used Max Factor 'Pan stik' which comes in a range of shades and is easy to apply. It has the advantage of being inexpensive and is oil based. For flattening down eyebrows, in order to cover over with base colour, a slightly moist bar of soap was used. You need to wait for it to dry before applying the base.



No music is required during the play, but we made up a tape of late '70s hits that was played dur­ ing the pre-show and interval to add to the atmosphere.

SPECIAL EFFECTS AND PROPS The effects were straightfor­ ward. Heavy rain and thunder sounds were taped from a sound­ effects CD. The effect was enhanced by dropping the stage flood lighting. A metal tray and bag of broken crockery was used to simulate off stage cups and plates being dropped . Time needed to be spent coor­ dinating Ethel's entrances and exits as her constant solution to every disaster was to go off and make cups of tea for all the other charac­ ters. Several characters had to ea t biscuits on stage. We undertook extensive trials with a variety of biscuits. Jaffa cakes came out tops for allowing the cast to continue talking with their mouths full. For Ollr curtain call our director came up with the idea of Alison removing her padding suit and tak­ ing her bow wearing a wedding dress (having been on stage when


the curtain fell wearing a dressing gown). It required a double quick change, but the effect was well received as she rushed on stage having lost all that weight!

CONCLUSION As with any farce, the pace was fast and required good timing and co-ordination from the actors. The play was well received. We played to reason able houses and, the play being relatively inexpensive to pro­ duce, showed a good profit. A great way to conclude our years at Lartington Hall. (Photographs by Carolyn Naseby)







Wedding Of The Year - May 1997  
Wedding Of The Year - May 1997  

Teesdale Players discuss their production of Wedding Of The Year by Norman Robbins