REVIEWS

Review of ENCHANTED APRILNovember 2023

April in November

The Abbey Foregate Drama Group production of Enchanted April at the beginning of November was another resounding success. Set in the 1920s, it is a story about self-discovery and renewal. The stage sets were very clever. The first act had nine scenes, and all were achieved using two tables and four chairs. The second act had one set, and the backdrop was the one used in their Agatha Christie production. The casting was excellent with the characters true to the script, starting off very constrained and gradually relaxing. Caroline Hamer playing Constanza the housekeeper must get a special mention as her entire part was spoken in Italian. But seeing Andrew Sandilands in a towel after the boiler blew up was worth the entrance money on its own. This was a wonderful evening out. Long may the Drama Group continue to give us quality productions.

Lesley McNeil

Review of ‘Quartet’

What a fabulous evening! It was hard to remember that this was actually Sue Hughes’ directorial debut; it was such a polished show and the comic timing was superb. The backstage team had ingeniously created the world of a retirement home for professional musicians.

The play itself told us that, ‘Art isn’t Art if it doesn’t make you feel’, and indeed, we felt the joy of recognition; we laughed; we felt so moved by the gradual revelations of the truth each character had been trying to hide.

Helen Bryant’s gentle Cissy and Robert Currie’s mischievous Wilf earned our affection as they helped us to ‘see the best’ in Ian Musty’s repressed Reggie and Lesley Strachan’s sharp-edged Jean; each of the four actors was completely on point. Our intimate theatre space was made for them: every flicker of the eyebrow or twitch of the lips told a story. They all landed every moment in a clever, clever script, and made the silences talk too.

There was something rather magical about seeing the characters grow younger before our very eyes. We saw the ‘lovely young’ men and women in all of them, and a lump came to more than one throat as they turned their backs on us, the audience, to remember audiences of the past.

Thank you – watching the play made ‘the future’, whatever age we are now, glow brighter.

Lesley Drew

Don’t Get Your Vicars in a Twist

‘Oh, My Aching Ribs!

The Abbey Foregate Drama Group production of “Don’t Get your Vicars in a Twist” sold out in two weeks, so a Saturday matinee was added to the run. We must admire the stamina of all concerned.

The play started slowly as the situation that would lead to all the confusion and misunderstanding that defines a farce was set out for the audience. But then the pace picked up as all the characters arrived and started making assumptions. Farce also demands over-the top acting, and this was we got. Paul Rushworth as a pseudo Bishop and Stephan Meredith as the Murder Mystery event arranger were superbly OTT, especially when they were drunk and dressed as a maid respectively. Enfys Jenkins and Lesley Drew/Carol Wolfe were two uptight ladies who had been given the weekend (I suspect as a prank) and thought the entire goings on were real. Ian Musty as the real Bishop was suitably bewildered – perhaps still coping with his translation from a vicar in the last production!

This was an evening of laughs, and Rob Hutchings is to be congratulated on a difficult job well done. It was worth the ticket money just to see Brian Bentley and Richard Breakell wearing skirts!

Lesley McNeil

A Christmas Carol

Over Christmas I saw four productions of A Christmas Carol, three professional and one amateur. There was the “Shrewsbury” film with George C Scott, The Muppets with Michael Caine, and a carol that went wrong with Derek Jacobi. Each was good in its own way. However, the best production by far was the one put on by the Abbey Foregate Drama Group with Brian Bentley.

The church provided a perfect space for this production, and was used to maximum effect with imaginative staging. The scene shifted from one area to another with minimum fuss so that the flow of the story was not interrupted. Praise must go to the design and construction group. Even more amazing was the speed with which the stage area was cleared for the Sunday service.

The cast for this production was much larger than that required for the usual plays, which must have involved a lot of organization. But the performances went smoothly, even if there was a lot going on backstage!

Top of the list for commendation is Brian Bentley who was on stage for the entire time. He also had long monologues, which are more difficult to remember than conversations. He was ably supported by some of our favourite actors: Robert Currie, Andrew Sandilands, Lesley Strachan, Rob Hutchings, and Carole Newcombe to name but a few. However, it was also nice to see the newer cast members coming to the fore. As usual the standard of the acting was superb, and each character was true to their part. I sat next to the prompt who was not required.

The choice of this play was inspired. Not only did it honour the very start of the Drama Group, but also it came at the beginning of Advent, which set the scene for our Christmas worship.

Lesley McNeil

The Importance of being Earnest-Audience comments

Debbie

Kev and me came along on Friday night to see ‘Earnest’ and had a great time. Really excellent performance – cast was awesome, set was beautiful, costumes stunning, crew slick and professional, front of house welcoming and friendly. All round perfect end of the weeknight out   Thank you everyone

Jan-

I went last night. Brilliant! It is one of my favourite plays and they did not disappoint! One thing I really wanted to applaud the set changers. Well done the whole team.

The Importance of being Earnest

The Importance of being Earnest is one of the best known and most often staged of the plays by Oscar Wilde. It takes a wonderfully sideways look at the niceties of Victorian social behaviour, yet in some ways is remarkably modern with misunderstandings galore.

As the stage is small, it requires careful setting. The transformation from a morning room in one flat, a garden, and the morning room in another home was very cleverly done. While one scene change took place during an interval, the second was in full view of the audience, so we were able to see and appreciate the slick performance of the back stage staff that is normally out of view.

This is very much an ensemble piece, and the entire cast worked together to give us their usual high standard entertainment. Malcolm Castle as Algernon and Adam Giblin as Jack/Ernest sparked off each other as the unsuspecting brothers, their love/dislike relationship in full view. Likewise, Symantha Simcox and Lucy Hagen beautifully demonstrated the relationship between Gwendolen and Cecily, with their constant changes from love rivals to sisters-in-arms.

If I had any concerns prior to the performance it was the crucial casting of Lady Bracknell and the famous handbag comment. For many people the Dame Edith Evans rendition in the 1952 film is the definitive delivery, and can overshadow any other performance. I need not have worried. Lesley Reynolds made a splendidly haughty Lady B, and gave her own twist to THAT line. She managed to combine horror with contempt through both delivery and facial expression. Full marks Lesley.

A word of praise goes to the director, Helen Bryant, set designers and builders, the costume department, lighting and sound, as well as the front of house meeters and greeters.

The raffle in aid of ‘Jigsaw’ taken at the performance of A Christmas Carol was £570. The raffle at this performance was for the Shropshire Wildlife Trust as a tribute to Maureen Sandlilands who sadly died last January.

Lesley McNeil

Absurd Person Singular-Audience comments

Teresa-

Hilarious – I laughed so much my face hurt!!Some great characters and so well played. Well done to all involved and thanks for a great night out.

Victoria-

An absolutely fantastic performance by all! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and haven’t laughed aloud this much in a long time! Thank you. We will be coming to see your next performances in the future

Perfect Murder-Audience comments

Oh my goodness we just have to write and offer our sincere Congratulations. Please congratulate all the cast for such a Professional performance and as usual we can’t wait for the next one. Many Many thanks to you all for such a superb performance.

Just to say what a great night we’ve just had @ a perfect murder. We thoroughly enjoyed the play and everyone should be very proud of their performances.

It was so intimate being close to the scenes especially act 2 in the courtroom. It felt so realistic. Please pass on our congratulations to everyone and good luck for your final performance.

We both came to the opening night. It was fantastic – Absolutely brilliant. Very polished, very professional. I was so absorbed that during the second act in the courtroom, I actually felt I was there. You could tell by the gasp of the audience that no-one had anticipated the twist and turn at the end. Very well done, Congratulations to you all.

What a wonderful performance we all enjoyed at the URC last night. The casting and directing were inspired—all the actors were superb, seemingly transformed into the characters they were playing .The audience was in the sitting room or courtroom with you. The scenes in the courtroom were particularly good. Sitting in the front row, I felt as though I was a juror, and concentrated on listening for clues!

Sincere congratulations are due to everyone, including the clever young people in the corner.

An Ideal Husband-Audience comments

I am taking this opportunity of sending you lots of congratulations on your latest production of “The Ideal Husband”  My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed it – great casting, super set and costumes and we could hear every word! (Very important when listening to Oscar Wilde!) Not a weak link anywhere. Knocked spots off many professional productions we have seen. Congratulations!”

“Brilliant production, excellent set, terrific acting and fabulous costumes – thoroughly marvellous all round. Congratulations all”

“Well done on a superb production of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband”; I attended your dress rehearsal last night and thoroughly enjoyed the show. Having been transported by the superb acting, beautiful set and wonderful costumes, I completely forgot to leave the slip with my email address on. Please add me to your email circulation list as I would love to see future shows”

“It was fabulous. They all had so many lines to remember and all word perfect Look forward to the next one”

Ideal Indeed

Lavish is the only word to describe Abbey Fore gate Drama Groups production of An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde. The set was simple but effective, and Ian Musty and Malcolm Castle changed the sets with a butlery dignity that earned them a round of applause, for which they took a very dignified bow. The costumes were a delight and were worth every penny of the hire fee.

It was good to see familiar faces as well as newcomers in the cast. Everyone was totally convincing in their characters, and the evening was pure joy!

As this does not happen by accident, it was clear that a great deal of hard work went into achieving such a polished performance. Praise is due to Helen Bryant who had ensured that every detail was right.

This production has further enhanced the already high reputation of the Drama Group.

Lesley  McNeil

Abbey Foregate (Shrewsbury URC) Drama Group strikes gold again

“All My Sons” by Arthur Miller is the latest production of the Abbey Foregate (S URC) Drama Group.  This play is not a barrel of laughs, and needs careful handling to avoid either being dreary or being melodramatic.  Under the sure direction of Helen Bryant the Group rose to the challenge superbly.  The 1946 American ambience was re-created with great attention to detail.  The set was functional and attractive; the clothes were right, even to the ladies wearing seamed nylons, and the music played before and after the production and during the interval was vintage American 40s.  Secure in their setting, the cast delivered the piece with power and integrity.  The minor characters, including a delightful cameo from bright young Chris Davies, added necessary light relief that served to highlight the terrible predicament of the core family.  Dana James and Robin Cooper, playing Ann and George Deever, were the bringers of bad news, and stepped in and out of the action with sensitivity.

Robert Currie carried the weight of Joe’s guilt with skill, and his gradual disintegration as truth cut through the web of lies was truly moving.  Paula Bayley as Joe’s wife delivered a wonderfully understated performance.  She cleverly avoided overt hand wringing, and instead allowed her obsession to loom like an iceberg in fog.  However, the star of the evening was Andrew Sandilands playing the idealistic Chris. This demanding role runs the gamut of emotion, Andrew gave us the pleasant American, the tender and romantic lover, irritation, the searing heat of anger, and final collapse in tears as the play ended.

Once again this talented Group raised am dram to professional levels.  I am booking my ticket for their next production already!

Lesley McNeil

Shaw’s Pygmalion at Abbey Foregate

To mark its 60th Anniversary the Abbey Foregate (SURC) Drama Group staged a magnificent production of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the theatrical source of MY FAIR LADY, from Thursday- Saturday of last week.

Three sets- both indoor and outdoor were skilfully created in the Church itself, and the acting was of the uniformly high standard we have come to expect from this company. The subtle and thought provoking mixture of comedy and serious drama was well conveyed through individual performances-especially Jo Bullock as Eliza Doolittle, Rob Hutchings as her opportunistic Father and Andrew Sandilands as Phonetics Professor, Henry Higgins- as well as by the verve and coherence of the whole. The society scenes were vigorous too, communicated with real charm but also with the critical edge of Shaw’s ironical view of class-conscious Edwardian London.

This was a worthwhile play given worthy treatment. Audience comments such as” better than professional” could be heard at the end of the evening. Helen Bryant, Director and Sue Hughes her assistant, are to be warmly congratulated along with their whole team.

Cameron Wilson