Warmly appreciative audiences, near capacity houses – another successful run for CTW, and this time for a brand new piece by one of its own. I was lucky enough to see it before the public [at a very polished Dress Rehearsal] – this is my appreciation:
A Wrong Turn Down Memory Lane by John Mabey
CTW at the Old Court- October 2021. Review by Michael Gray.
Chairman John Mabey has a lot riding on this production, the second in the Old Court’s season. He’s written the script, directed the show, and his name is even on the cast list – not as an actor, but as the lead character, whose love of vinyl is at the heart of the bitter-sweet story. Ah, vinyl! Superior successor to shellac, it still has what tape and digital lack, the physical imprint of the music in the grooves. And from those grooves spring the flashbacks, the memories and the recriminations in John and Mandy’s rocky relationship.
We begin in the present day, with the parting of the ways, the division of the spoils; the stylised setting has identical boxes, carefully name-labelled, on either side, a bin for charity, a bin for rubbish, with a sofa centre stage, where later the precious box of 45s takes pride of place. It’s a large cast, and Mabey has wisely employed some of Workshop’s finest talent, as well as some welcome newcomers, so that even the cameos sparkle and shine. Andy Poole, for instance is a smooth guest at the ill-starred Xmas bash, as well as ambitious actor (“Fuck off!”) Lance in the Blake’s Seven scene. Jesse Powis has a ball with Billy, the harassed director in the same sequence. Terry, Mandy’s light-fingered, heavy-drinking brother, is memorably done by Billy Herring. That party scene, with one awful guest after another being greeted at the door, is one of the most inspired theatrical moments: Chubby Lorraine – excellently portrayed by Stephanie Yorke-Edwards, Chris Piper and Lauren Payne as a less-than-welcome couple, Jade Flack a ghastly, giggling Sophie. Most random character award goes to Alex Heard for his House of Horrors nose-bleeder.
There are five characters in the love triangle. Barry Taylor’s John and Naomi Page’s Mandy, both subtly drawn, skillfully managing the shifts of mood which reveal the deeper emotions beneath the banter and the bickering. Their younger selves – less sympathetically drawn perhaps, with John [Tony Gilbert] an often insufferable young actor, doomed like so many to see the work dry up and his dreams crumble to dust, and his Mandy [Ara Stott] tempted by geography teacher Cliff [convincingly played by Bruce Murray] but lacking the courage to dump her failed actor boyfriend before the ill-fated wedding. And then there’s Jasper, their son, no less significant a character for being absent …
There are 22 scenes, the transition between past and present smoothly achieved, although the procession of chairs through the auditorium could become tedious. And there might be scope for more eloquent lighting of the room and the apron.There are papers to sort – some of them dramatically significant – and books too: Taylor popping up like Mr Punch from behind the sofa brandishing chick-lit or the Minder Annual.
But mostly it’s the music – all those 80s memories, Echo and the Bunnymen, Jennifer Rush [The Power of Love], Paul Young, Pet Shop Boys, Jason Donovan … there must be a playlist in there, Mr Mabey ? When you get back from the burger van, perhaps?