NODA REVIEW: The Flint Street Nativity

Flint Street Massive Newt
DATE18th December 2019
SOCIETYChelmsford Theatre Workshop
VENUEThe Old Court Theatre, Chelmsford
DIRECTORSRachel Curren and Stephanie Yorke-Edwards

Author: Amanda Green on behalf of Decia Ranger

This play was a very bold choice for Rachel Curren and Stephanie Yorke-Edwards to make for their directing debut, and they should be applauded for the preparation and enthusiasm that went into it. On the surface it may seem a simple enough idea to have adults acting as children performing a nativity play, but of course it is much more complex in practice. The directors had to ensure that the adult actors did not break character as children, that they could furthermore do justice to their portrayal of their own parents, and also bring to life the underlying backstories of each family, so subtly woven into the script.

The individual actors had worked on a specific characteristic that would define their particular child. At times these were a little overstated, risking a distraction from the story they were telling, so perhaps a softer approach might have helped in places, but they did well to tackle such a challenging task with great gusto and dedication. The surprise for the audience was the transition into their parents later in the play, which gave the actors the opportunity to develop their characters into what was essentially their adult selves. It was moving to hear about the shortcomings in each child’s home life told from the perspective of the child, and then to see it played out in the behaviour of the respective adults. Although the pace could have been tighter in places during some of the lengthier scenes, the scene-changes were slick, and the play flowed well. Appropriate costumes were used to demonstrate the different background of each child, enhanced by the wardrobe choice for the corresponding adult.

The actors should be praised for their concentration, and the support that they gave each other in what was a true ensemble piece. Each one of them contributed to a team effort, and each one was always present in the moment during their performance.

The addition of the songs added to the challenge. The timing between the piano-playing and each child’s singing was so spot-on, that it was hard to believe that the piano had been pre-recorded. This had to have been very well-rehearsed, and their hard work was evident throughout. The one note to make about this was the volume of the piano accompaniment that occasionally overpowered the quieter of the singers. Despite this, each actor managed to successfully deliver a sometimes very difficult rendition of the re-written carols, with amusing and complex lyrics, again demonstrating how engaged each member of the team was.

The overriding impression was that of a production that all involved were enjoying, delivered with energy and enthusiasm. Well done to everyone on a splendid collaborative achievement, and thank you for inviting me.

NODA REVIEW: Lilies on the Land

Directed by Mark Preston assisted by Martin Robinson.

This was my first visit to CTW as their Rep, although not the first time I had reviewed one of their shows.  Their intimate theatre is just right for small scale plays and I was really looking forward to this one which I knew of but had never seen.

We were the first to enter the auditorium which was very dimly lit with a rotating glitter ball overhead. Trying to read the programme in this situation was not a good experience. The open stage was also in darkness which I thought was a shame.  In my opinion a set, suitably lit, can appear very welcoming, giving the audience a heightened feeling of anticipation before the cast enters. 

The script is constructed from letters written by land girls during World War 2 to their loved ones back home, and from interviews with those willing to share their experiences. Many came from towns and cities and although for some it was a big adventure with a happy ending, for others it was a rude awakening as the relative comforts of urban dwelling gave way to the realities of life down on the farm.  All of their stories had been cleverly encapsulated into just four characters.

Jane Fielding, Jacquie Newman, Rachel Curren and Suzy White were Margie, Peggy, Poppy and Vera, four girls from different backgrounds whose job it was to help feed the country.  Each had developed their characters well and the play was well rehearsed and very well narrated. The interweaving of their stories took us through their wartime experiences, including learning to drive a tractor and plough a field (with and without glasses!), discovering where milk comes from, delivering calves, meeting a future husband and going to dances with American servicemen who, as we would say today, splashed the cash. They also told of the many downsides, included long working hours for little pay, the lack of flushing toilets and the unwanted advances of farmers, to name but a few. Interspersed with their storytelling the girls sang songs from the era, unaccompanied, and produced some lovely harmonies.

There were several smaller parts integral to the stories being told and these were well played by Iain Holding Sutton and Fern McClean, both having several costume changes as befitted their characters.

The land girls costumes looked authentic. The single set was simple but perfectly adequate with farm implements of the period depicting the girls working conditions.  Lighting was good and sound effects, including the voice of Winston Churchill were excellent and well thought out.

This was a well directed and very enjoyable production which deserved a larger audience. It was though well received by those who did attend.

Thank you for inviting me and for your hospitality.

Author: Decia Ranger, 6th July 2019