Hi De Hi (June 2014)
Director : Cathie Henry
Assistant Director : Phil Dickinson
Choreographer : Cathie Henry
Written by : Paul Carpenter, Jimmy Perry, David croft, Ian Gower
It is always a pleasure to visit a company for the first time and to spend the evening in the modern surroundings of the Lowton High School Drama Studio simply added to the pleasure. Theatres are atmospheric places anyway and redolent of their past, and some say the spirits of former performance, drama and emotions still linger even when the place is not in use. I felt that last night as you inherited a place where learning – movement, joy and experience of young people at work seemed to imbue the very air of the place and share and admire the way you adapted it to your own needs.
Your choice of play was certainly not the easiest of material to tackle with its thirteen scenes and cast of some fourteen actors, at least two of which had multiple roles, a technical and stage crew, involved in lighting and sound plots, a musical score in which the cast were performing and the entire play based on a once popular T.V. Series, so you risked sparking memories and inviting comparisons.
The fact that you tackled the whole project with obvious enjoyment, seemingly inexhaustible energy and a belief in the characters you were playing, gave your audience an entertaining and enjoyable evening.
Your set was an open one which suggested the various locations inherent in the story and facilitated changes when necessary. The minimum required furniture was appropriate and functional in its use – desk, improvised bed, table for tea things,suggested doorways, sumptuous chalet for the Stuart-Hargreaves, convincing technical Radio Maplin desk, - all inviting your audience's imaginations to provide the details which they did and readily accepted.
Your wardrobe plot was quite splendid – all very true to the characters. The Yellow Coats blazers were magnificent - so colourful – and the whole building seemed to be full of them. It wasn't of course, but strategic positions were. How clever to have young cast members showing us the way in – the beautiful school and its many blocks were a bit of a warren for first timers, in fact, Eveline and I had to be rescued by the school caretaker as we failed to find the car park afterwards. If he hadn't been around we'd have been at your final night as well. Great to see Steve' reassuring figure welcoming us to Maplin's and wishing us a safe journey home afterwards. There were many nice little touches like this both off and from the stage making us feel at one with you all and not just a faceless audience. Well done!
Direction was in the skilled hands of Cathie Henry, who also played the popular character, Peggy Ollerenshaw , (Su Pollard in the original). It is not easy to direct and play a major role in your own production. There are times when it is vital for a director to stand back and look at what has been created; see where adjustments have to be made and so on. Very difficult when your dual role means regular appearances on stage and certainly the role of Peggy did demand just that. However, she is to be complimented on the job she did as to me, a newcomer to your Company's work, her skill and experience enriched both her roles. Peggy is a busy and ebullient role, full of humour, fun, enthusiasm and changing emotions. We saw the lot from Cathie. Except for pantomime, I can't remember an instinctive audience “Aah!” when a character shows intense disappointment and sadness – in this case when she was denied the hard-earned Yellow coat. Well done!
Peter Longworth played Ted Bovis – entertainer, M.C, compere, old stage trouper. He handled his difficult role with great aplomb – he not only has a character to play in the story line, he has to pretend to step out of acting and organise a raffle, a popularity contest involving audience voting – Maplin staff singing and dancing with audience participation which all presumably involves considerable ad-libbing and personal cajolery to get us to participate. Never once allowing the mask to slip, he made us feel like campers and part of it all by his experienced stage presence.
Sue Halton was Gladys Pugh, ogling and reacting continuously, ever present facial contortions and perpetually lusting after Jeffrey. She played the chief Yellow Coat with bumptious importance and a very believable, lilting and lyrical Welsh accent which only occasionally slipped. She clearly made the part her own – only now and then did Ruth Madoc appear and full marks for that because when playing well-known characters from say T.V or film – one does invite comparisons to be made. However, it is one way we learn our trade and Sue is to be congratulated on doing it her way whilst retaining the well-known characteristics of the part.
Phil Dickinson played Jeffrey Fairbrother, the harassed, ineffectual, nice, well meaning Camp Manager. He dealt with everything thrown at him with far from consummate ease but with the audience's complete sympathy and his own equanimity. The actor's sense of humour shone through and the bed scenes when drunk dealing with an amorous Gladys, and when hungover next morning with a mortified Peggy were hilarious. He maintained his character throughout adding to its ingenuousness with an incongruous physical ability which kept the fun going. His entrance with the results of the election was worth the admission price alone. Well played!
Cath Cheshire and Bernard Holding played the embittered dancing couple with great feeling as if still getting over an unsuccessful audition for Strictly Come Dancing and still blaming each other. Alice Ashurst as Fred, the horse trainer, was very believable as was Ken Brindley who grumbled away and told his life-story believably also. Dom Peters, as Ted's partner, did everything required of him with a convincing enthusiasm as did all other cast members unmentioned who supported and strengthened the main theme by their unselfish team playing.
Thank you for your warm welcome and hospitality.