Madhatters Theatre Club


NODA and General Reviews 2003-2009
Later reviews


Gladstone! Report by Sian John
Gladstone! Report by Jo Cummings
Boom and bust - The Recession Revue
An Evening of Melodrama
Treasure Island
Mish Mash
When Did You Last See Your Trousers?
Under Milk Wood
The Roaring Boy of Brent
The Grand Guignol

Dry Rot
The 101 Dalmatians
The Frogs
The Government Inspector

Date: 4, 11 and 12 July 2009
Production: Gladstone!
Venue: Gladstone Park
Report by: Sian John

2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of William Gladstone and what better way to celebrate than a play about his life in Gladstone Park, Dollis Hill, where the People’s William loved to spend his weekends relaxing with family and friends. Brent Arts Council were very fortunate to get a grant from the Arts Council to commission and stage a brand new play about the GOM (Grand Old Man) and the weather was kind for nearly all of the six performances. Of course it bucketed down the afternoon that I came but the cast were able to adapt the show so that the audience sat under a tree and only the performers got wet.

This was a promenade production, taking the audience round the park that Gladstone so loved and ending by the lovely walled garden, where Gladstone liked to pick strawberries. This was a great way of getting the audience involved and allowing new people to join the crowd – or slip away if their children were crying. Thanks to the grant, there was no ticket charge and even the attractive and informative programme was free.

Gladstone lived a long and very active life that spanned the Regency and Victorian periods. As a politician there were lots of long speeches and lots of potential for boring the audience. However, the fast moving play worked wonders. Amy Bonsall and Michael Redston are to be congratulated for producing such a lively play and Sian Thomas’ direction was fluid and drew the best from her crew of professional and community actors. Sarah Llewellyn’s music worked beautifully. The musicians were excellent and it was especially pleasing that talented pupils from Malorees Junior School were involved. The witty lyrics to well known songs were greatly appreciated, especially the witty Vote for me dialogue sung by Gladstone and his political rival Disraeli to the tune of the hymn Abide with me.

The play started at the very beginning, setting the scene with a look at the great changes of the 19th century: from Napoleon to steam trains. This was an enjoyable scene but perhaps the one we could have done without, with there being so much else to pack in: over 60 years on parliament, prime minister four times, a family of eight and infamous rivalry with Gladstone and Victoria. This last was very amusingly handled, with Maggie Robson making a super temperamental Victoria and Clive Greenwood an excellent Disraeli, fawning over her.

The play was fast moving and entertaining, with some lovely touches, such as Gladstone’s coach entering Dollis Hill and a parliamentary brawl over Gladstone’s free trade proposals – another opportunity for Disraeli rivalry.

The whole cast were excellent but special mention should be made of Michael Coghlan’s Gladstone, played with wit and humanity, with just the right touch of gravitas, especially when delivering his speeches on the Bulgarian Atrocities. Anna McNicholas was delightful as Paris Hilton (!) and Mrs Gladstone and Laura Brydon was convincingly genuine as Ellen, the prostitute rescued by the GOM, especially during her bun fight with the snobby ladies who distrusted the People’s William. Martin Redston cross-dressed hilariously as the snobby Ida and Andrew Howditz was excellent as a detective and Big Ears, in the amusing scene which threw Robert Peel and his idea for policemen into the Dragon’s Den!.

The whole play was delightfully compeered by Helen Taylor as master of ceremonies, a touch of music hall which Gladstone would have greatly appreciated. She kept the tone the right side of light, as did Andy Thomas’ Dr Who, who occasionally crossed the stage with Dalek in tow – guaranteed to keep the children entertained. The set was delightful too – a stylish door to No. 10 and Big Ben, both of which, miraculously, stayed up through wind and gales.

The quality of Gladstone! the play can be measured by the resilience of my audience, who stuck it out through a downpour. A couple of them even mentioned that it was their second visit to Gladstone: they’d enjoyed it so much that they’d come again with friends.

Roll on July 2010: I wonder what next year’s play will be? Top of page

Date: 4, 11 and 12 July 2009
Production: Gladstone!
Venue: Gladstone Park
Report by: Jo Cummings

“‘Gladstone in the Park, a promenade play, comedy in the sunshine.’ You’ll be on your feet for an hour and a half,” Debby said. I didn’t believe it but when we walked into the Stables courtyard, I knew she was right. Troubadour Chris Channing, playing his Hohner guitar, persuaded the audience toward the gloriously green open spaces of this park, so appreciated by Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. I am past being able to sit on the ground and was grateful for fences, a wall, trees, the back of a wooden seat and a waste bin to lean on. A bit far from the scene at times, I couldn’t hear all of the words but caught behind the scenes activity and found that interesting.

I found the play brilliant! So cleverly devised. I thought the musicians talented, admired the acting and the costumes. After the performances I knew that I should love to see this play again. But what chance of that? I loved the umbrella wheels on the Gladstone carriage, the coconut shell horse hooves and the slapstick. I thank and congratulate all concerned. Debby and I saw the play 12th July. Rain fell 11th July. Was the play performed? (Yes it was, with the audience sheltered under a big oak tree.)  Should Dollis Hill House be restored and part of it include a stage so that this play could take place in the dry? Imagine back cloths – Gladstone Park green, just as it is outside, with Big Ben, 10 Downing Street, a kitchen/dining room tables using these same props – so simple – but what about the coach and horses?

Some of the performers sang Abide with me. The last words of the first verse are: When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, Lord, abide with me. But who will help finance the restoration of Gladstone House? Top of page

Date: 8, 9 and 10 May 2009
Production: Boom and bust - The Recession Revue
Venue: Malorees School and the Stables Arts Centre
Report by: Rosemary Bloomfield

Cast: (various roles) in alphabetical order: Jess Abbo, Chris Channing, Gemma Dickenson, Simon Dutson, Michael Fay, Joan Foster, Judi Friend, Roger Kelly, Cathy Mercer, Martin Redston, Garry Smith, Nigel Smith. Malorees School: Claudia, Isaac, Miles, Millie, Nirvana, Ramiza and Shian; directed by Jennifer Redston and Martin Redston. Piano: Tom Rainbow; Director: Jess Abbo

An ultra-topical theme for this revue, devised and performed by the cast with lots of variety, vigour and enthusiasm throughout. With songs, sketches, quotes and jokes galore the message that ‘the more things change the more they remain the same’ was humorously shared with the audience. Costume and scene changes were handled quickly and efficiently, even in the confined space of The Stables. The consistent theme of ‘the times in which we live’ was integral to making this a cohesive and interesting evening.

The most successful items included: (Not) Serious Money, a brief take on Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money. Written by Jess, it opened the show: a scene of total mayhem and panic in a city stockbrokers office in 1987 when the markets suddenly crashed and hurricane winds blew. The traders were panicked even more by the arrival of their big boss, terrifyingly played by Michael Fay. Very funny, both visually and verbally.

Beating Depression, a highly specious ‘documentary’ piece, also by Jess, featured an ‘expert’ from Florida (Martin), explaining financial matters with the ‘help’ of a ludicrous flip chart. His attempts to reassure his audience that all’s well in the financial world was very funny. ‘Eye witness’ accounts of the Great Depression in the USA were also funny: Gemma was outstanding as one of the three old dears recounting tales of hardship, Joan entertained with an odd transatlantic accent placed slightly west of Dollis Hill and Cathy obviously relished her less than subtle portrayal of an old bag remembering a completely demented version of 1930’s events.

Quotes from wits such as Groucho Marx and Mark Twain, on the funnier side of money, banks and global depression were well delivered by a line-up of the players.

Songs, ranging from jazz, blues and folk songs of the depression era to modern times were performed with great feeling and gusto by Chris Channing, Garry Smith and Nigel Smith. The disgruntled street-sweeper (Chris) clearing loads of presumably worthless money collected by a yuppie lady (Judi), reduced to playing a banjo in the street with a placard announcing that she has a mortgage and Porsche to support was quite inexplicable. More to-the-point was the scurrilous self-penned song about ‘merchant bankers’ from Garry.

Overall, however, I felt that there were rather too many items squeezed into the evening and those that worked less well were the two excerpts from longer plays, one written in 1692, The Stockjobbers, and Roaring Trade, a modern play. Although well performed by Joan, Cathy, Roger, Martin, Michael and Simon, these pieces were too short: the audience just didn’t have enough time to appreciate the themes discussed.

The two contributions from the group of children made an interesting contrast and they were obviously well rehearsed. Their performances were enthusiastic and lively and all in all contributed to a very topical and funny show, well devised and presented. Top of page

Date: 29 November and 8 December 2008
Production: An Evening of Melodrama
Venue: Stables Arts Centre
Report by: Mary Draffin

The Madhatters put on a very enjoyable evening for the audience with two melodramas, and recitations and readings of nineteenth century poetry.

Black Eyed Susan by Dr Douglas Jerrold is typical of the early melodrama: a tale of love, wickedness and sensational incident with songs interspersed. It was written in 1829 by a humourist and playwright who had served in the navy. The nautical theme is integral to the plot: the constant wife, Susan, waits languishing for her husband's return from sea. Her wicked uncle and landlord has contrived to sell her to the captain of her William's ship, by threatening her with eviction and forcing her into the captain's arms. The captain has plotted to step in to "rescue" her from poverty, telling her William is dead and she should marry him. William is not dead but has miraculously escaped from the desert island where the captain had marooned him. He returns in the nick of time to release Susan from the captain's clutches, but is arrested, tried and condemned to hang for attacking his senior officer. All ends well at the last, by dint of a creaky plot coincidence that Dickens would be proud of. Mrs Cathy Mercer played Susan with as much piteous emotion and heart felt joy as the plot and the evening could bear. The part of Captain Crosstree was taken by Sir Kenneth Govier, whose overtures to Susan conveyed the menace in his character. If I could not believe in the change of heart Captain Crosstree shows at the end, this was hardly Sir Ken's fault; blame it on the plot. Mr Roger Kelly played William. His name did not appear in the programme, and I wonder if this was by design, so that the audience would believe that William is dead. Mr Kelly gave a spirited and jaunty performance. He sang the sea shanties and danced off the stage with a convincing nautical air. His lines were full of sailors' idioms, which I found amusing. The versatile Mr Donald Elliott played the wicked uncle Doggrass with venomous mien. Mr Elliott, with lightning changes of costume, facial hair and regional accent, also took most of the other parts: Seaweed, Pike and Quid, William's shipmates, and the Marine. Miss Joan Foster took the part of the Admiral, and had the job of sentencing William to be hanged. This she did with appropriate severity.

The second melodrama of the evening was "The Wages of Sin or Perfidious Piecework" by Mr Andrew Sachs, the well known actor. This was a treat of over the top wickedness where the wicked and foolish come to a sticky end. Lord Peregrine Fortune-Mint, married to the virtuous and haughty Lady Priscilla, who is always leaving home to go off and do good works, is astonished to be visited by her identical twin sister, a vamp, who makes a play for him. He succumbs to her advances with a will, but is she really who he thinks she is? Suffice it to say the play ends with the stage strewn with almost as many dead bodies as Hamlet. Mr Jess Abbo played Lord Peregrine with just the right mix of snobbery and vacuousness. Of course he was going to succumb to Mrs Brown, the identical twin sister, the temptress. But the wages of sin is death…. Mr Martin Redston played Jasper, the elderly butler. His painful progress across the stage and all the stage business conveyed his dodderiness very well. But the plot reveals he was in disguise, and at the right moment Jasper threw off the grey wig with a flourish to claim his reward for deceiving his employer. But the wages of sin is death…. Mrs Cathy Mercer played Lady Priscilla and Mrs Brown. What a haughty, self-righteous Priscilla, and what a lascivious, wicked Mrs Brown! The three actors mentioned here are to be complimented on the melodramatic staginess of their characters' dying. I think Mr Abbo would have the prize for the most protracted death.

I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek way the Madhatters approached the genre of melodrama. Black Eyed Susan could have flowed a little better. The direction in The Wages of Sin was particularly good. I wonder whether more could have been made of lighting effects. The music, provided by Mr Thomas Rainbow at the keyboard, was well chosen and added to the atmosphere of the plays. Our evening's enjoyment was made complete by the excellent refreshments. Well done, Madhatters!

Top of page

Date: 5 - 6 July 2008
Production: Treasure Island
Venue: Gladstone Park
Report by: Edit Howard

This was a completely up-dated and localised version of the classic children's novel, ably adapted by Michael Redston and Amy Bonsall - Amy also directed it, with the help of Sian Thomas.
This was a very jolly romp played out in different parts of the attractive pleasure garden of Gladstone Park in Dollis Hill. Jim Hawkins became a feisty Jane, well played by Stephanie Clarke; the Admiral Benbow Inn was re-located to Willesden High Road; and the treasure was a secret formula for free fuel buried on a desert island. Maggie Robson put on a splendid show as the Squire, a computer hacker hoping for treasure to help rebuild her ruined family home, Dollis Hill House, and developing a taste for rum along the way. Andy Thomas' Long John Silver, complete with a crew of incompetent pirates, strutted and plotted and raised lots of laughs. Gary Lynch was very convincing as the good Doctor Livesey and Leila Reid was funny as a batty cheese-mad Berth Gunn. Rob Waters doubled up as Billy Bones and Captain Picardilly, involving children in the audience by inviting them to take the part of the ship's figurehead.
Actors from the local Madhatters Theatre Club played supporting roles to the professionals, notably the incompetent pirates: Cathy Mercer was the tarty landlady and pirate, Ella, paired up in the galley with Ken Govier's Sam; Martin Redston also doubled up as a sinister Bill Pew and Ivor Squint, the ship's myopic pilot; the ever-popular Michael Fay played Rom Weigh, an equally incompetent helmsman; and Fiona Cowie was charming as ever as Annette Fisher; Chris Channing opened the show playing his blues guitar. Other pirates were played by Roxy Afifi Sabet as the cerebrally challenged pirate May Day and Stephen Lanigan-O'Keefe as Rod Fisher, doubling also as DJ B-Dog.
As in any promenade performance, props and set were minimal. A few ropes and sail hanging from a large oak tree made up the ship, with a recruit from the audience acting as figurehead. The final scene was played out in front of a lavish mobile home, borrowed from one of the cast, with Jane Hawkins and chums lounging and sipping cocktails, while the chained up pirates carried the cargo for the homeward trip. Costumes were modern too, with the pirates in appalling shorts and Silver in gaudy and villainous garb.
This was a promenade performance and we were promised a play come rain or shine. Having chosen the wettest weekend so far this summer, we were fortunate to get sunshine for three out of four of our shows, with only the final performance played out in the rain. The audience stuck with the show to the very end and their laughs were loud enough to carry over the lashing rain and howling winds!

Top of page

Date: 10 May 2008
Production: Mish Mash
Venue: The Stables Gladstone Park
Report by: Michael Toohig

Once again the Madhatters have come up with something completely different: an evening of party-pieces and audience participation. The Mish Mash was a chance for Madhatters members to perform extracts from their favourite plays and the audience were invited to join in. The idea sounds chaotic but it was very well run and as no piece lasted more than five minutes, there was never a dull moment. The evening's entertainment was accompanied by food and drink, all included in the price of the £5.00 ticket. It must be hard to find a better-priced evening's entertainment and the delicious strawberries and cream and wine all made for a good atmosphere.
The turns were varied: Michael Fay recited the Highwayman, Martin Redstone, Jess Abbo and Joan Foster produced monologues, while Donald Elliot and Cathy Mercer put on a very funny extract from Miles Kingston's Let's learn francais. Cathy and Maureen MacMillan staged a battle of the Bracknals, with audience members taking the supporting roles. Judy Friend took to the parts of Gwendolyn and Cecily like a fish to water. The Madhatters' turns were interspersed by audience participation. Odette Elliot recited some very funny poems, Chris Channing performed part of Samuel Beckett's Embers with his feet in a bucket of sand and Judy played pieces on the recorder and performed a murder scene from Pirandello.
Madhatters entertainments are always fun and this one was particularly enjoyable. The atmosphere was relaxed, the entertainment was varied and fast-paced and the food and drink were good. I've seen several of the Madhatter's recent plays but I enjoyed their Mish Mash more than any of these. Roll on Mish Mash 2!

Top of page

Date: 6 - 9 December 2007
Production: When Did You Last See Your Trousers?
Venue: Malorees Junior School
Report by: Michael Toohig

This was a timely revival of Galton and Antrobus' hit 1980s West End farce When did you last see your trousers? All farces require lots of doors and this one had more than most. The star of the show was therefore without question Roger Kelly's magnificent box set with four (five?) doors, which consistently refused to stick and withstood nightly battles between bent copper Jess Abbo and leading man Leo Zahra. The set also looked spot-on for a seedy low rent '80s London flat.
This farce offered a variety of hilarious parts, all of which were well played. Leo, fulfilling a life ambition to star in a fast-paced farce, had an enormous part as Howard Swirling, the man whose trousers get pinched. He tackled it manfully and womanfully too, his best turn being his remarkable transformation into Martha, a German chanteuse who won the heart of Jess' bent copper. Donald Elliot continued his portrayal of crime in the dual role of burglar and seedy bent police inspector and Cathy was the long-suffering 'bit on the side'. She coped remarkably well with her many lines and the stream of ever varying repartee she confronted. Michael Fay and Fiona Cowie stole the show as a stoned punk and Danish au pair. Michael is always a favourite with the audience and as usual played his part with wit and energy. Whether Fiona's accent was really Danish is hard to say but it certainly sounded suitably exotic and she looked delightful in her punk gear. Martin Redston's dirty old home secretary and Roger Kelly's gravely-voiced colonel both went down well. Martin's fight with Leo over their trousers was especially effective. I can still hear him saying: it's MY suit! Maureen MacMillan made a fine debut in dangly ear-rings and negligee as dirty Deirdre and doubled up as seamstress on duty, mending the suit which Leo and Martin mauled very night. Sound and light were very well handled by Annetta Ivanov, who stepped in to at very short notice and, as you'd expect from a farce, had to deal with a lot of sound and light effects. Tom Rainbow directed the Madhatters with skill and flair but farce requires swift action and reaction and the Madhatters weren't always quite fast enough for the climax, racing round and round and in and out of all those doors. The Madhatters Theatre Club should be congratulated on this production. They are a small company but they dealt magnificently with the hard work of acting, set building, lighting, sound, publicity, programme design and printing for this production. The inevitable trousers motif on the programme and fliers was simple but particularly effective. It was good to see a sizable audience for their show, including fans of the Goons and Steptoe and Son, drawn in by the rare staging of a play by Galton and Simpson.

Top of page

Date: 31 November-3 December 2006
Production:Under Milk Wood
Venue: Malorees Junior School
Report by: Rose Bloomfield

Under Milk Wood is Dylan Thomas' magical evocation of one day in the life of a small South Wales town. A challenge for any amateur group to stage but the Madhatters played their parts with gusto, humour and empathy. The decision to retain their own varied accents was a wise one. Director Susan Schrand gave the production a truly professional feel. Each separate scene was well-timed and “pacey”. On the one occasion that an entrance was missed this hitch was dealt with from the stage with humour and professionalism and the colourful cavalcade of Llareggub’s townspeople continued smoothly. The production was in the round but with the use of a stage for small domestic scenes. Joan Gillison’s lighting worked perfectly and each character or setting was individually lit. The use on stage of characters in silhouette was very effective. The set with its village pump, sign for the Sailors Arms etc was excellent and conjured up the village atmosphere, giving plenty of room for a large cast to move around in as well as enter/exit from all directions. The costumes too gave a feel of times past in a small fishing and farming community. Tom Rainbow’s music set the scene from start to finish, especially in the Pub Scene and in the Children’s Song.
Jesse Abbo – First Voice and Organ Morgan: Jesse together with Donald Elliott held the whole production together from start to finish. Their narrative skill set the scenes and brought out the fine poetic language. Jesse also played Organ Morgan whose long-suffering wife complained that he lived only for “Organ, Organ, Organ”. Donald Elliott – Second Voice, Mr Cherry Owen and Evans Death: Donald’s narration was excellent, reading Thomas’ wonderful prose and providing a humorous and wise overview of the townspeople. He also showed his obvious affection for them by his facial expression alone. As Mr Cherry Owen, Donald showed his versatility by becoming the drunken but funny husband whose very tolerant wife knows just how to deal with him. Roger Kelly – Captain Cat: This was a totally believable and heart-warming portrayal of the blind Captain Cat, his sailing days now over, who hears and “sees” all that’s going on, and who yearns for his beloved Rosie Probert who appears in his dreams. Shane O’Connor – Mr Waldo, Mr Pritchard, Willy Nilly and NoGood Boyo: Shane threw himself into his portrayals of the put-upon Mr Pritchard as well as most of Llareggub’s Bad Boys. He acted with vigour and conviction throughout. Tom Fernley – Mr Mog Edwards, Mr Pugh and Ocky Milkmam: Tom’s playing of the lovelorn Draper, Mr Mog Edwards, was spot-on. His postal courtship of Myfanwy Price was beautifully handled by both actors as was his evident pride in the way of life he’d built up for himself. In contrast, as the cruelly henpecked but outwardly obedient Mr Pugh - who devours “Death of Famous Poisoners” at the breakfast table and fends off the barbs of his icily sarcastic wife – his facial expressions alone were a delight.
Teresa Kelly – Rosie Probert, Myfanwy Price, Mrs Cherry Owen and The Guide: As Rosie Probert, her loving words – from beyond the grave to her true-love Captain Cat – were very moving. Then, as Miss Myfanwy Price she obviously relished her postal courtship, without any of life’s real problems. As Mrs Cherry Owen, she cheerfully put up with her husband’s drunken antics, one of Llareggub’s better marriages! As the Guide, a comic performance, how a patronising stranger might view the townspeople and their countryside. A trio of great performances. Cathy Mercer – Gossamer Beynon and Mrs Pugh: two very funny performances from one of the Madhatters’ stalwarts. Firstly, Cathy played a sex-starved schoolteacher, clutching desperately at her dream of respectability (and to her over-the-top vowels) in the face of Sinbad’s lustful gaze. Then she became the icily sarcastic Mrs Pugh who enjoys tormenting her husband over the breakfast table, unaware that he grows his moustache in fond memory of Dr Crippen! Tricia Oates – Gossip, Mrs Dai Bread 2 and Bessie Bighead: This was Tricia’s debut performance with the Mahdatters and she showed real stage presence, her body language was totally natural. She conveyed lots of humour and the pathos in all her characters. Sue O’Connell – Polly Garter and Lily Smalls: In this pivotal role as Llareggub’s single mother and Femme Fatale, Sue brought out the many sides of Polly: the hard-working mum and a warm woman who despises the smug married fold. She moved very sensuously and left the audience in no doubt why she was such a favourite with the men folk and so feared by their wives. As Lily Smalls, the Beynon’s overworked skivvy whose only confidante was her mirror she was very appealing. Sue Ling – Gossip, Mrs Watkins and Mrs Dai Bread 1: Another newcomer to the Madhatters, Sue was a very natural and easy on stage. She relished her parts, especially as a gossip and as the sultry Gypsy-like Mrs Dai Bread 1 who effortlessly bamboozled Mrs Dai Bread 2 into believing she could tell fortunes. Joan Foster – Mother, Mary Anne Sailors and Mrs Ogmore Pritchard: In Mother and Mary Anne Sailors, Joan showed the town’s older generation’s contentment in their simple and unchanging way of life. She gave an excellent Mrs Ogmore Pritchard, who ruled her two (dead) husbands’ every move with an iron fist, which she didn’t even pretend to hide in a velvet glove!
Martin Redston – Rev Eli Jenkins, Utah Watkins and Dai Bread: Martin’s portrayal of the simple, kind-hearted cleric was totally believable and sympathetic, as he tended his flock and gathered together the history of his region. The happiness of this good man was evident as he recited his poetry to the hills and distributed sweets and poems to all. As Utah Watkins, he let rip as a sheep farmer who was being driven mad by his flock. As Dai Bread, who had two wives to contend with, he wisely let the ladies do the talking. Christopher Channing – PC Attilla Rees and Drowned Man: First, Christopher appeared as the spirit of the drowned sailor. Later on he erupted onto the stage as a manic Policeman, straight out of a Keystone Cops movie. Charlie Chaplin would have signed him up on the spot as he brought a touch of mayhem to the proceedings. Michael Fay – Mr Ogmore, Butcher Beynon, Sinbad and Jack Black: Playing Mr Ogmore, Michael was suitably subdued as one of Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard’s husbands. But he really shone when playing Butcher Beynon whose descriptions of the strange animal parts he sells and gives to his family were very funny indeed. As Sinbad the Sailor he was full of unspoken lust and longing for the schoolteacher he feels is too educated for him. Both Cathy and Michael acted their scenes together with great humour and expressions. Rosanna Neophyton – Mrs Willy Nilly and Mae Rose Cottage: This young actor dealt admirably with her roles, both as a young wife whose excitement comes form reading other people’s mail and as a naïve seventeen year old who is half longing and half afraid of the bright lights, excitement and romance she dreams of.
The Children of Malorees’ School: The troupe of children enthusiastically threw themselves into playing goats, sheep, a cat and - most notably – children in the playground: singling, teasing each other, running about and quarrelling. They seemed to enjoy the experience a lot.

Top of page

Date: 4-7 May 2006
Production: The Roaring Boy of Brent
Venue: Malorees Junior School
Report by: Cathy Mercer

The Roaring Boy of Brent Written by Audrey Ringrose* Directed by Jonathan Bidgood Music by John Asher Performed by the Madhatters Theatre Club, Malorees School, Kilburn 4-7 May 2006 This was a very entertaining piece of historical costume-comedy with lots of music and some excellent performances. The production managed to appeal both to the grown-ups and the children in the audience and gave a good insight into the history of Kilburn, while remaining fun. The development of the play was particualry interesting as it was written especially for the Madhatters, with the aim of including as many children and additional adults as possible. . The Madhatters Theatre Club have been performing in Malorees School in Kilburn since 2002. They have tried to involve pupils in their plays before but the problem they have found is that very few plays exist which offer good parts for junior school age children. Most plays offer either huge parts, which are beyond the scope of the majority of children, or crowd scenes which do not involve them significantly in the drama. The Madhatters therefore invited Audrey Ringrose to write a community play which would give the children small but interesting parts and involve them in the action throughout. The Madhatters chose the dramatic theme of eighteenth century highwaymen who used to roam the nearby Edgware Road, pouncing upon unfortunate travellers. This proved an exciting subject with opportunities for beautiful period costumes, fight scenes and a very effective hanging, dramatically staged with back lighting. Audrey researched the period thoroughly and produced a fascinating mix of real characters and her own creations. Audrey's play was firmly set in the Kilburn area. The children played orphans from the Kilburn Priory, an orphanage which stood on the very site of Malorees School. The protagonist was Nathanial Gubbins, a former orphan trying to make his way up in the world by dabbling in a bit of highway robbery. This part was well played by Jess Abbo, who conveyed the pathos of a poor lad with no options to better himself other than marrying his bossy girlfriend and become a night-soil collector. Cathy Mercer did a good job as the bossy but feisty fiancée, standing loyally by her man to the very end. There were three villains to the piece, all drawn from history: Jack Sheppard, famous for breaking out of Newgate Prison, given a real mixture of bravado and sleaze by Donald Elliot; Jonathon Wild, sinister double agent and thief-catcher, whom Martin Redston made into a scary and menacing bully; and the glamorous Jeremiah Lewis, played by Leo Zahra, who won the hearts of all the girls. Added to this historical panoply was a host of vivid supporting roles.Shirly Marom made a fiery Jenny, a tarty flirt who threw herself from one crook to another. Corinne Gladstone was convincing as Belinda Bellevue, who works her way up from the gangster's moll to the first highway woman in Britain. John Stirling Gallagher was a comically bumbling Father Tom, well meaning manager of the Kilburn orphanage, as well as an incompetent lord chancellor. Michael Fay performed as well as ever as the visionary, Derry Mick. Director Jonathan Bidgood gave a scary cameo as the hangman. Fiona Cowie doubled up very well as the villain Blueskin and one of Jeremiah Lewis' screaming fans, along with Simone Dornbach and Sue O'Connell. Shane O'Connor and Chris Channing made excellent Madhatters debuts as pair of policemen. And both Teresa Kelly and Sue O'Connell performed well when they stepped in at very short notice to play the bibulous mother of Jack Shepherd after Joan Foster was unfortunately too ill to take the part. All of these were well supported by the crowds of football-kicking orphans. The music was very atmospheric, well directed by John Asher, who doubled up as singing coach. The play was set in the round, which helped with the smaller children's voices and involved the audience in the action and singing in the crowd scenes. Jonathan Bidgood directed the play with a sure hand. He brought the best out of his cast and handled the set pieces particularly well, including Jack Sheppard's escape from Newgate Prison, Jeremiah Lewis' hanging and Nathanial Gubbins' fight with Jack Sheppard. The lighting was low key but effective, especially in the dramatic hanging scene. Although firmly grounded in eighteenth century Kilburn, this lively play would transfer well to any other amateur dramatic company's patch. The scenes at the Willesden Spotted Dog could easily be set in another pub, as could references to places such as Shooters Hill and Dollis Hill Farm. Highwaymen roamed the roads throughout Britain and Audrey's play could easily be adapted to meet local needs. One final point: the new Brent Museum in Willesden Green Library has a very good exhibition about Jack Sheppard, who robbed Dollis Hill farm and murdered the farmer's wife, showing once again that the Madhatters are trail blazers in Brent. Jack Sheppard was eventually hanged at Tyburn and, like many eighteenth century criminals, ended up as a medical student's skeleton. His bones are still on display in the Royal College of Surgeons Museum at Lincolns Inn Fields.

* If you would like to perform this play please contact the author directly:
Audrey Ringrose, 15 Ashburnham Grove LONDON SE10 8UH

Top of page

Date: 25-26 November & 2-3 December 2005
Production:An evening of Grand Guignol
Venue: Malorees Junior School and the Stables Art Gallery
Report by: Cathy Mercer

Grand Guignol was a tiny theatre on the Montmartre in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century. The Grand Guignol was famous for its gory and horrific productions: Hammer Horror long before it's time! The Madhatters selected two of the most popular Grand Guignol plays: a comedy entitled Chop Chop and The Kiss of Blood, a piece of real horror. Chop Chop is a very funny comedy starring an enormous guillotine. A very flirty lady takes her boyfriend out for an afternoon of thrills and persuades him to try out the guillotine - with hilarious and often nail-biting consequences. Meanwhile a group of passing tourists request that the blade should fall, to see if it really works as it's supposed to. The guillotine held out for all performances and children in the audience kept asking if they could test it out. The Kiss of Blood is a scarier piece of psychological drama about a happily married man haunted by the wife he has murdered. The two plays were neatly linked by a short pastiche of Grand Guignol scripted for us by Corrine Gladstone, who also starred in Chop Chop. Our autumn production was designed to be less work than usual but things never work out like that… We decided to stage these two playlets as a part of a French-themed evening and laid on dinner for our audience and ran for two weekends instead of the normal one! We were especially grateful to the help given to us in organizing the food for all our hungry guests by John's Fruiters of Dollis Hill.

Top of page

Society: Madhatters Theatre Club
Date: 8th May 2005
Production: Dry Rot
Venue: Malorees Junior School Hall, Willesden
Report by: Harvey Kesselman

In performing a farce, not only do the actors have to be sure of their dialogue, the most essential ingredient required is the pace in which this dialogue is delivered. Unfortunately, this was rather absent in this production. As a result, the play did seem to occasionally slow down. There were quite a number of prompts that were given, and whilst there is no stigma in receiving these, some of the characters still seem to have a problem in picking their lines up even after having received a prompt and, as a result, the speed of the piece suffered. Roger Kelly was suitably pompous as Colonel Wagstaff, wondering why he had purchased this seemingly run down "hotel". As Mrs Wagstaff, Angella Hodge was rather on the quiet side, but looked right and acted well. I could not quite understand why Fiona Cowle had bare feet on her first entrance. One was under the impression she had just returned from a walk, so why no shoes? The sling of her handbag was much too short to be carried over her shoulder, and presented a problem when trying to take out or put back the letter she had been given. On her next entrance, at least she was wearing what looked like pumps. The first sign of comedy was the appearance of Cathy Mercer as Beth, the maid. It was a funny performance helped by a strange accent, and rather raucous laughter. The pitch of Martin Redston's voice was rather too high; it might have been preferable if he would have played it rather like a Bertie Wooster character, a sort of upper class silly ass. Nevertheless, as John Danby he acted well, rightly giving the appearance of not really knowing what his employer was up to. As his employer, Alfred Tubbe, Donald Elliot was very good. He played the seedy bookmaker perfectly. There was perhaps a slight problem in seemingly remembering when he should put on a "posh" accent, as opposed to his "real" voice (or was that deliberate?), but it was a lovely performance. He was well supported by Leo Zahra as Fred Phipps, his so called valet. Leo seemed to delight in this part, and his scene with Donald, when he is being persuaded to be a jockey, was very funny. As the third member of this 'unholy trio', Ken Govier (Flash Harry) was suitably seedy and delivered his dialogue in a lovely cockney (?) accent, spluttering his way through mouthfuls of food. There was a truly wonderful performance by Jess Abbo as Albert Polignac, the 'very' French jockey. Whether his French was accurate or not, I cannot say, but his whole performance was terrific. Joan Foster as Sergeant Fire did not really have the command the part needed. She needed to have been more in control of the situation, and her dialogue should have been delivered with more authority. Completing the cast, although unseen, was Grahame Edwards as the radio commentator. His description of the race was good, although it tended to drown some of the dialogue taking part on stage. Timing the commentary and the stage dialogue should have made a better balance. The set was rather drab, and although the 'hotel' was supposed to be rather dreary, the set could have been a little brighter and less depressing. The sliding panel worked well (although it seemed that Leo kept kicking a wrong part of the flat in order that the panel should open). The confusion in giving a signal to Flash Harry by knocking three times to show the coast was clear, and trying to convince the owners that they were looking for dry rot, was funny. There were no problems with the lighting and sound in the capable hands of Richard Lees, Alec James and Martin (Redston?). The props were fine, but I felt the men's costumes were, in the main, rather drab and in some cases ill fitting. The director, Simon Rawlings managed to get the most out of this play, and the cast seemed to cope reasonably well with a farce that somehow seemed to be rather dated.

Top of page

Society: Madhatters Theatre Club
Date: 28 November 2004
Production: The 101 Dalmatians
Venue: Malorees Junior School Hall
Report by:

I was asked by your NODA rep., Harvey Kesselman, if I would review Dodie Smith's play, as he was unable to do so. Like most people, I only know the story from the Disney film, and wondered how on earth Madhatters would get 101 puppies on stage! In the event the staging and plot came across to the numerous juvenile (and adult) audience very well, who were able to hiss the baddies and cheer the goodies pantomime style. I particularly liked the clever back screen projections of various locations, and the informative letter from 'Cruella' in the programme. Theatre in the Round gives more space when there's a lot of movement required, but does cause blocking problems and muffled dialogue when actors' faces cannot seen, which happened here occasionally with some players. I was rather confused when having been told that the actress playing Perdita would be late, a young girl came on at the beginning playing Cruella! Props and scenery were of necessity, sparse but effective and the animal costumes were good, though Missus needed black trousers when the dogs were covered in soot'. The play showed a few signs of under rehearsing and prompts were sometime in evidence. In the most demanding roles, Pongo (Martin Redston) and Missus (Cathy Mercer) acted extremely well together, and Roger and Anita Dearly (Donald Elliott and Fiona Cowie) were suitably 'upper crust' though the latter's diction and manner were rather stilted. John Stirling-Gallacher was typecast as the bumbling Butler and Col. Clutterbuck, while Diane Stirling-Gallacher made a motherly and sympathetic cook. Corinne Gladstone stole the show, and revelled in the role of the villainess, Cruella de Vil, assisted by her two henchmen, Saul and Jasper, brilliantly played by Jess Abbo and Roger Kelly. I was very impressed with the cameo roles played by Leo Zahra, Teresa Kelly and Ken Govier, while Joan Foster, Angela Mills, Michael Toohig and Michael Fay were effective in their roles. The 'Puppies', led by Roxanna, Hana, James and Denny, had a whale of a time. Many Thanks for your kind invitation to us.

Top of page

Society: Madhatters Theatre Club
Date: 14th May 2004
Production: The Frogs - Aristophanes
Venue: Malorees Junior School Hall
Report by: Harvey Kesselman

One of the earliest of comedies written, according to my research, and first produced in 407 BC at the Lenaea, where it won first prize, was now being given a new airing by The Madhatters, and their production proved to be very successful. It was brave of them to tackle this early comedy by Aristophanes, reducing the long wordy script, and taking out a lot of the "rude" bits that usually were in these early plays. Performing in the round (actually three quarters) does pose a problem as it means that occasionally the actors have to deliver lines with their backs to some part of the audience, thus depriving them with some of the pithier lines of dialogue. In spite of this, the simple set worked well, and there were some very funny performances. Splitting the role of Dionysus into three actors and giving Euripides and Aeschylus acolytes was inspirational, as it helped to move the play along and, certainly in the case of the acolytes, seemed to make sense, as well as giving more actors the opportunity to take part in this amusing play. Corinne Gladstone (number one Dionysus) was excellent; she delivered her lines with confidence although occasionally they were rather rushed (this also applied to some of the other actors). Jess Abbo, as the slave Xanthias, was wonderful. His asides to the audience were very funny, and he did give the appearance of a worn out, put upon slave. The scene with Charon (Leo Zhara), and that very clever ferry, worked well. The descent into Hades (via the ferry) and the mix-up of identities, the changing of roles as Hercules between Dionysus and Xanthias again was most amusing. It was delightful to see children performing on stage as "The Frogs", the only problem was they were (although enthusiastic) rather difficult to understand; nevertheless they made a good chorus, and looked as though they were enjoying themselves. Once descended into the underworld, the role of Dionysus was split between Martin Redston and Jim Robson - this might have been confusing were it not clearly set out in the programme that this was going to happen. Once established, there were no problems, as it just seemed to be two other characters trying to bring back a recently deceased Euripides, as, since his death, Athens no longer had a worthy tragic poet. There was a lot of doubling up in the various roles, and it is probably easier if I just listed them with their various parts and the contributions made to the undoubted success of this play: Michael Fay as the real Hercules (and one of the slaves to Aeacus, Leo Zhara the other one) looked suitably menacing; Roger Forbes doubled up as a rather lively corpse and part of the stage management team; Kay Shelley was the other part of the stage management as well as a slave to Pluto; Lawrence Matthias as the Leader of the Initiates; Cathy Mercer as both maid to Persephone (Queen of Hades) and, one of the Landladies (the other being Martin Redston); Ken Govier needed to be more menacing as Pluto; Angela Mills was a bit lightweight as Euripides's acolyte, her delivery of dialogue needed to be stronger; as the other acolyte, Fiona Cowie was more expressive and easier to understand. The wonderful, rather absurd poetic, battle between Aeschylus and Euripides was carried out with great gusto by Donald Elliott as Euripides and John Sterling-Gallacher as Aeschylus, both quoting (via their respected acolytes) passages from their own works, and each rubbishing the other. Both actors were very good. Adding a sort of Greek Chorus, using modern tunes to the original words (in translation), seemed to work, as did some of the updating of the politics. Cathy Mercer directed a very funny play with some very good performances; the set (Roger Forbes, Jess Abbo and company) was simple but effective; Richard Lees (and Martin) were responsible for sound and lighting; the costumes were in some case almost daring, but did seem to fit the period; and the whole evening was great fun. The programme too was quite fun, and the information regarding the background of the play was very useful, although the format was rather cumbersome.

Top of page

Society: Madhatters Theatre Club
Date: 5th December 2003
Production: The Government Inspector
Venue: Malorees Junior School Hall
Report by: Harvey Kesselman

This latest offering by The Madhatters was received by the audience with the laughter this very funny satirical comedy deserved. Written in 1835, banned by the censors, a decision, which was subsequently overruled by Tsar Nicholas 1st, who enjoyed its ridicule of government bureaucracy in Russia in the nineteenth century. There are, I understand, several versions (translations), possibly the best known one being the film starring Danny Kaye entitled "The Inspector General". The play premiered in London in 1920, opening on Broadway three years later as The Inspector General. This translation by Guy Williams is excellent, bringing out the corruption by the officials of a small provincial town who mistake a petty clerk for the Government Inspector and load him with bribes and gifts, only to discover, too late, their mistake. The casting by the company was ideal. It was interesting to hear the cast use what can only be described as 'mixed northern accents'. It did seem to work, and these accents were kept up during the performances. There were (seemingly) no hiccups, and the play ran smoothly. Roger Kelly as the Mayor was suitably flustered and made certain his worries were transmitted to the rest of the "officials", although I felt his costume could have been slightly grander. Paul Hurst handled the part of the Director well, although he was inclined to be a bit on the stiff side. Donald Elliott can always be relied upon to get into whatever character he plays, and his role as the Magistrate suited him well. I would have liked a little more projection from the Superintendent of Schools played by Joan Foster. Although I was sitting in the front row, some of her dialogue was a bit on the quiet side, and could have been missed by the audience sitting further back. Teresa Kelly's Postmistress was well portrayed, and her reading of the letter sent by the supposed Government Inspector, with interruptions by other members of the cast, was most amusing. The 'double act' of Jess Abbo and Leo Zhara as Peter John Bobsky and Peter John Dobsky was very funny, Jess's description of the 'stranger' in the Inn, which causes the confusion was so well done. He did however have a slight tendency to make some of the pauses in between sentences rather too long, but nevertheless, his dialogue was delivered confidently. As the Chief of Police, Ken Govier was suitably gruff. I did enjoy Corinne Gladstone's performance as Anna, the Mayor's wife - her acting was delightful. Her delivery of her dialogue was very good, and she squeezed out all the comedy the role required. Fiona Cowie, the mayor's daughter, started off rather hesitantly, but improved as the play progressed. Joseph, Lestakov's servant, suitably scruffy, was in the capable hands of Michael Fay, whose Irish accent contrasted with the other players. Cathy Mercer doubling up as the Waitress and the Sergeant's wife, and Adam Taussik, as a militant shopkeeper and a Moscow Official, who announces the arrival of the REAL Government Inspector to the utter confusion of the town officials, played their parts well. I have left Martin Redston's peformance as Lestakov (originally Ivan Khlestakov in the original) until last. This was a tour de force. The amount of dialogue, and the very long speeches were extremely well done. The gradual descent to becoming drunk, and all the "money - bribery" scenes were very funny. I did however feel his costume should have been a better fit, particularly the waistcoat. This did not detract in any way in his performance. Stage Manager, Roger Forbes, made certain that all went smoothly, the lighting was in the control of Richard Lees, the set was rather minimalist. Having the cast come on to the stage from the back of the hall worked well, and getting the audience to participate was a nice touch. The cast were occasionally upstaging each other, and a certain amount of masking took place. Martin is to be congratulated in his directing of this piece, and it is only a great shame that the audience (which was most appreciative) was not larger.
A most enjoyable evening.

Top of page

The Madhatters Theatre Club is a registered charity (Registered charity No. 1095317)
and is affliated to the Brent Arts Council
© 2021 Madhatters Theatre Club