Madhatters Theatre Club


General Reviews 2010-2019


Last Woman Working
All by myself
The Stubbs
Dear Departed
Tram-Track Tragedy - Photos
Alice in Wonderland - Photos - and founders’ poem (poem: link to PDF 376KB)
The Old Lady Shows her Medals - Photos1 and Photos2
War of the worlds - Photos1 and Photos2
The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew - Photos1 and Photos2
Way Upstream by Joan Blandino - Way Upstream by Ray Barsby - Photos - Response from resident of St Mungo's
Chain Reaction
Earlier reviews

Date: 10-11 May 2019
Production: Variety Show; Last Woman Working by Michael Pearcy
Venue: King's Hall
Report by: Donald Elliott

Martin Cathy Jess Adeline Brian Marion Gillian

Cathy Martin Marion

Cathy Martin Jess Marion Adeline Gillian

Maggie, Cathy McManaman


(Images © SM)

What an interesting play and what a great production!

Set in 2039, Last Woman Working looked at a future where robots run the show, a life without work – and without support for the ex-workers. One woman starts a protest movement and we watch it take off. The play was very thought-provoking but also funny, with some droll farce and unexpected twists and turns – well-chosen and unusual.

Cathy anchored the show as a very sympathetic Barbara, watching her work-free husband fall to pieces and her children hurtle the same way, ensnaring her MP to launch her workers’ campaign. Her gullible MP and his self-serving assistant were well played by Martin and Marion, offering well-rehearsed slogans rather than support and falling for her protest plan, complete with hand-cuffs and scotch-egg. Her vision was well supported by Jess and Adeline’s comical Fred and Joan, clearly enjoying every moment of their huffing and puffing protest, and Gillian was excellent as Barbara’s supportive daughter. The final scene gave the show an unexpected twist.

The constituency office of a Labour MP was well evoked with a few posters and the final mass-protest was a triumph, with extra banner-waving protesters packing the small stage to create a triumphant atmosphere, led on by the visionary Barbara.

This was a great evening, on my door step and full of local talent. I was there for the final show and Chris Channing as ever got his audience howling with his Little Red Rooster rendition. They were even howling and barking before he started. Penny Dudley’s monologue was a novelty. Charlotte Harker’s poetry was fantastic and Maggie Robson and Cathy McManaman gave us a wonderful selection of songs. Harold’s magic was as entertaining as ever, with a whole set of brand new tricks, and the tea and biscuits were very welcome, served in proper mugs, not throw-away plastic.

I went on the Saturday evening and I’m sorry to have missed the Ashford Place Choir’s Irish medley and Richard Cutler’s short story but I’m told that both were excellent.

Many thanks, Madhatters, for another entertaining show.

More photos; Top of page

Date: 23 and 24 November 2018
Production: Variety Show; All by myself by Robert Scott
Venue: King's Hall
Report by: Greg Howard

Jess, Gillian, Martin, Adeline, Cathy
© Piotr

Adeline, Jess, Cathy, Marion, Martin
© SM

Another year, another King’s Hall variety show, and one as packed and interesting as past variety shows. I was at the Friday evening show and it went with a swing, with lively compering by Jess and Martin.

The Cullen Carroll Irish Dancers opened the cabaret and they were outstanding – difficult steps in perfect harmony. Chris Channing was excellent, encouraging audience participation to his lively blues standards.

The sax and singing from Peter and Celia of the Swing Street Band made a soothing contrast and Harold’s magic was as entertaining as ever, especially his final trick, identifying audience members from the aura on their rings and things, all tucked away in lovely little red velvet bags.

All by myself, a comedy by Robert Scott, was a great choice as the evening’s comedy: fast-moving and grounded in a good story. Five credible characters, all washed up on a desert island and some of them coping much better than others. Jess was a very convincing Larry, driven mad not by loneliness but by suddenly having to deal with other castaways after 7 years on his own. Gillian was a lively leader of the castaways, wearing a magnificent wig. Martin’s Ashworth was a tatty monocled merchant, contrasting well with Cathy’s cockney cook and Adeline’s myopic plant-hunter.

The contrasts of darkness and light in their sun-drenched misery were brought out by Marion’s insightful direction (photo right © SM), with a well-dressed stage and good movement.

The tour-de-force was the rickety escape raft, magnificently constructed of carpet rolls and potato sacks. Songs by Maggie and Cathy McManamon at the interval were a great accompaniment to tea and biscuits and a good time was had by all in the large audience.

Well done, Madhatters!

More photos; Top of page

Date: 24 and 25 November 2017
Production: An evening of crime and comedy; The Stubbs by Steve Harper
Venue: King's Hall
Report by: Greg Howard

This was another excellent Madhatters variety show, with music, magic and comedy.

The evening raced by, with a wonderful mixture of styles – something for everyone’s taste. I especially enjoyed Harold Straker’s magic and not just because I was up on stage choosing snooker balls for Harold to guess the colours correctly, of course. The tricks were snappy – each one different and I liked the way Harold involved the audience, getting children and adults on stage. How does he do it? Even close up and personally involved in the magic I couldn’t work it out.

Harold (Image © Rem)

'The Stubbs' (Image © SM)

'The Stubbs' (Image © Rem)

Before we started, we had a table quiz to get us into art and crime and also to get the audience to know each other. The show proper started with three musical numbers: first sophisticated cabaret-style singing from Minouche and Cathy McManamon, with songs from the shows and songs from the 70s. Both sang really well and Cathy’s sequined dress was a real show-stopper. In contrast, Chris Channing’s blues was very folksy. Accompanying himself on guitar, keyboard and mouth organ, he sang classics and self-penned numbers, all of which went down well, with the audience joining in on some numbers.

After the interval came Steve Harper’s one-act crime-comedy The Stubbs, a fast-moving and funny play, full of twists and surprises, rooted in the well-drawn characters. Nothing was as it seems as an elderly couple and their daughter manage to pass off a home-made horse portrait as a George Stubbs and make a small fortune on the way. The so-called art expert gets her come-uppance and the shady ‘fences’ are conned into paying vast amounts as they swallow the story of the painting’s miraculous escape from a WWII air-raid. The play had a good modern feel in contrast to recent Edwardian Madhatters plays, with clever use of the internet.

Martin was convincing as Bill the painter and decorator and Gillian was excellent as ever as his wife Ethel, playing the jolly housewife and then pulling off a fantastic trick to triple the earning from the painting. Sasha made a very promising Madhatters debut as Violet the daughter, inveigling the would-be sophisticated Trisha, played by Cathy, into swallowing the story hook, line and sinker. Jess, who also did a splendid job as show compere, made a very scary thug, brandishing surprising weapons. Adeline was a convincing ‘businesswoman’, vulgar in her gaudy jewellery.

The simple set and stripped-down props worked well, focussing attention on the action. The only slightly clunky moment came when Trisha plonked the painting on the floor instead of using the handy hook but I’m sure that was remedied in subsequent performances.

All this for £5 per head, including tea, biscuits, quiz and programme - no wonder the audiences were good!

Thank you, Madhatters.

Photos of the singers ; Top of page

Date: 10 and 11 March 2017
: Dear Departed; part of a Madhatters' Variety Show for King's Hall Community Centre
Venue: King's Hall
Report by: Dr Watson, in conversation with Orlando Pearson
(Orlando Pearson is author of The Redacted Sherlock Holmes, Volumes I, II and III)

The King’s Hall is a setting worthy of the name. As Holmes deduced would be the case as we passed through its portals, the entertainment was of a similarly lofty standard.

The Madhatters never cease to surprise. After more than a year resting, in the finest tradition of theatre, here they were with an all-singing, all-dancing show - well, I was told there was excellent Irish dancing on the Friday evening - complete with music, magic and melodrama. The first half of the show was pure variety and different every show, wittily introduced by Jess Abbo and splendidly accompanied by Tom Rainbow. On the Saturday matinee when I was there, we had excellent jazz and blues with Chris Channing and Friends, complete with saxophone. This was followed by beautiful singing from Maggie Robson, in fine form with songs from the shows. She can certainly hit the high notes! We were expecting Cathy McManamon with James Bond songs. Instead we got Cathy Mercer, complete with Bay City Rollers tartan scarf, with singalong songs and poems by Robbie Burns. That’s variety for you. Cathy had the whole audience joining in Charlie is my Darling, all five verses – or was it six? I’m sure my good friend Holmes would remember. Perhaps next time she should offer a wee dram to help the Burns go down?
Magic with Harold followed the tea and biscuits. How does he do his mind-reading? He managed to guess the special name people thought up, the amount of change in their wallet and, to cap it all, he did something amazing involving lots of bits and pieces from the audience which totally pulled the wool over the eye even of Holmes.

Finally the Madhatters treated us to a very funny comedy by Edwardian playwright Stanley Houghton, one of Holmes’ favourites. The Dear Departed is a short but beautifully observed slice-of-life piece about two sisters who have had to put up with their elderly father for rather longer than they would like. Suddenly he passes on after conveniently paying his final insurance premium. I won’t spoil the surprise, which not even Holmes anticipated, but the ending was much more up-beat than the start and Jess Abbo made a surprising and most amusing appearance as the elderly father. Gillian Horrell was terrific as the put-upon daughter in improvised half-mourning. Adeline Geary was Willesden’s answer to Lady Bracknell in full-mourning, complete with hand-bag. All that was missing was a hat. The unfortunate husbands were beautifully portrayed by Martin Redston and Cathy Mercer. Cathy's character liked to laugh in the most unfortunate situations. The conscience of the cast was Lia as the young daughter who, alone in the upwardly-mobile family, showed real affection for her grandfather. It was Lia’s first performance with the Madhatters but, we very much hope, not the last.
(Photo, right: Martin, Adeline, Jess, Gillian, Cathy).
The Madhatters had organised three shows at the King’s Hall and I’m told that the Gospel singing from the United Pentecostal Church choir was terrific on Friday evening, the Irish dancing from pupils at the Cullen Carroll Irish Dance School amazing and Cathy McManamon’s Bond songs hugely entertaining on Saturday evening. Having three different shows was a great idea and the lady sitting next to us told Holmes over her interval tea and biscuits that she was going to all three, having already enjoyed the Friday night performance. ‘Each show unique and each show excellent,’ she declared to him over locally-sourced, free range Hobnob biscuits, adding ‘At £3 a ticket, you really can’t complain, especially when your ticket includes refreshments.’ Roll on the next variety show, scheduled for November. Holmes and I will certainly come to all three shows next time!

Dr Watson was talking to Orlando Pearson, author of The Redacted Sherlock Holmes, Volumes I, II and III.

More about the Variety Show : Top of page

Date: 28 November, 4 and 5 December 2015
Production: Tram-Track Tragedy by Patricia Ariss, Peter Ariss
Venue: King's Hall
Report by: Judith Bailey

If it’s Christmas, it must be the Madhatters variety show and this excellent show lived up to expectations: music, magic, melodrama and mince pies.
The first half was variety, with community carol singing in aid of Save the Children and a couple of sweet solos from Angharad, aged 11. Tom was a great guide and accompanist for the community singing. Angharad with her cousin James accompanying were a tuneful pair.

Adeline made a brilliant quiz mistress, with clever questions on trams, tracks and tragedies. Not all as hard as they sound, though most of them beat me. A bit longer between questions would have helped people to pool their brain cells. Did you know that the most northerly tunnel on the London Underground is on the Piccadilly Line between Arnos Grove and Southgate?

Highlight of the variety section was surely Harold Straker’s magic. How does he do it? I watched Saturday afternoon and evening and couldn’t work out how he got the £10-note from under a handkerchief, on the floor, to inside a bottle, in an envelope, under a spotted scarf, pinned to a stand on the stage. The owner of the £10 could not get it out of the bottle, even with the tweezers which Harold helpfully handed her. And yes, it was the same £10 as the owner started with, as he’d had her write the serial number on a piece of paper. Incredible. Harold’s other magic was equally amazing and all delivered with charm and panache, as we’ve come to expect from him.   continued...





The melodrama was equally magical. Fast-moving and a witty piece, full of witty double-entendres and models of the approaching midnight tram, complete with illuminated windows. The production benefitted greatly from Tom’s precise direction and also his music - the melodramatic chords accentuated key moments beautifully. Acting was crisp throughout and the costumes well chosen. Nellie and Sir Putrid Canker were in sombre black, contrasting to the bright silks of Nellie’s sister Belle and the awkward clanking of the boy scout equipment carried by Claud Body, incompetent African explorer. He just needed a pair of specs to peer through myopically. Cathy and Martin made a great Nellie and Sir Putrid, with Martin twirling his moustache magnificently. Cathy did let her ‘fallen woman’ whine drop occasionally. Adeline made a super Belle, plaintively crying from the tram-track were she was tied by the evil Sir Putrid. Her rescuer Claud, played by Adam, was valiantly clumsy. Gillian was magnificent as Lemuel the Gypsy, the telegram boy, the tram driver and finally the detective. If I have any criticisms, it was that some of the lines were delivered too quickly, so that the audience did not catch all the jokes. But there was anyway such a lot packed into this short sharp play.

The melodrama made a perfect climax to an entertaining and memorable afternoon/evening. True variety with something for everyone, including yummy mince pies and good, strong tea. Well done, Madhatters!

Judith Bailey, Wembley resident; box office volunteer on Saturday matinee and evening; former teacher-English & Drama.

Photos : Top of page

Date: 6, 12 and 13 June 2015
Production: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, adapted by Mollie Hardwick
Venue: King's Hall
Report by: Greg Howard

2015 marks 150 years since Alice in Wonderland was first published and this was therefore a great opportunity for the Madhatters to stage an Alice production, especially as they’ve been around almost as long as the book! This was a great adaption by Mollie Hardwick, based entirely on Lewis Carroll’s own dialogue. The challenge for the group was acting nearly 30 characters with only 10 players but they approached their roles with energy and imagination. It was especially good to see several actors making their debuts, including 10-year old Charlotte, who made an excellent gardener and cook, throwing her plates around with vigour, and Alicja as a very frightened Mouse and a very agitated gardener. Mary was superb as Alice, in a delightful dress, mirrored in the reduced and expanded Alice. She hit just the right tone for a 10-year old and carried off this very demanding role with aplomb. Jess also made an excellent Carroll, getting the right balance of humour and slight sleaze and transforming himself into the King of Hearts with ease. continued...

Queen (Cathy), Alice (Mary),
Gryphon (Maria),
 Mock Turtle (Martin)

(Harold Straker)

March Hare (Martin), White Rabbit (Maria), Madhatter (Adeline), Cheshire Cat (Gillian), Mouse (Alicja), King (Jess), Jury (Charlotte)

Martin not only directed this pacy production but also took the parts of Mad March Hare, Executioner, Frog Footman, Soldier and Mock Turtle, the latter involving singing and dancing. He looked suitably mad waggling his ears and did an excellent job singing two very complicated songs. Adeline also did more than her share, as Fish Footman, bumping heads with the Frog Footman, and Mad Hatter. She looked superb as the Duchess, with fantastic blue head dress and baby that turned into a pig. Her singing was so bad that it was good.

Gillian was very good as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar and then as rose-painting gardener but excelled as Cheshire Cat. Her cat mannerisms were spot-on, as well as her grin and she did a great job of mysteriously appearing and then vanishing. Maria made an excellent Madhatters debut as the White Rabbit, hitting the right notes with her nervous mannerisms. She also made an excellent Gryphon and danced well to the Mock Turtle’s singing. Cathy was a very sinister Queen of Hearts, tucked into a fast-moving wheelchair and ordering executions from behind sun glasses. But for me, the high point of the evening was Harold Straker’s magic, which fitted in beautifully with the evening, card tricks, magic balls and a dramatic guillotine complimenting Alice and the Queen of Hearts. The jam tarts were very good too. The lighting and sound effects throughout the show were very effective, from jolly summery music before the show to crashing of plates as the cook entered. Perhaps gaps between one or two scenes were a bit long and maybe some ‘filler’ material could have been laid on. However, I appreciate that this sort of gap is inevitable with a small cast and a large number of characters.

All in all, despite these minor points, this was a lively and entertaining show. Children in the audience gasped at the creatures in their colourful costumes and adults laughed at the Mock Turtle’s silly puns. This was a production for children of all ages, complete with singing, dancing and magic. But I’m still left puzzled: tell me, Mad Hatter, why is a raven like a writing desk?

Photos : Top of page

Date: 21, 28 and 29 November 2014
Production: The Old Lady Shows her Medals by J M Barrie
Venue: King's Hall
Report by: Donald Elliott

Thank you Madhatters for a really interesting and entertaining evening. Joining at tables with scones, jam and cream plus tea made a delicious start. Then the WW1 community singing of WW1 songs and music hall items was brilliant, with excellent music from Tom.It was so good to hear Maggie’s lovely voice and expert movement. The Great Hasbini is certainly no has-been and his magic was magic. On top of that we had an excellent printed programme in full colour, so much better than many a West End glossy.

Maggie, Tom

Then at heart that most intriguing and unusual play. Jess performed his various roles very well indeed. As of course so did Martin. I especially liked Jess's toothy vicar who nicked the single malt. It was good to see so many newcomers to the Madhatters stage. Sam Wilkinson as Kenneth was really convincing as a Scottish soldier. He was entirely clear, except when he dropped his voice. Adeline Geary and Gillian Horrell looked good and spoke well. Cathy of the gorgeous hat, as always, kept the pace going. Mary Hill sustained the lead part of Mrs Dowey very ably indeed, though sometimes her swift bursts of word delivery meant my old ears could not entirely follow.

Front of house - Kuba, Maks

It was really good to see how the whole crew worked together. The King's Hall is a great venue, and I liked your use of the space. All this for £3 per concessionary head! Thank you. P.S. I was sorry not to be able to stop behind for longer. The hall was set for post-play conversation!

Photos (page down below and more photos) : Top of page


Mary, Sam

The Great Hasbini


Date: 28 and 29 November 2013
Production: War of the worlds
Venue: King's Hall
Report by: Adeline Geary

This show was ideal for a Madhatters re-launch: the famous 1930s radio play dramatising HG Wells’ novel and so realistic that it scared the wits out of the US audience. The Madhatters staged it in 1930s costumes, with large 1930s mikes and excellent sound effects provided by new-comer Simon. They’d worked hard on their US accents and generally projected well, despite the challenges of multiple roles. (Photo right: Mary, Jess, Barabara)

Jess bravely directed the production as well as taking on two major roles. Martin and Michael also played several roles and were both convincing as militia commanders, scientists, professor and secretary of state. Cathy and Kay as announcers provided dramatic bulletins of multiple disasters, while Mary and Barbara did well in their many parts. Mark made his Madhatters debut as Orson Welles and he threw himself into the role, projecting well. It was good also to see Ken acting again and again taking on more than one part, though he does need to work on his projection.

The accompanying interplanetary snacks added a festive air and the themed quiz went down well. The Madhatters have been a bit quiet this year because they’ve been busy sorting out a new home and venue and a very nice venue they’ve found too: warm, conveniently situated, roomy, with good acoustics and comfy chairs. We welcome them back and wish them well. We also look forward to their next show!

Review by Adeline Geary ; photos (page down below and more photos) : Top of page


Mary and Kay



Cast (Tripods)

Jess and Martin

Top of page

Date: 29 November to 2 December 2012
Production: The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew
Venue: Malorees Junior School
Report by: Rose Bloomfield

The Madhatters presented this play on four successive dates in December 2012. It was very much in the tradition of Spamalot or a traditional pantomime: an excellent seasonal choice. The costumes were realistic, especially the suits of armour and the downtrodden peasants’ rags. The wicked dragon was depicted with two glaring red spotlights, lots of smoke and the darkness of the ‘cave’ and sky, plus a booming voice over the sound system. Well done, Sue!

The four new members of the cast acquitted themselves well and hopefully enjoyed the experience of being in a friendly and supportive am-dram group. The cast:
The story teller Jess Abbo gave a relaxed, pleasant and humorous performance which helped the story to unfold. The Duke Barbara Jelbert – a regal and dignified persona, both in the delivery of her lines and in her stance. Sir Percival – Siobhan O’Dea coped admirably but she needs to gain more confidence on stage.
Juniper/Mazeppa Magpie Angie Qasir tackled two contrasting roles very well and interacted excellently with the other characters. Sir Digby Vayne-Trumpington/man at arms Annie Holden made another excellent debut. Captain/Sir Graceless/Lord Mayor Ken Bunting-Govier is a seasoned performer who took the three very different roles well in his stride. Obidiah Bobblenob Kay Shelley was excellent – a very amusing, sympathetic and believable performance. Dr Moloch Mary Lee is an experienced actress with perfect diction and great stage presence. Mike Magpie – Sue Arnold’s bird-like movements and mannerisms came across very well. Sir Oblong Fitzoblong Cathy Mercer brought out both the character’s courage and fair-mindedness in her performance. Excellent interaction with other cast members too. Baron Bolligrew Martin Redston effortlessly captured the essence of this blustery baron, ad-libbing with ease when needed, especially when his dashing moustache tried to escape from his upper lip! Squire Blackheart Michael Fay managed to remain totally in character, even when wearing a full suit of armour and helmet – no mean feat!

The crowd scenes using both adults and children were excellently staged, with convincing costumes. The crowd reactions and movement round the stage were well done and added to the atmosphere. The cave and tree with magpie on stage were charming! Well done, Madhatters. Another excellent show! Photos

Baron Bolligrew (Martin Redston), Dr Moloch (Mary Lee), Squire Blackheart (Michael Fay)

Lord Mayor (Ken Bunting-Govier),
Sir Oblong Fitz Oblong (Cathy Mercer)

Baron Bolligrew (Martin Redston),
Squire Blackheart (Michael Fay)

Top of page

Date: 1-4 December 2011
Production: Way Upstream
Venue: Malorees Junior School

A group of residents from St Mungo’s came to our play. They had a wonderful time and here are their thoughts on their evening

We really enjoyed coming to see the play. It made us laugh, and it was good to get out of the hostel, even though it was pouring with rain. The script was well written and the stage set-up and sound was professional. The actors displayed great skill and passion for their roles and the group gave an astounding, artistic flair. Some of us had not laughed this much for a very long time. Top of page

Date: 1-4 December 2011
Production: Way Upstream
Venue: Malorees Junior School
Report by: Joan Blandino

Way Upstream is one of Alan Ayckbourn's darkest and most complex plays. It starts as a light hearted comedy, with two couples squabbling on a boating holiday, but soon develops into a modern-day Lord of the Flies for adults, with new friends taking over and bullying the crew mercilessly. Fortunately, as with most Ayckbourn plays, morality prevails and the peaceable Alistair and Emma win through, fighting off their aggressors and sailing the boat away into the sunset. Or is this just a dream?

Technically also this is a difficult play, as the action is staged entirely on a river cruiser, the adjoining river bank and, with particular drama, in the river itself. Notoriously the National Theatres 1983 production apparently failed because of an over-ambitious set, complete with a real narrow boat and a real section of canal, which leaked too much for health and safety regulations even then. The Madhatters took a less ambitious but perhaps more sensible approach, basing their action behind a beautifully painted cruiser. While this meant that the lower parts of the actors were at times masked, it did mean that audiences did not get soaked and the performances took place as scheduled.

The small cast handled the play well. Jess Abbo shone as the domineering Keith and one could sympathise with the exasperation of his wife June, ably played by Sue Arnold, who made her stage debut in this show. Martin Redston worked hard at his role of the often put upon Alistair and Cathy Mercer clearly enjoyed playing his wife, despite having to walk the plank blind-folded and take her clothes off. Mary Lee, a seasoned actor with the East Lane Theatre Club, made an excellent Mrs Hatfield. Michael Fay was a very convincing Vince, degenerating from riverbank bonhomie to deluded pirate king. He was aided and abetted by his bird-watching friend Fleur, ably played by Kay Shelley. A fight between Alistair and Vince was perhaps the dramatic highlight and cleverly staged.

Altogether Martin Redston is to be congratulated for his direction of this difficult play, especially as he also took on a major role..

Putting on a river-based play inevitably requires clever sound and light effects. The technical crew of Asli Champion and Kinnan Zaloom did a fantastic job. They started up engines, hooted, moved from day to night and, twice, crashed the unfortunate boat. The river view backdrops were delightful and added greatly to the charming riverside ambience.

This was a well staged and ambitious production. The Madhatters are to be congratulated for having the guts to take on this play and, crucially, to carry it through. Where the Royal National Theatre failed, the Madhatters succeeded!

Review by Joan Blandino Top of page

Way Upstream - the set

Way Upstream - Sue

Way Upstream - Michael

Way Upstream - Martin & Cathy

Way Upstream - Jess

Way Upstream - Mary

Top of page

Date: 1-4 December 2011
Production: Way Upstream
Venue: Malorees Junior School
Report by: Ray Barsby

Madhatters’ latest production, Alan Ayckbourne's Way Upstream was most enjoyable and offered a far more sinister boating holiday than I was prepared for. Previous experience of Ayckbourne had me expecting a light hearted farce. It wasn't… quite!

The setting was pretty spare. It was a good idea to use projected images as a backdrop, although back projection would have been ideal, as the front-projected backdrops sometimes overlaid the actors and so disturbed the illusion somewhat. The boat was only sketched in. Some might say that this simply represented a Platonic ideal of a boat, others that it was an exercise in Brechtian alienation, indicating the artifice inherent in theatre. Cynics would point to the lack of any budget. The staging faded as I got involved in the action. Lights and sound were well handled by Asli Champion and Kinnan Zaloom.

It was a good show and a good production, directed by Martin Redston. I thought I'd watch the old BBC TV version on YouTube for a comparison. The Madhatters’ production stood up well. Yes, there were some fluffs, but who cares?

Keith Taylor, played by Jess Abbo was the archetypical nasty little shit. I can guess the type: the sort of employer who would try to avoid paying his mostly female and probably overworked staff even the minimum wage. A bit of a rotter, I think. No wonder the workers came out on strike! Meanwhile, his business partner Alistair Wingate seemed ineffectual but was humane… possibly the most sympathetic character in the play. Martin Redston’s Alistair might just have been a little too limp here, but played confidently.

As June, Keith's wife, Sue Arnold was terrific. Transmogrified gradually during the play from sour, discontented and very bored wife to a powerful woman dancing enticingly, even if drunk, on the roof of the boat.

Then there was Vince; the ‘gate-crashing’ skipper from hell. Maybe literally so. In the TV version, Vince has a definitely Devilish appearance. Michael Fay represented the dominant Alpha male with success, whipping the crew into shape with a bark… and these hapless characters are only on a leisurely river cruise!

Fleur arrives, seemingly from nowhere, but swiftly moves to the fore. Kay Shelley gave a gallant performance. Her attempted seduction of Alistair was well done and convincing.

Mrs Hatfield played by Mary Lee is the pivotal character. If Einstein can be applied to an Alan Ayckbourne comedy, she would be seen as the static onlooker compared to the moving observer. She connects the increasingly fantastic world of the boat to the 'objective' world outside. The boat has left the mundane and is in another reality as it heads towards Armageddon Bridge. The TV version got this wrong. It made Mrs Hatfield a bit of a frump. Mrs Hatfield should either be a power-dressed spiky-heeled woman or a strict matronly figure. I thought Mary's appearance just right, in a good and believable performance.

Cathy Mercer was lively as Alistair’s wife, Emma, although I did wonder if a needle had got stuck as she repeatedly called her husband’s name during the final exciting moments! However, this was when the drama really worked - when Martin, as Alistair was 'swimming' to the rescue of his wife, I found I had craned forward and my bum had left my seat; because I was involved and wanted to see what would happen next.

All in all a well crafted show; and most important; entertaining. Top of page

Date: 25 - 28 November 2010
Production: Chain Reaction
Venue: Malorees School
Report by: Mary Draffin

The Mad Hatters’ latest production was a farcical comedy about estate agents, directed by Hannah Torrance.

Cascara and Figge are two unscrupulous managers of an estate agency, trying every underhand trick to get more sales and beat their competitors. Their receptionists are much put upon and foil their bosses’ plans by being straightforward and truthful.

Nikki Amory as Jane and Jane Byrne as Shelley played their parts very well as young women exasperated with their pompous and deceitful bosses. Nikki was especially convincing when she went into labour and Jane handled her hypnotism scenes beautifully.

Donald Elliott as Cascara struck the right note of wearisome old fellow trying to show off his supposed superior knowledge and experience and cow his receptionists into submission. Martin Redston played Derek Figge: vulgar manner, very loud suit, murdering the English language in just the way we all love to hate estate agents.

Michael Fay played Sid, the plumber/ handyman Cascara and Figge use to “do up” their properties. He doubled as the lout they had to do their bidding in stealing rival estate agents’ signs and breaking into the office in an insurance scam. Roger Kelly played the burglar’s side-kick Shane, who tried to fit this work in with his pizza round. Both handled their parts with aplomb.

And what of the clients? Cathy Mercer played a business-like woman trying to find a flat, incensed by Figge’s misrepresentations of the houses she is sent to visit. Jess Abbo was the lugubrious detective who arrives after the burglary, too incapacitated by his stomach ulcer to do much police work, but who ends up as a client seeking a house.

As is usual in farces, there was much business on stage: slamming of doors, jamming of doors, people tripping over each other in the dark or trying to hide very large objects from the view of other characters or making threats involving shopping purchases. The cast played these physical aspects of the scenes well together. The director should be congratulated in getting this to flow well.

On the night I saw the play we had some intermittent dimming of the lights on stage. I was not quite sure whether this was all part of the play at first, a metaphor for the ropey state Cascara and Figge’s properties were in. It turned out that the stage lights were being temperamental. The sound effects were well under the control of the technical team and came right on cue.

The play benefitted from many modern contrivances, such as extensive use of mobile phones and computers. This gave it a very up-to-date feel. The Mad Hatters played it with panache, and convinced me to avoid selling or buying a house as long as I can!

Review by Mary Draffin.

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