The play announces itself in the programme as ‘A comedy about a group of amateurs rehearsing for a play written by one of their members.’ So far, so unremarkable – there have been several plays on the same theme recently, from RedTIE’s recent ‘A Bunch of Amateurs’ to the West End smash hit ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. The Chair’s note that the storyline connects with the proposed changes to Bembridge’s own village hall which hosted the show provided local interest.
The script itself is not the most original, and provides huge challenges for the director, with five scenes in each act, taking place mostly on different days: furniture movement and costume changes are called for and this at times created a break in the action. While I must commend the quick switches of costume, maybe a little music would have helped to cover the changes.
What makes this production really worth seeing however, are the characters created on the stage by the talented cast. We can empathise with – and laugh at – each of the members of the Gerrysthorpe Players, and the skill of the acting brought their foibles to the fore from the very first scene, where we met the group as they assembled for a readthrough familiar to anyone who has ever been involved in am dram – actors being late; prioritising tea drinking and chatter over actual reading, and that one who always insists in knowing her character’s motivation for the most banal line.
This particular character was Lesley de Vere, brilliantly acted – and when required over-acted – by Kathryn Ward; she is a former professional whose claim to fame was a role in El Dorado – or was it Crossroads? She exuded the stereotypical ‘luvvie’ vibe, clearly looking down her nose at the mere amateurs around her, until her real name was discovered by Jason Harris’s perfectly portrayed Luke , a jack-the-lad amateur actor who used rehearsals as an excuse to call in sick to work and chat up the lovely wannabe actress Juliet, played with verve by Kim Castle, who wants to use the show as a springboard for her own professional aspirations.
Jane Roberts’ portrayal of the ditsy but homely Hetty, providing cakes and forgetting lines, provided lots of the hilarity in the show, especially when contrasted to the down to earth Victor (Terry Pearson) and playwright Rodney (Andrew Gough) who grew increasingly neurotic as he saw the interpretation of his script in the hands of the group. John Gregory’s Ray, the man who comes up with a solution to their problems, was measured and calm against the frenetic players.
Holding it all together, with a cracking performance, was director Maria played by Lynne Gregory Phillips: she took the audience with her as she tried, often in vain, to manage rehearsals, and deal with the devastating news that the village hall was to be knocked down, leaving them three days to prepare for their performance. It is a testament to Lynne’s talent that I wanted to cry for her yet laughed with her too.
All in all, if you missed ‘Curtain Up’, you missed a gem: I must confess this was the first BLTC show I have seen – but it won’t be the last!