Festive cheer was abundant in Bembridge Little Theatre Club’s production of The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen Guild Dramatic Society’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ over the weekend, directed by Andrew Wilson-Jenner and performed by a group of well-known Island theatre faces.
Very much in the vein of The Play That Goes Wrong, this production follows the endeavours of four women and one man as they attempt to stage a play with frankly limited talent – the characters, not the actors! To play an actor that can’t act when you are an actor who can act is no easy task, especially in such a small cast where there’s nowhere to hide, so kudos to Martie, Olivia, John, Ellen and Dianne for pulling this production off with such skill.
An immersive approach, with Martie Cain as Mrs Reece circulating the hall prior to the performance ‘officially’ commencing and mingling with the audience members, added to the atmosphere, and particularly entertaining was her targeting of audience members with the threat of them having to take up the mantle of Scrooge – the floating bridge, ferry service and bad traffic were all blamed, topical jokes that went down well with the audience.
Martie’s assertive Mrs Reece was off-set beautifully by the more hapless members of the Farndale Avenue Townswomen’s Guild, with Martie doing an excellent job of portraying a woman who, in spite of her best efforts, has a production coming down around her ears and is doing her best to keep it afloat. Martie also proved to have hilariously deadly aim, hurling water over her shoulder and hitting the unfortunate Scrooge square in the face without so much as glancing backwards!
Last seen strutting her stuff as Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Olivia Pike’s ditzy and distracted character in this production could not be further removed, showing off her versatility as a comedic actress. Her portrayal of Felicity, particularly as a snowman, was both endearing and face-palmingly funny: just when you thought she couldn’t get any more ridiculous, she did, taking phone calls mid-show, lip-syncing as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and losing her wig whilst performing an ‘impromptu’ ballet.
Dianne Aspinall tackled the role of Mercedes; she raised many laughs throughout, but it was her turns as various children and as Bob Cratchit that were the highlights of her performance. The money-throwing and catching scene between her and Scrooge was particularly entertaining, as was her first scene as Cratchit in Scrooge’s counting house, and as Mercedes she had mastered the fixed smile of someone who had absolutely no idea what to do when something goes wrong on stage!
Ellen Weeks had arguably the most difficult task as Thelma, the amateur actress who believes she is worthy of being professional. Hers was a more ‘serious’ role, and her character played Scrooge and only Scrooge in the A Christmas Carol production. To make such a character funny is not easy when you’re surrounded by much larger characters, but Ellen got her teeth into Thelma and worked especially well alongside Martie when the two butted heads about acting ability and Ellen’s character made a few Macbeth-esque alterations to her dialogue.
Last, but by no means least, was John Hammond, who not only took the lead in building the fabulous set but also played Gordon. One of the funniest moments of the whole show was, in fact, down to John and Ellen, whose characters at the time were playing Marley and Scrooge and were discussing who Marley once was in life, with John’s head stuck in the door ‘flat’ from the previous scene. John’s turn as Mrs Cratchit, too, was excellent, as was his mumbling and grumbling in the opening ‘pre-show’ section with Mrs Reece.
A shout out to the crew, too, without whom no show could ever make it to the stage, and to all those who took on the ‘radio’ roles as taxi drivers, doctors and police officers, whose broadcasts interrupted Mrs Reece’s narration on more than one occasion, to great effect.
Congratulations to Bembridge Little Theatre Club on a funny, festive and heart-warming show that offered an alternative take on a timeless tale.