So, here’s the thing. I saw a post on Facebook from Josh Chilvers publicising the Pocahontas Players upcoming production of “Who Were You With Last Night?”. I said, since I am coming to see the show … would you like a NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Society) style review? Aside from a good night out, my motivation was to demonstrate to the great and good of the PP that NODA might be a worthwhile consideration for them. They are, after all, the biggest society in the 4 North region who are not affiliated. I should also point out that, as a past Lynn News reviewer, I have previously deputised for the local reporter during his holidays and have been delighted to put pen to paper on more than one occasion waxing lyrical about this prominent troupe. So, here I was, Heacham Public Hall, bottled beer in hand and thoroughly looking forward to the night’s entertainment.
At this point, after the usual preamble, people get really nervous about whether I thought it was any good or not, or if I enjoyed it, and start skimming down to the money paragraph. In order to focus anyone who can’t be bothered to wade through this … The show was great! That said … there is an awful lot more that needs documenting! The venue for instance … what an amazing place Heacham Public Hall is, and the raked seating (£13,000 I was confidentially told) just made the whole auditorium feel like an honest to goodness theatre. The resources of this society were also impressive. They have their own lighting, which was excellent, and all the main characters had a mic! I had never seen a play with full amplification until earlier this year, so this is pretty much cutting edge! The Front of House team were all in costume and the reception area was humming as you entered to pick up your tickets, get a programme and buy your raffle tickets. Very slick and extremely well organised. With an excellent bar to top it all off … where else would you want to be on a Saturday night!
The set (uncredited) was outstanding. A selection of curtains allowed significant changes to take place with lightning speed and precision and Backstage Manager, Barry Shaw, clearly had everything well in hand. The painted backdrops (Dave Curtis, Jim and Janet Race with Esther Boehm) were a good touch adding greatly to the overall spectacle. Sound and light (management by Dave Curtis and execution by Esther Boehm and Joseph Rumens) did everything that it needed to do and the amplification was completely free of feedback, rustling and unexpected booming. Incidental props (Dave Curtis, Noel Gill, Barry Shaw and Joseph Rumens) were plentiful and of a very high quality. Costumes (Janice Curtis and Harvey Costumes) were all very good with plenty of changes for the extensive cast. Hair, wigs and make-up (uncredited) were equally high quality and I was stunned by the amount of time and effort that had been lavished on this production on every single front. This was a big cast. Considering this was predominantly a play, the writer had not only built in plenty of lead characters, but also allowed for a chorus together with a not insignificant dance troupe. In fact, the five members of the Charleston Belles Wendy Nudds, Bridget Neeham. Lisa Belverstone, Jemma Greef and Kelsie Hall were on-and-off throughout both halves. This was a home-produced script, and writer Janice Curtis had presumably worked her words, songs and dance breaks around her regular performers. I don’t know that this was the case, but if it was, I can certainly vouch for the fact that there is nothing more satisfying than taking a part in a play that was written especially for you.
Of the supporting cast, I enjoyed Barry Shaw, Stephen Boston and Noel Gill as the Club Members with Mr Shaw returning as the photographer and Mr Gill returning and making a good job of Jack the Butcher, a part that also included a fair bit of singing! In addition, there was solid work from Jake Dorman as Alfred the Chauffeur, Ria Tipple as Ada the Parlour Maid, Naomi Rix as Lizzie the Ladies Maid, Lucy Hughes as Dottie the Kitchen Maid, with some neat scene stealing by Louise Pearce as Granddaughter, Rosie Bigwood. There were a couple of nice cameos from Anne Gill as Primrose Bigwood and Simon Boston as Rory Bigwood with Garry Pearce really standing out as Reg the Barman. A small (ish) part and yet he was able to develop the character to quite a high level in a short space of time, demonstrating empathy as well as loyalty which really helped the story in the later stages. I have a feeling I have seen Mr Pearce deliver a brilliant dame at this location … but then again I may be confusing him with someone else….it was a very long time ago. One man I had most definitely seen here in pantomime is the legend that is Jim Race. This time out he had a cracking cameo taking the part of Sid the Comic, delivering a quick-fire routine of some five or six jokes. A little racy I thought and perfectly in keeping with the golden age of Music Hall. I wrote one of them down as I left the hall and will retain it for future use! Mr Race also popped up in the wedding scene as a chimney sweep and I am led to believe he will be taking bookings as a good luck charm for weddings and bar- mitzvahs etc.
In the more prominent parts, there was solid work from Sian Playford as the sulky ‘daughter-from-Hell’, Isabelle Ribchester and Hunstanton regular, Mick Yates was perfectly cast as the Butler, Mr James. I watched Mr Yates during some of the scenes where it was all going on around him and his focus was impressive. I never caught him out of character, nor did he ever stop acting at any time. The backbone of the story and the two entrusted with the largest portions of script were Sharon Yates as Lady Rosemary Ribchester and Tom Whybrow as Lord Bernard Ribchester and both were excellent! Last time I saw Mrs (Shazza) Yates it was as a Nun I think, but as the well-meaning upper class Matriarch she was delightful. Solid with her lines and confident with all her many moves. The exact same thing can, and must be, said of Mr Whybrow. A superb, deep characterisation that was both physical as well as vocal and one of the best in this production. I think it was ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ that I last saw him in and he was perfection as Lieutenant George. It is never anything less than a pleasure to watch Elaine Verweymeren on any stage and she was very much on top of her game on this one. Cast as the friend of Lady Rosemary and secret mother of Filly the Parlour Maid, Mrs Verweymeren delivered a precise and delicate performance full of pathos and uncertainty. A brilliant actress, well cast!
The romance of the story was left in the more than capable hands of Joshy Chilvers as young master and heir to the family silver, Rueben Ribchester and Laura Thomas as Parlour Maid and orphan of this parish, Filly (Felicity Seymore-Smythe as it turned out). Both were on top form, wading through mountains of dialogue and (in the case of Miss Thomas) a couple of songs as well. The relationship was credible with only a hint of reticence on the kiss that reassured me that Miss Burton (see opening paragraph) had nothing to fear! Although sweet and accurate Miss Thomas’s voice sounded untrained and I wondered as I travelled home if a little professional vocal coaching would turn that good voice into a great one!
Did you think I had missed someone out? I certainly hope not but I need to spend a bit of time on Jeannie Tooley (don’t you have a wonderful daughter somewhere) as the Cook, Mrs Wilcox. Proving once again that there are no small parts only small performances, Mrs Tooley all but stole the show with a masterclass in character acting. Her physical characterisation was matched by her vocal delivery and she carried all before her with a powerful and animated performance that really impressed me.
Those of you who are new to my NODA reviews need to understand that … in a side-swipe to all that is Am-Dram … I save the last but one paragraph for the person/s who have had the most impact on the production. For those who like that affirmation I make it easy to find so they can go directly to that place and see if their name appears. If it does not, they can put the whole review in recycling or trawl through the rest of the text to see if they appear anywhere. Occasionally, it is not a performer you will find here, and on this occasion, penultimate paragraph honours must be spread equally between all the members of this Society. The quality of what took place on stage was at least equalled by the ambience of the venue, the warmth of the welcome and the whole organisation of the front of house. Everything connected with the evening’s entertainment was classy. Very classy.
My compliments to Director, Peter Everingham. This is clearly an all-inclusive group with a rich variety of performers. To work them into such a tight fighting group must have taken a lot of hard work and a considerable amount of artistic and man-management skills. I also extend that praise to writer, Janice Curtis, for a good story, neatly woven with plenty of great lines. To use the plot to incorporate song, dance and comedy is no small feat. Dance choreography by Jaime Parry (wait a minute ….) was perfect for the ability of the dancers and the size of the stage and that is crucially important! As a member of the audience I had a great time and, what is significantly more important, I am damn sure those who were on the stage had a great time too. I hope I may be able to persuade the Pocahontas Players in NODA’s direction. They are (without doubt) as good a standard as any of the societies already assimilated. Bravo PP.
Stephen P. E. Hayter
(District Representative – NODA Eastern Region –
Area 4 4 North)