The Last Post

It has been a long, long time – many months. Since last I wrote online, there has been the fifth anniversary of the blog, a very successful summer play – Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia – and the start of rehearsals for the last production of the year, A Bunch of Amateurs. These are now going on even as I type and from what I hear its going to be another slick, polished and hilarious evening. What else would you expect from the mind of Ian Hislop, alongside Nick Newman?

This period of time has also seen a lot of change in my personal life, a bitter sweet mixture of events that have diverted me from my theatrical pursuits and pleasures. Bizarre to think that not too many posts ago I was waxing lyrical about addiction to amateur theatre. The cold turkey finally kicked in.

So what is this leading to? Well, as I said, the blog has been running for over five years now. I have no idea how many pictures or posts or the number of words committed to its pages, but it has been a rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyable process. Just now reading over some of previous entries has given me a warm glow of nostalgia that makes it all worthwhile.

All things must pass though.

And so, it is time to close the doors on the Matchblog, at least the Matchblog in its current form. I am confident that the Matchbox’s internet presence will continue and indeed improve into a more user friendly website. Though oft promised I never got round to constructing all the links or curating the photos and reports into discrete entries; the blog has always been more of an archive I suppose . And that is how it will remain. I have no intention of erasing any of this and hope that every so often Matchbox folk might take a look through some of these entries and hopefully get their own warm thrill of nostalgia from photos and stories of days gone.

As so many others have done, I will, of course, continue to be part of the group. Indeed, this very weekend I willl be among the Matchbox’s contribution to St Francis Church’s Festival of Peace. Organised by Tim Pearce, this will see a number of us performing and offering dramatised readings in keeping with the Remembrance weekend. And, in a way, that makes the title of this blog all the more appropriate.

I’ll be sure to keep watching the great pieces of theatre produced, help out when I can and, should a discrete cameo arise in the future, certainly venture onto the stage again. However, after 20 years, its time to step back and take stock for a little while. Just a little while.

So thanks, you who have read these ramblings and writings, the insights and inanities. Thank you for the support, thank you for your contributions and, at the end of it all, thank you… and good night!

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Pat Williams

Pat Williams

Pat Williams as Nanny Ogg in ‘Wyrd Sisters’

Many of you are  aware that on Monday 12th March Pat Williams, founder member and keystone of the Matchbox, passed away at St Christopher’s Hospice. Obviously this was a source of considerable sadness during the production week of our March play, The 39 Steps, but as Pat herself would say, ‘the show must go on’. Go on it did and proved to be a roaring success,  Pat’s sentiments were a spur for us all and led to a hugely successful and near sold out run. The show was followed by a collection for St Christopher’s which raised £337.98, and they have expressed gratitude to our audiences for such generosity.

We all have many memories of Pat and have shared and will share them over time; she was certainly a key influence behind my presence here, after casting me as Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew twenty years ago almost to the day. However I think it is best to leave it to Mike Downing’s tribute, shared before the start of each show, to sum up our feelings at this particularly difficult time:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this the Matchbox Theatres’ 109th production. This evening I stand before you with a heavy heart as it is my sad task to tell you that on Monday we lost our dear friend Pat Williams who passed away in St Christopher’s Hospice. Whilst we knew she was ill we were not expecting her death so soon and as you can imagine it has affected us deeply this week.

Pat was the heart and core of our Matchbox family and without her we would not all be here tonight. Her dedication to the company she helped to found was, over the last 37 years, unfailing and she performed many roles including director, actress, wardrobe mistress, costume designer, problem solver and surrogate mother to us all. Together with John she hosted the Normanhurst Festivals over many years and any of us who were lucky enough to experience the magic of those events either on stage or in the audience will have very happy memories of picnics and performances of Shakespeare under the stars. To slightly misquote from Hamlet ‘She was a Woman, take her for all in all. I shall not look upon her like again’. To say that we will miss her would be a huge understatement and once we have had time to adjust to her loss we will make plans for a suitable tribute.

In the meantime we ask that tonight instead of placing your coffee money in the baskets as usual, you put it in the St Christopher’s collecting tins that you will find in the church during the interval. Throughout this week we have heard Pat’s voice firmly in our heads saying ‘pull yourselves together and get on with it’ so please tonight especially, enjoy our performance and laugh at us and with us as the show must go on. Thank you

Thank you

Mx

What ARE the Thirty Nine Steps?

And so another opening night arrives. At 8 o’clock the (brand new) curtains ‘go up’ on our 109th production, The 39 Steps. It has been a marvellous rehearsal progress – I think I have said that before – with great inventiveness, energy, enthusiasm and lots of laughs. When one directs a piece it isn’t always like that, there can be highs there can be lows, disappointments and unexpected triumphs- all plays are memorable but some more memorable than others. That said however this play has been a truly joyous experience. If you believe a director can turn up and have a vision of a show at its beginning then this piece is one of the few that fulfilled it perfectly – the set, the music, the lights, the sound, the special effects and performances have come together to present a great night of entertainment.

So, I wish all involved the very best, may they break their legs with aplomb, and now I shall sit back, become a member of the audience and enjoy the show. I hope many of you will do the same. And if you need a taste to whet the palette, here are a few sneak peeks from the dress rehearsal (with thanks, as ever, to Karen Warner)

See you anon

Mx

 

And if you’ve got here and you’re looking for something more to while away the time why not check in on these 39 facts related to The 39 Steps:

http://www.love39steps.com/the-show/39-facts/

 

The Final Steps

 

39Tonight, then is the final dress rehearsal of The 39 Steps, nine weeks of work culminating in our three day run starting tomorrow. As with so many productions is has been a team effort of acting, set design, staging, light and sound and I think we are just about ready to go. As one would expect for a play with such a popular reputation, ticket sales have been strong though there are still a few available for Thursday and Saturday, Friday is a sell out.

It has definitely been a challenging time recently, but again it is testament to all involved that everyone has pulled together and the result is an evening of fast paced, enjoyable comedy with all the elements one might expect from a Matchbox Sized Shakespeare Co. show. The evening also serves as debut for a new addition to the Matchbox experience and St Francis Church Hall, but more of that anon.

If you haven’t booked your tickets, there is still time, you will not regret it. But for now, I must get ready for the evening ahead; I’ll tune in tomorrow as is customary with my final words and thought but hope to see many of you at some point over the next three days.

Take care until then

M x

A Few Steps Closer

Rehearsals have been progressing at a steady rate of knots for our March production, The 39 Steps. Under the Matchbox Sized Shakespeare Company banner, though I want to make it clear the play has nothing at all to do with Shakespeare, it embraces the tradition of fast paced, funny and epic entertainment carried out with a minimum of cast. In this case six actors step up to play in excess of 100 roles in this loving homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1935 film, alongside a few more from his body of the work along the way. Be amazed as we recreate a high speed chase across the top of The Flying Scotsman, gasp as the Forth Bridge is recreated in the church hall, thrill at a high speed aeroplane chase which to take you North by Northwest. Yes, this is an evening of spectacle, exciting action and more whizz bang one liners than you can shake an unlit pipe at.

Again another play that enjoyed a considerably successful run in the West End, we bring it to West Wickham and hopefully provide an evening of high entertainment and comedy. My fiftieth play with the Matchbox in nearly twenty years, I hope this is going to be something special, revisiting the spirit of The Compleat Works, All the Great Books and most recently last year’s Umlaut.

Tickets will be available very soon. In the meantime here are a handful of images from rehearsals, with a special guest Hannay.

Until next time

M x

AGM

And so the new year is firmly underway and work begins on our March production, The 39 Steps. More details on that very soon but as many of you know, last weekend saw a sizeable turnout for the AGM. Besides the usual agenda items very serious mention was made regarding the current need of a Stage Manager to assist in the running of shows. Although recent plays have managed effectively and imaginatively without this role being firmly filled, the time is approaching when producing plays with minimal or no sets becomes challenging. To this end if there is anyone reading, or you know anyone, who would be interested in getting a feel for the position, I would welcome their involvement in the forthcoming Steps. Please drop a line to the blog in the first instance and we can take it from there.

As is traditional, here is Annie’s speech as Chair:

always a very warm welcome to you all and thank you for coming along to support our 36th AGM.

2017 – Another year upon which to reflect – it has been interesting, at times testing and frustrating, but nevertheless it has also been successful and diverse.  In large part this is due to our lack of a regular Stage Manager and consistent back stage support.  This is not to suggest that everyone involved has done other than work extremely hard and been committed and loyal to each production.   But we shall talk more on this subject a little later.

Our first production for 2017 was The Farndale Farces, directed by Mike Savill.  These two farces had the advantage of providing opportunities for a large number of actors but, at least partly because of the need to manage with a minimal set – it was decided we would not enter the production into the BTG festival.   It was nevertheless enjoyed by our audiences, who always appreciate something funny on a chilly March evening!

After much discussion about the summer production Tim undertook to direct (with a little help from yours truly!) another evening of Talking Heads.  We had last done a trio of Alan Bennett monologues in 2013. This time we did two AB monologues, brilliantly performed by Dot Pullan and Helen Roffey – and, because AB’s monologues are nearly all for women and in the interest of maintaining a balanced evening! – Tim found Anorak of Fire by Stephen Dinsdale which was equally brilliantly performed by Zach Stiling.  Each performance was very well received, the audiences are always in awe of the actors’ ability to learn and perform for 35-40 and, in Zach’s case, 50 minutes.

And so to the December production ……..what could we possibly do that didn’t require a set!!!   Vicky and Pat read a number of plays and Vicky decided to go with Jumpy by April de Angelis.  This was a play that started life in the  Royal Court Theatre, a modern play with a modern take on various possible situations in “every day family life”!  We did sanitise the script for the benefit of the audience – and ourselves actually – and it lost nothing in the performance.   Although for some reason our audiences were smaller than usual, this play was much enjoyed by all who came – with some classic moments of comedy from everyone involved.  It was particularly good to have four of our younger actors performing.

As with The Railway Children in 2015, the movement of props was co-ordinated so that it became part of the action and this was also appreciated, commented on and applauded by the audience.

Our grateful thanks to Mike Sav, Tim and Vicky for keeping us going this year, with diverse productions and coping with everything involved with each production.  Each one is a huge commitment all involved – so my thanks and appreciation to all members for all they do front and back stage.

Thank you once again to Vicky for all her efforts, quite apart from directing!  Posters, handbills, programmes and tickets are very time consuming to design and produce.  Our thanks also to Gill Kehoe for continuing to organise refreshments for each performance, keeping stock and arranging the rota.  Gill has agreed to carry on for one more year, but will retire after this December’s production – so we need to find someone who is prepared to take over this responsibility and we also need more people who would be prepared to go on the list of helpers.  If there’s anyone here who would be interested or who knows someone that might be – please do let Gill know.

Thank you Sav for continuing to produce the Matchblog.  I hope  you all see and enjoy it.  Please look out for it, share with other Matchbox supporters and add your comments.  Feedback is always helpful and appreciated.

As always, many thanks to all committee members for the time and effort they put in during the year.  And lastly – our grateful thanks to the church for their patience and understanding in allowing us to borrow furniture of all descriptions and to store excess chairs and boxes in the Bernard Dent room.

Our March production has been decided and auditions are underway with a read through next week.   So we look forward to seeing you all again throughout the year and thank you for your ongoing support.  Please stay and enjoy the refreshments – we look forward to the chance to chat and catch up with you after the meeting.

AMN 7.1.18

I hope that your year has started safely and splendidly and that the January gloom hasn’t lingered too long. I will be back here in a week or so with an update or two and a return to the nostalgia bank and a few reflections on plays of yore. Have a great week, take care and see you soon,

M x

Happy New Year

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to all friends and members of the Matchbox Theatre; here’s hoping 2018 is another year of great theatre.

All the very best and see you soon

M x