The Mystery of the Missing Playwright

As promised earlier, Vicky Pearce’s account from the ‘Murder Deferred’ programme outlining her quest in search of the mysterious Stuart Ready:
“This page in the Matchbox programme is pretty much exclusively reserved for a potted biography of the playwright in question, details of whom are often generously provided by Wikipedia. As it fell to me, on this occasion, actually to write the piece – not just to set the thing and try to fit it into the allotted space, as I always do – I set about trying to get hold of some information about the writer of Murder Deferred, Stuart Ready. And that was when I realised that I had a bit of a problem.
In the first place, my search revealed an enormous number of hits – pages and pages of them, almost all of which had absolutely nothing to do with my intended target (anyone who has ever tried to do a Google search for someone whose surname is an actual word in everyday use will have run up against the same problem). Even the case-sensitive, advanced search option offered no solution; Google doesn’t seem to understand the term ‘exact phrase’,even though it purports to.
It was during the second phase of my investigation: meticulously sifting through each irrelevant entry, like an old-time prospector searching for a tiny gold nugget in a tray of sand and silt, that the true nature of my problem became apparent – there is no trace of the man anywhere. My trusted on-line encyclopaedia, Wiki, had never even heard of him.
I enlisted John Mackintosh’s help. He discovered (as had I) that Ready has his own entry in IMDb (the Internet Movie Database, to the uninitiated), where he is credited as the writer of two 1939 short television plays, but the page is empty of any personal details. He also discovered somewhere that, apparently, the hapless Mr Ready died in 1984, though not where, how, nor what age he was when it happened.
Maybe ‘Stuart Ready’ is code for something else, I mused – a pseudonym, perhaps, widely used among writers, but unknown to the rest of us. Maybe it’s employed in much the same way as ‘A. N. Other’, without the pun. I say this because this guy has written literally dozens of plays, possibly hundreds, plus scripts for television and short stories – you name it, he’s done it – but, as for any details of his life or death (1984 notwithstanding): diddly squat.
With hindsight, I probably should have anticipated something like this, as right from the start, once Annie and I had settled on our choice of play, we came up against the paradox of the prolific, yet unknown playwright. We had seven copies of Murder Deferred in our library of plays – not quite enough for a production– and I had to chase about the Internet’s many second-hand bookshops to buy extra copies. The publisher, Samuel French Ltd (from whom we get the acting editions for most of our plays) no longer had any, despite the play still showing up on their list of ‘full length plays for performance’.  During this frantic search for copies I came across one ‘slightly used’ acting edition (admittedly from a place in California) for which the asking price was £90! (Plus postage and packing, of course.) Fortunately, Amazon and a couple of more locally-based shops provided me with the necessary copies at considerably reduced cost.
Interestingly, French’s no longer lists Stuart Ready among its playwrights, but still asked for £240 in performing rights! Presumably, then, someone must know who he was; somewhere out there exist the heirs to Mr Ready’s estate, who are entitled to their share of the £240. Assuming, of course, that French’s can find them…
Vicky Pearce”
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Wind in the Willows

A4 Poster (W in W)

Well, the summer is well and truly upon us and, though wilting, the heat is welcome I am sure. That said,not perhaps so much under four layers of Tudor finery but that is another story.

Things are at rest with The Matchbox for now but two of our stalwarts Dot Pullan, last seen in ‘Murder Deferred’ and the award winning James Mercer who has been enjoying a few months away with Beckenham Theatre Centre, will be appearing in the grand event advertised aboce. This collaboration between members of Bromley Theatre Guild sees four performances of a highly anticipated production of Alan Bennet’s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Set in the open air in the grounds of Hayes Secondary School this would be an ideal way to experience some great theatre at this time of year and, bringing as it does the talent from so many theatre groups across the local area, it promises a treat. Hopefully some of you might get the chance to see Dot and James at the end of next week and I’d be interested to hear from any who do.

Back with The Matchbox, new adventures beckon across the next couple of weeks and, all being well, I may be able to finally reveal some hot off the press information about next year’s season at the start of August. Til then though, enjoy that sun.

M

Murder in Review

‘MURDER DEFERRED’ by Stuart Ready

Directed by Annie Norris
Asst. Director: Vicky Pearce

The atmosphere in St Francis Church Hall tonight was palpable, partly from an audience set up for an evening of murder mystery but as much from the incredible heat of an evening that proved summer had finally arrived. Windows and doors were open wide, which carried with it issues themselves (see below), but for a number of audience members it couldn’t allay the stifling atmosphere of such a warm evening, although I was surprisingly comfortable in my seat just underneath one of the windows. Nonetheless, despite the heat, the scene was set for ‘Murder Deferred’ by the enigmatic Stuart Ready, the 92nd production of the Matchbox Theatre Company. And what a scene it was, a truly engaging set designed by Michael Downing which drew the eye to its many subtleties and nuances, an effective recreation of one of the rooms in The Hay Wain inn where the action of this play was to take place. Dressed with all manner of trinkets representing the clutter and curios inherited by its owner, Mrs Leila Markham, it was a striking point of interest and drew the eye as we waited for the show start.

Now, I feel I have to make it clear from the off that I found the script very difficult to connect with. Although a fairly engaging mystery involving a murder, although not really a murder mystery per se, Mr Ready’s ear for the spoken word leaves something to be desired. At times the piece sounded like a sub-par episode of ‘Dickson of Dock Green’ with its ‘Gor blimeys’ and ‘Lawks alive’ flavourings. I almost expected a finale redolent with ‘You’s are never gonna take me alive you bloomin’ coppers’ though we were spared that. Suffice to say that there is probably good reason why Mister Ready has been consigned to the dustiest and gloomiest reaches of the internet and, it seems, Samuel French’s catalogue, only to be uncovered every few years. Victoria Pearce’s entertaining and amusing summary in the programme provided a few morsels of food for thought on this matter and I hope that it will be published on the blog some time for others to share. All this said though, I know that both Vicky and Annie had carried out a significant reworking of the script that spared us the worst of his ramblings and, despite all the above, provided for a solid evening of theatre.

The events of the play unfold over the space of a weekend and take in all the familiar staples of mystery visitors, blackmail, revelations from the past and, of course, murder, in this case deferred. At the heart of this intrigue are the aforementioned Mrs Markham and her mysterious visitor and blackmailer Ruth Cousins who comes with knowledge of her, seemingly shady, past. Played ably by the reliable duo of Kay Isom and Gillian Challenger there was a spark between the two which reminded me of their first class interactions in ‘Under the Stars’ a few years ago. They work well together and proved a compelling watch as the relationship between them unfolded. Gill, in particular, clad in black (much kudos for that in the current heat wave) exuded a cocky bravura and confident menace that controlled the stage whenever she entered. She was, as said, well matched by Kay whose talents I much admire and who has often convinced me of the ‘reality’ of the many roles she has played in the past. Although she seemed a little hamstrung by the dialogue she was stuck with tonight and very occasionally I found myself not quite as wholly immersed in her performance as is customary, she nonetheless once again demonstrated herself an actress possessed of a broad emotional range and presence at those moments when truly required.

In solid support were a number of faces old and new. Dot Pullan, fresh from her success in March’s ‘Talking Heads’, played local antique dealer Minnie Akers with a degree of assuredness and eccentricity that engaged, as often she does in these kind of parts. A key player in sorting out the mystery, she proved eminently watchable during the unfolding climax and denouement and no mean gunslinger as well, although maybe slightly lacking in the control so effectively demonstrated recently, as events unravelled. Another veteran from ‘Talking Heads’, Joan Evans, occupied the role of Mrs Bolders effortlessly. This character part offered a chance to demonstrate a little humorous byplay and, as always, was ever watchable despite the role being more of a cameo than anything else. Clive Moss, who I have not seen on the Matchbox boards for quite a few years now, provided reliable support as Colonel Fountain a local JP who brings some degree of legal presence to the proceedings. Another character part, Clive’s performance was typically sound and gives me hope that we will see more of him on The Matchbox stage at some point in the future.
Rounding off the cast were its two younger members. Welcome back was Sarah Challenger Francis who played the small but significant role of Trudi, the Swiss au pair who was helping out at the pub. Accomplished in every way, she was concentrated and controlled and inhabited the role at all times she was on stage; she also delivered a pretty proficient accent as well, though not, as one audience member said, Swedish! And talking of accents: the cast was completed by newcomer to the group Charles Langdon in the role of Irishman Mick Clancy, who gave a great rendering of an Irish brogue. Again the role was not sizeable, though hugely significant, but Charles certainly made it his own and occupied the stage space with a confidence and, at times, menacing air, that seemed at the core of this character. He is certainly an actor who could have a bright future with the group.

Much credit must be given to Annie and Vicky in their directorial roles. I am well aware that there were a number of problems involving play choice and needs must and the two certainly took on the challenge of a problematic play with gusto. That they produced a cohesive and, yes, engaging despite the writing and the heat, evening of theatre is a testament to their hard work and vision. A particular nod must go to the new epilogue which provided a twist overlooked in the original and drew audible gasps from the audience once revealed, a modest though striking ‘coup de theatre’ on which to end the night. Sound and lighting were also effectively employed, unobtrusive and subtle, in keeping with this kind of play, and helped to preserve an atmosphere which was occasionally in danger of being disrupted by glimpses of actors moving past open doors or the wretched gurgling of water pipes. Such irritations were, of course, beyond the control of any and proved but minor in the grand scheme of things.

As I made clear earlier, this was no bad night of theatre and proves once again the talents that the group has, even with, in my own humble opinion, a lacklustre script. There was entertainment to be had here and even a thought or two to be provoked. There can be no question that this was a good opportunity for Annie to cut her teeth in the director’s chair and, from what I understand, as was said in the after show, once you have occupied it you can never get away. I sincerely hope that she will find her way back to it again very soon.

Murder in Pictures

As promised, here are a few pictures from last week’s prodcution of ‘Murder Deferred’. All being well a review will follow shortly.

Cheers
M

A Brief Deferral

Well, so concludes ‘Murder Deferred’,another satisfying production to add to the extensive Matchbox repertoire. Photos and a review to follow shortly but, while I am gathering that together, I hope you will not find it rude of me to draw your attention to another production with which I am currently involved at Bromley Little Theatre. As you saw in one of my posts last week I have had the pleasure of playing King Henry VIII twice now, once in the re-visitation of ‘A Man for All Seasons’ during the ‘Three Decades of Dazzling Drama’ and in the specially commissioned play, ‘Disillusion’, written by Tom Masters and directed by Tim Pearce back in 2003. This week sees a return to the role in Howard Brenton’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ which runs from 12th to 20th July. I will let the blurb from the website give you a taste but wholly recommend it as a great night of theatre and hope that maybe one or two of you might  come along to watch. If you want more details then please check out http://bromleylittletheatre.org/?page_id=1670 and, as said, I’ll be back with updates on ‘Murder Deferred’ in the very near future. M

“Every year on May 19th flowers are delivered to the Tower of London, where Queen Anne Boleyn, was executed on that day in 1536. The flowers have been arriving for forty years and no-one knows who sends them. Today there is a fast-growing Anne Boleyn cult. She appeals to both adolescents and to ageing romantics. Her story is a heady mixture of intense love, death and betrayal combined with a sense of reckless fun and daring sexiness.

There have been many interpretations of Anne Boleyn with different historians and writers of popular culture presenting her as ‘the bright sexy girl manoeuvred by an ambitious family into the King’s bed’; ‘a brutal and effective politician’; ‘ a schemer and poseur’; ‘calculating, instinctive, almost feral – a very dangerous woman’.

However Howard Brenton in this portrayal of Anne Boleyn reveals a whole other dimension. Anne was religious, she was a protestant, a reformer and an admirer of William Tyndale. Anne was in love with Henry but also with the most dangerous ideas of her day. She conspired to make England protestant for ever. Brenton states that he wrote this play to celebrate Anne’s life and her legacy as a great English woman who helped to change the course of our history.

Brenton’s ‘Anne Boleyn’ sold out at Shakespeare’s Globe two seasons on the run.  I was one of the lucky ones to see it and was determined to bring it to BLT as soon as the performing rights became available. Although the play takes on grand ideas that have had serious consequences it is extremely funny and reveals the Tudor pack at their most snarling, scheming, ribald, pleasure-seeking and gaily entertaining. History lessons are not really supposed to be such fun but Brenton’s vision of the life and afterlife of Queen Anne Boleyn is a bawdy ,raucous romp packed with ripe, modern language that still manages to address some serious issues . It has drama, sex, intrigue, hilarity – in short – as much entertainment value as a Tudor execution!!”

Razzle Dazzle ‘Em!

Following quick on the heels of yesterday’s look to the near future, here’s another dose of nostalgia, albeit fairly recent.

The winter of 2011 saw the Matchbox celebrate its 30th Anniversary and it was certainly celebrated is style. For two nights only, audiences were wowed with scenes from a selection of pieces drawn from the eighty or so plays that we had done up to that point. Grouped together under themes which, alas, elude me at the moment, our feasting and drinking audience were treated to scenes from ‘The Darling Buds of May’, ‘Hobsons Choice’, ‘Blithe Spirit’, ‘A Man for All Seasons’, ‘The Scottish Play’, a marvelous reworking of The Mechanicals’ scenes from ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ and, by way of climax, a breath-taking version of ‘If I Were Not Upon the Stage’. A musical number at The Matchbox?! A rarity indeed.

This spread of photos will hopefully jog a few memories of what was a truly spectacular night, complete with quiz and a wealth of images and programmes from days recent and the far distant past, celebrating three great decades. It was a truly memorable occasion which was enjoyed by all and, with our next play coming up in a matter of days, it seems a great time to remember what we do so well as a theatre group. I certainly remember a lot of laughter and warmth alongside some great moments on stage- any night where a man can play Pop Larkin, Henry VIII and a Wall is one to be treasured – and as most of you reading this who strut and fret your hour upon the stage would agree, that is why we do it.

So, I’ll leave you with that warm and runny feeling of nostalgia, and, again, catch you a little bit later. Maybe tomorrow if things work out all right…

Anon
M

Deferral is (nearly) over

Well it’s finally the week of the performance of the Matchbox’s summer production, ‘Murder Deferred’ by Stuart Ready. Having been a while since I’d last seen any of the production I went along to the church hall yesterday to sit in on the technical rehearsal and it looks set to be another great night of entertainment. I took a few photos so you can get a flavour of the action and set- another magnificent Downing (& Co.) product which truly captures the cluttered environs of the pub where events unfold to a surprising conclusion. This is not quite a ‘Whodunnit’, not quite a ‘How’d he do it?’ but something in-between as co-director Vicky Pearce told me yesterday. Now, being only a technical I can’t comment fully on the piece and I hope to offer up an honest appraisal of it in review next week but I can certainly guarantee a number of twists and turns and warn you to expect the unexpected. This play promises a great slice of entertaining theatre, and as oft I say, all for £6. So, if you haven’t got your tickets why not get them sorted for this Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. I think I can assure you you will be more than satisfied.

And if you want a bit more of a taste then why not cast your eyes over the trailer viewable at http://youtu.be/infz5DKGCo8

Hopefully I’ll be back with more news, information and a little more nostalgia in the next couple of days. Until then, take care, and, if you haven’t doen so already, book those tickets.

Best wishes

M