Well, it’s a double achievement! I just received note that the last post on ‘Disillusion’ was the 100th Blog post so I will have an extra glass of red wine tonight!
Anyway, as promised, the final of today’s gifts; ‘Mary Stuart’. I have made no secret about how important and significant that play was to me, and it will take a long time for the memories to fade, there was definitely a huge crash after the final curtain fell. But that is what these pages are for, to stir those memories and celebrate all we do. And if you are keen to keep the Mary fix going a little more or just interested in finding out more about the history of the play, albeit through the lens of Channel 5, then be sure to check the documentary on later this evening:
I have aid before that i have been somewhat disappointed in my review attempts of late, my anonymous contributors have been very backward in coming forward either through time constraints or (dare I say it) not actually seeing certain shows. I am, therefore, glad that I have been able to reinstate this feature and hope that this will be the beginning of a regular critical chronicle of all that we do. My thanks to Steve Williams for taking time out to compose his thoughts, offered below:
‘Mary Stuart’ is a play of contrasting passions and beliefs and tells the story of two Queens at the height of their power in Tudor England. The eponymous Mary has been imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth I who feared her power and influence, particularly as she was a favourite of the Pope and, as such, a challenge to the authority of a Protestant English Queen. The play concentrates on Mary’s desperate attempts to meet Elizabeth and convince her that Mary was no threat to Elizabeth throne (though history would indicate Elizabeth was perhaps right to be worried!).
Kay Isom, as Mary, was excellent – both compelling to watch and full of passionate intensity. As the imprisoned Queen in a foreign country knowing that she was facing her final few days, Kay showed us Mary’s fear anger and uncertainty over her demands. A great performance.
For this reviewer though the star of the show was Gillian Challenger as Queen Elizabeth I. This was a dramatic tour-de-force and we were utterly convinced that we really were watching Elizabeth as she fought both her conscience and her determination to do what was right for her country. Bravo. Both these actresses should be applauded for their magnificent performances.
Helen Roffey as Hanna, Mary’s nurse showed us the devotion and love that Mary inspired in her followers. Her determination to remain strong whilst her mistress was facing execution was very moving.
As Sir Amias Paulet, Mary’s gaoler, John Mackintosh portrayed a man full of honour and conviction determined to do his duty whilst protecting his charge. Lord Burleigh, played by Tim Pearce, is the man who would see Mary executed at all costs and he and Paulet were constantly at loggerheads. Both of the actors worked well against each other and gave
confident and assured performances.
There were, sadly, too many actors in this production to name them all individually but the whole cast provided, on the whole, believable characterisation. Of particular note was Joan Evans as Lady Talbot, Elizabeth’s adviser and, arguably, conscience.
Adam Benwell, as Mortimer, was a little flat to start with but grew into his performance and he and Nat McCloskey, as Lord Dudley, worked well together and convinced us that both queens could quite easily be blinded
by their charms and ignore their duplicity.
The other feature of note in this production were the magnificent costumes. A lot of time, effort and research had gone into ensuring an authentic look and feel to the costumes (though I was a little disappointed with the French ambassador’s hat!). Well done Pat Williams, Annie Norris and Kerstin Beard for their obvious hard work.
Matchbox Theatre produce a lot of their shows in the round and are well used to the challenges that this presents. It was a touch disappointing therefore that, with such experience, there were some lighting issues. On occasions actors were standing dark shadow delivering some important speeches and it is essential that their faces can be clearly seen and
their emotions read which is nigh on impossible when they’re standing in thick shadow. I will admit that this is perhaps a minor niggle but, from an audience point of view, it is distracting and has a tendency to
stretch our suspension of disbelief.
‘Mary Stuart’ directed by Mike Savill at Matchbox Theatre was a great evening’s entertainment and one that will live with me for a long time. Well done to everyone involved.
And so, the first of the promised, offerings. With today’s theme being historical, I can think of nothing more appropriate than going back twelve years in time to the marvelous ‘Disillusion’, a standout play for many reasons. Firstly, it was a piece effectively tailored for The Matchbox. Written by Tom Masters (pictured above- the only one not looking like he’s from the 16th century), whose family have long been associated with the group, this was to be a premiere production. Though not quite commissioned, it was written with The Matchbox in mind and, following a convivial read-through of the first draft around Normanhurst some time in 2002, it was trimmed down, fine tuned and eventually Tim Pearce agreed to direct. As you can see from the photos, it was staged in St Francis’ Church in full Tudor finery, little set being required as the atmosphere of the building contributed beautifully to the historical sense of the play
An epic sized cast of faces old and new was called upon to bring to life the turbulent period of religious upheaval, conspiracy and treachery surrounding the English Reformation and the marriages between Henry and Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard.This latter relationship formed much of the backbone of the play as I recall, and saw the debut of Louise Johnson who performed with us for a number of years after. The piece also saw Jerry Moore join us in ecclesiastical form and would lead to a number of smashing performances in many roles to come (we still hope you will come back and cameo for us at some point Jerry 🙂 ).
Other highlights included Gill Challenger as Anne, a splendid character turn that brought a vein of perfectly delivered humour to the piece; John Mackintosh reprising Cromwell from ‘Seasons’ in stonkingly manipulative and sinister form; a beardless Tim and wonderfully evocative live choral music which added immensely to the tone of the play.
Personally it was my first outing as Henry VIII ( a role I missed out on in 1999’s ‘A Man For All Seasons’, though I managed to make it for the reprise in our thirtieth anniversary.), ironically as the older,syphilitic monarch, not playing the younger king until recently in ‘Anne Boleyn’. I am forever grateful for being able to discover my inner Tudor, pus-ridden sores and all.
I don’t know the fate of the piece, or if indeed Tom wrote any more. I am certainly glad that this one made the stage and we had a chance to bring his words to life. It remains to this day one of my stand out plays and I am so glad that, thanks to K Isom’s archive, I have been able to share just a few of the pictures from it today.
Well, here I am in my classroom once more, in the same space that this blog was first produced two years ago. It has seen a steady drip feed of anecdotes, tales, photos, memories and stories and a contribution or two over the past 730 days and all I can hope is that you, the reader, find it a useful companion/talking point/source of nostalgia (delete where applicable) for all the hard work that goes on within the group. That work continues apace and news of our next production will hopefully be with you soon but in the meantime I’d just like to thank you for reading and supporting these words.
Oh and by way of a present I shall be offering a couple of extra trinkets later on today; firstly a review and photos from our last play ‘Mary Stuart’ and then a little nostalgic offering to round the day off.
Here’s to the next couple of years. Have a great day.