‘FICTION’ – THE FINAL WORD

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Well the summer is definitely upon us which is typically a quiet time for the Matchbox, and it is once again set to be very much that over the next few weeks: one of the advantages of not having our own space is that there is not the typical need to tiday and maintain that tends to preoccupy many theatre groups when they ‘go dark’ over the summer. That said, a lot of work in that direction was carried out a couple of months back and we are in great shape for the rest of the year and the forthcoming 2016 season.

Yes, next year is going to be a particularly special one for The Matchbox seeing us put on our 100th production, enjoying our 35th anniversary, commemorating the 400th year since the Bard’s death as well as a couple of other pieces of big news which must remain veiled in secrecy for now but which I can assure you, will be worth the wait.

That is not to say that all will be quiet and at some point during the next month, auditions will be taking place for the productions that are going to round off this year. But more of those anon.

I shall leave you instead with the final words on our summer success, of which much has been said. But I think the general response to ‘Improbable Fiction’ is beautifully summed up in this lovely letter to Vicky, the director, from one of our regular playgoers. I present it here it is in its entirety:

Once again I feel I must write to thank you for the very enjoyable performance of “Improbable Fiction” which I saw on Thursday evening.

I loved your production of “The Winslow Boy” and you kept up the high standard again with a different genre of play and a different setting. What is so admirable about your productions is the attention to detail. One accepts that the cast will be well-chosen and will give good performances, but it is so good that in your productions, all departments are given close attention. I sat at the stage-end of the front row, only a few yards from where the ‘prop’ telephone was placed. I still don’t know how it kept going and coming, although I fixed my eyes on its position during the blackouts. There was no sign of a stage-hand moving about, so I have come to the conclusion that it was magic, but very well rehearsed magic! Another surprising touch was the real steaming coffee delivered by Ilsa. Again, I was very near the table on which it was poured out, so I can vouch for its reality.

All the props were amazing, especially X5TR It must have taken a lot of planning and practice to get that right and what a lovely ending to the play with the space capsule! Backstage, the dressers did a wonderful job to get all the changes of costume on time. Your production was a brilliant team effort with everyone contributing, and I loved it. Thank you and your talented members of the Matchbox Theatre for giving me so much pleasure.

Enjoy the sun and see you soon.

M x

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‘Fiction’ in Review

It’s late and I really should not be hunched the computer at this time on a Sunday night..er..Monday morning, but here I am nonetheless, and it has been an interesting evening. I was present at a gathering of the Committee earlier and it really is no understatement that there are some exciting events ahead, all of which will be appearing on the blog at some point or other over the next few months. The recent past, however, was a significant point of discussion, most notably the highly successful ‘Improbable Fiction’. And, as is typical when a show comes to an end, it is always nice to reflect with a few words and pictures. If you saw the show then the pictures above may raise a smile or two or stir a warm memory of the events on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th July. And if you didn’t you might be wondering just what in the name of the saints was going on?!! You missed a good one. And I am grateful again to Steve Williams who once more stepped in to review the show.Thus, I’ll leave you to his words but will be back on here sometime very soon to wind things up before the summer lull kicks in. And now I ought to go, I have to be up in four hours, fifty five minutes! Until next time.

Over a fifty-six year and 79-play career, Alan Ayckbourn has proven himself to be one of the world’s most enduring and successful playwrights. His success is predicated on his ability to observe the ordinary and make it extraordinary, to take a group of average, everyday people and place them into a slightly twisted reality but retaining the honesty of the character and the integrity of normal life. His plays, therefore, follow a similar formula – after all why would you change such a successful technique? Ayckbourn tends to spend the first half of his plays creating a certain situation and atmosphere before, more often than not, unleashing chaos on an unsuspecting audience in the second half. ‘Improbable Fiction’ sticks rigidly to this tried and tested formula, but is no less amusing or surprising because of it.

Act 1 introduces us to the setting, a large living room in a large, old house complete with a batty, bed-ridden old mother hidden in her room upstairs – unseen – but with the occasional bangs on the ceiling a constant reminder of her presence. The play, on this occasion, is set in the round and we the audience surround a circle of chairs being set up by Arnold as he prepares for the imminent regular meeting of the writing group that he chairs. Arnold has boundless enthusiasm for his writing group, he is after all the only professional writer amongst the group – albeit his writing is limited to the creation of instruction manuals… pass bolt 3 through hole A and screw into nut ! His last attempt at livening up his meetings resulted in chaos when the guest turned out to be an incomprehensible, unknown, boring author who left everyone else more than a little underwhelmed.

Mike Savill played Arnold brilliantly cajoling, encouraging, berating and motivating his group of aspiring writers according to their needs. His comic timing was, as ever, perfect and his bemusement and confusion throughout the second half was utterly believable.

Ilsa, carer for Arnold’s mother and shop assistant, was played by Cally Challenger-Francis. Her infatuation with the older Arnold was palpable to all – except Arnold of course who had no idea about her desire for him. Cally was very good as Ilsa with some delightful touches in her performance though occasionally, largely owing to the acoustics, it could be difficult to understand what was being said and I found myself missing some of her best lines as a result.Still a marvelous return to the stage for Cally and hopefully more will be seen of her in future shows.

Over the rest of the first act we are introduced to the rest of the eclectic mix of characters. Jess, the lesbian farmer, was wonderfully played by Kay Isom. Jess is the writer in most of us, full of wonderful ideas but unable to put them down on paper. She starts, but never gets further than the first few pages in part because it is “perfect” in her head but it loses that perfection when she writes it down. Jess is desperate to write romantic fiction and one got the impression that her private life may have been the block to her romantic ideals. Kay was excellent as Jess showing her desperation to write and her frustration at not being able to.

As the battered housewife and would-be children’s author, Grace, Helen Roffey displayed a wonderful understanding of the comedic potential of her character. Grace has started work on her illustrated children’s story; her only problem is that she has the pictures and the characters but not the story! Dot Pullan was equally assured as the local journalist and, let’s be honest, cougar who has just started work on yet another novel – much to the other’s chagrin. Two fine performances.

James Mercer played the monosyllabic council worker and would-be science fiction author, Clem. Some of the funniest moments in this play came from Clem proudly reading his work aloud without realising he was using the wrong words to describe certain situations. James is a fine actor and he delivered some wonderful comic moments with aplomb and ‘magnanimititude’.

The final participant in the writers’ group was the retired teacher, Brevis, played by the ever-reliable John Mackintosh. Brevis first appears having been delayed by an airless tyre on his bicycle. He had discovered that it was some of his former pupils who had released the air from the tyre deliberately and he burst into the room full of fire and brimstone having realised that he actually hated children and had wasted his entire career! Worse still, the composer of the music for his latest musical had disappeared and wasn’t answering Brevis’ calls. John gave, as always, a fine performance full of bluff, bluster and vigour.

And so the scene was set for the meeting to begin. Each character in their turn discussed their hopes fears and tribulations as they struggled to write their masterpiece. Until Arnold suggests that they could all perhaps overcome their particular version of writer’s block by collaborating on a story as a group.

Act 2 is a traditional whacky Ayckbourn second half where confusion reigns, particularly for poor, hapless Arnold who finds himself at the centre of all of his writing group’s own stories. Unfortunately, I found the second half was something of a letdown compared to the first. I must stress, however, that this was a fault in the writing rather than the performances. All the individual stories were acted out around Arnold who was ever more befuddled by what he was seeing and inadvertently a part of. Mike’s performance in the second act was even better than the first as his bewilderment and confusion grew. My issue with the second act was what I consider to be a missed opportunity by Mr Ayckbourn. To my mind it would have been funnier for the historical romance characters to be spouting some of the science fiction lines and vice versa. I felt that keeping the stories all separate meant that some comedy opportunities were lost. As I say, this was a writing problem (take note Mr Ayckbourn!) rather than anything to do with the production and I thought that there were some great performances and some very amusing moments throughout. It was just a shame that the actors did not have better material with which to work.

Victoria Pearce directed the play very well I thought. It is a difficult first act to choreograph when performed in the round (or with an extreme thrust stage to be more accurate) as the cast tend to remain relatively static, but I never felt I lost anything from any of the performers as a result of their positioning. The second act was handled very well by the director and everyone kept up a very good pace despite having to run around like mad to be on time and in the right costume for their next entrance. Everything backstage worked very well with a very good use of lights and sound effects and the costumes, particularly in the second act, were all well thought out and added to the overall look of the play.

Despite my reservations about the writing I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at Matchbox as did the rest of the audience and we all left with a smile on our faces. Which is after all what we all wanted from an evening with Alan Ayckbourn.

Popular ‘Fiction’ Part 2: The Slough of Desponde

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There comes a point about twenty two hours after the curtain comes down when the bereftness kicks in.

That point is just about…now: The brain has become attuned to the fact that it should be commencing the pre show rituals – whether rehearsing lines, quiet meditation, listening to inspirational soundtracks, eating a sausage roll or gargling filthy energy drinks- and now there is no need. But it is not just that Pavlovian effect that causes such emptiness, sadness even; that last ripple of applause firmly indicates that it is all over! The weeks of work, the learning of lines, the construction of props and sets, the camaraderie, the highs, the lows, the reason for throwing a bunch of people together up close and personal for the best part of three months is at an end -and it can be devestating. People with whom one has shared one’s life, more so than with loved ones on occasion, suddenly become strangers or acquaintances again and the project in which all have immersed themselves has become so much ephemera, memories and anecdotes. An existential crisis waiting to happen…

Okay, okay, I know I am getting a little carried away here, it isn’t quite as bad as that. And we are lucky at the Matchbox with its close knit family feel, that many we work with are true friends  but the sense of emptiness at 7:21 on this Sunday 5th July is heavy because saying farewell to ‘Improbable Fiction’ has been tough. There is no question it was a winner with audiences as well as with everyone involved. The laughter echoing round the hall on three hot and humid nights was a marvellous reward for all the efforts thrown in and vindication of Vicky’s vision and direction from characterisation to the elaborate props so integral to the show. As always a review will be published in the very near future along with a selection of photos now there is no danger of spoilers but in the meantime if you spot anyone involved with the play wandering with a slightly mournful look on their face and incanting lines and words that have no real significance, maybe now you will spare them a brief thought as they deal with those good old fashioned summer play blues!

Until next time.

M x

Popular ‘Fiction’ Part1

Well, the first night of ‘Improbable Fiction’ done and the reception couldn’t have been warmer-and I am not talking about the temperature!! (Though that was a smidgen torrid I must say)

The magic of Ayckbourn and The Matchbox together, again worked a treat as, in spite of the heat, the nearly full house delighted in an evening of uproarious comedy. The laughter  came thick and fast and the plaudits and commendations on the back of the show have thus far been marvellous. Easy for me to say, but I feel confident that the majority of our audience would agree- this is one not to miss! Okay, no question it is an off the wall experience but it’sa hilarious one, a definite game of two halves with more than its fair share of surprises.

Labour it I may, but I defy anyone to find as splendid value for money for a night of entertainment in the local area: the price of a pint and a half for nearly two and a half hours of wonderful comedy! Very hard to beat!

Tickets are still available for both tonight and tomorrow so get hold of one of you can. Hope to see you there. You will not be disappointed.

M x

What’s it all about?

FICTION

‘Creative writing (is)..a fusion, a reorganizing of past memories, our own- sometimes other people’s even-‘

Thus says Arnold, one of the protagonists of ‘Improbable Fiction, and if you are lucky you might even hear something like those words spoken on the nights of the play!

However, for now, they serve as a useful  introduction to Ayckbourne’s sometime surrealistic, occasionally farcical, continually hysterical play about writers, writing and the creative process. A melding of oddball characters, a tinge of the bitter and sweet, a hefty slice of comedy and a reworking of genres that I defy you to find in any other play suitable for Thursday night theatre in West Wickham, these three nights of theatre at St Francis are just what one needs for the summertime blues. Science fiction, Bronte-esque melodramatics, murder mystery and fairy tale all come together in a marvellous tour de force that I guarantee will have audiences rolling in the aisles. So, if you haven’t picked up your tickets yet then get to it, opening night tomorrow and I think this is one you won’t want to miss.

M x