‘Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’’ must be one of the longest play titles ever. This is one of David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin’s ‘Farndale’ series based around an untalented local amateur theatrical group. Both authors were British; Walter was a barrister who died of cancer at the young age of 51. David? Well he was a script writer for comedian Julian Clary – and a couple porn films.
This two-hour madcap production comes courtesy of the Stirling Players (thankfully nothing like the Farndale mob), the show is at the Stirling Theatre in Morris Place, Innaloo each evening at 8.00 until Saturday 7th December.
The scene: Christmas time 1850 in snow covered England.
The set: was designed by Carole Wilson. No major flats assemblies, but instead a dozen large props such as a bed and staircase bannisters. Items like the front door, graves and bed were painted by Ursula Kotara.
John Woolrych’s lighting design – because of the genre – was colourful but undemanding.
The beautiful and appropriate backdrop projection was by Ian Wilson, who was also responsible for the complex soundscape with various voiceovers – or play interruptions – by crossed lines or radio inference. The voices heard were Controller – Paul Anderson, Driver – Steve Sherwood, Police – Carole Wilson and Michael Stronach, Radio presenter – Jane Sherwood and Radio Caller – Claire Westheafer.
Very clear and colourful programme from Carole Wilson and Fran Gordon.
Stage management was by Richard Norman who was aided by Peter Neaves. The cast did most of the scene changes.
The delightful narrator Mrs Reece (Jenny Wren) is seated on a chair with side table to the left stage apron. With a large tome in her hand, Mrs Reece starts to relate the story of ‘Christmas Carol’. Realising that the cast’s bus has not arrived, oozing charm she searches for volunteers. Just as an audience member has been selected for the lead, Thelma, who is playing Scrooge (Lis Hoffman) arrives with her dizzy friends.
In Scrooge’s office the accountant, Bob Cratchit (Nikki Di Camillo) played by Mercedes, is preparing for his only day off in the year. He will spend it with his family. Maureen, (Fran Gordon) one of the group’s senior members ended up with the youngest part – Tiny Tim, the disabled child.
Being short of men in their ladies’ group, general handyman Gordon (Peter Neaves) has been allotted several parts including Scrooge’s partner Marley, but he is generally disinterested in the whole production. Shy Joyce (Melissa Skeffington) appears as the Ghost of the Future putting terror into the heart of miserable Scrooge.
With great jealousy in the Club, Felicity, the only truly talented actor in the Farndale Club (Kaitlin Okely – brilliant) has been given all the trivial parts, which she then builds up to Star status.
When the local Vicar (Richard Norman) arrives to see their show, the women’s eyes glaze over and they fall into raptures.
However, will the play ever be presented in its entirety?
The musical director Fran Gordon has selected a couple of singalong Christmas carols and a few musical frivolities.
The smart costumes by Alison Goodwin and Fran Gordon range from a high quality black and burgundy ballgown, to a comical snowman’s pillowslip suit.
To play bungling or incompetent idiots takes skill. Every Farndale play that I have seen (from the ten in the collection) has taken until the interval for the audience to get into the feel of the genre. After the narrator’s intro, the lack of laughs in this first Act suggests that the audience were too embarrassed to laugh at the ‘poor’ cast’s mistakes. Director Carole Wilson has selected an exceptional cast, all of whom have been nominated for or won major acting awards to convey the incompetence of the Farndale cast. The actors grasped the genre perfectly and gave the show their all; Lis had tremendous energy, Fran warmth, poor disabled Nikki whose pain was palpable, Peter’s disinterest, with Melissa and Richard’s strong input the performances glowed.
Sadly, despite good pace and strong performances, like every other Farndale play much of the script’s puerile humour failed to hit the mark. Congratulations to all concerned.