one-act season 2017

‘One-Act Season 2017’. These four, very varied plays are being skilfully presented by the Darlington Theatre Players, on Friday and Saturday evenings until the 9th of September. There is one matinée on Sunday 3rd – a special Father’s Day treat – at the comfortable, Marloo Theatre, 20 Marloo Road, in Greenmount.

‘The Mystery at Dunbar Mansion’ was written by an American, Joe Thompson, in a similar style to the ‘The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate’ series. This very funny 15-minute play is being presented by the Darlington Young Players. The actors are aged between 11 and 18, although most were under 15 years.
The scene is a modern amateur group’s play, being presented on the set of an old mansion hallway, about 1930. There are few props, only a few chairs.

      A narrator (Tabitha Holt) sits in a comfortable armchair at the side of the stage apron.
      Due to a raging storm (hilariously produced by Lucy Coates), the guests at creepy Dunbar Mansion are without electricity, and coping with candles. Then by chance, the slightly dim-witted Inspector Wallingford (Noah Watkins) takes shelter in the house.
      When the housemaid (Sophie David) finds the dead body of a man in a smart suit (Chelsey Ward), she immediately tells her bosses, intelligent young Yvonne (Skylah Hounsham) and Yvonne’s confused Granny (Charlotte McCullen) who misinterprets every sentence.
       Who is the murderer?

This very funny comedy called for a subtle, hammy acting style. There is a big difference between actors who are hams, and those injecting just the correct amount of ham. Even straight comedy can be tricky for youngsters to present, and tongue in cheek humour like this often fails, but under the guidance of director Rachel Vonk, this troupe conquered the understated presentation very well, with excellent timing.
The idea was to depict actors in a play that had had very little – if any – rehearsal. The stage manager (Belinda Beatty) has to fight to keep up with ‘unexpected’ crises, and unusual prop demands – thrown in at the last minute. The actors’ dry approach gave the audience plenty of belly laughs. Even the corpse managed to briefly come to life, in order to answer a mobile ‘phone call.
Very well done.

‘He Said and She Said’ was written by Alice Gerstenberg, an American feminist and activist, who was born in 1885.
The scene is in a stately home during World War 1, around 1917. Guests are gathering.
The set comprises a studded, Chesterfield armchair, a matching bench settee and a large drinks table.

       Enid (Suzy Wakeling) and her husband Felix (Blake Prosser) have decided to invite a few friends around for cocktails. The first to arrive is Mrs Packard (Martha Wood), who, being an exceptionally good friend, feels it is only correct to tell Enid about the malicious gossip going around about her husband.
      When Enid’s best school friend, Diana Chesbrough (Shannon Pennell) arrives, Mrs Packard thinks it only right to put her too in the picture, involving the village gossip and scandalous happenings.

Beautiful costumes (Marjorie De Caux), well fitted, and presented with appropriate jewellery.
In real life, gossip consists of a multitude of whispered, broken sentences, with the facts never quite stated, but simply implied. The play’s dialogue structure is very clever but must have been a major challenge to learn and present. Despite this complication, director Taneal Thompson adeptly steered the actors, keeping the pace flowing well. The cast delivered their lines without fault, whilst adopting a slight crouching, gossiping stance. Mrs Packard had a snobbish, bold delivery, and the two school friends were wonderful as the confused and abused.
An unusual, fresh play. Great fun.

‘Just a Straight Man’ was written in 2012 by Australian playwrights, Rob Smith and John Mawson. This couple have written many award winning, 45-minute plays, with this being one of their best.
This play was performed in front of the proscenium curtain. The scene however was supposed to be just behind the curtains of a theatre, waiting for them to open for the duo’s act to begin.
There was a high barstool, a chair and some musical equipment.

          Trevor and Barney have been a successful comedy act for decades. As they prepare for another night at the Riviera Club, fast talking Barney (Benedict Chau) feels the time has come to tell his scriptwriting partner, Trevor (Ryan Marano) what a weight he is around his neck.
        Is Trevor truly holding Barney back from the REAL fame he deserves?
        Before the curtain rises on another performance, could Trevor and Barney possibly be at a point in their partnership that is beyond hope?

This is director Guy Jackson’s first stint at directing, and what an outstanding success. With a long dialogue, it is difficult to build up tension and retain the audience’s interest; but with plenty of movement and wonderful body language, this powerful drama unfolds. The two performers were exceptional, as the sympathy, mood, and power repeatedly swung from one man to another.
Benedict was amazing as the smarmy egotist niggling at the hidden faults in Trevor’s character. One of the very best short plays this year.

‘Dinner For One’ was written by Southport born, Lauri(e) Wylie who died 12 years before it was first presented on TV; so he never really knew of the play’s massive success. The black and white, TV version was filmed in Germany in 1963 by a UK team, and of course starred Grimsby comedian, Freddie Frinton – a teetotaller! This 18-minute treasure has been shown on German television every single Christmas for half a century. Sadly, Freddie died a couple of weeks before being due to shoot a colour version in 1968.
The scene is a wealthy mansion, about 1930. The set has a serving table at the edge of the stage. There is a large mahogany dining table with matching chairs. The table is set for five, with the finest quality crockery and cutlery. Crystal wine glasses and a vase of flowers finish the setting. There is a staircase leading off stage.
The delightful props for all plays were by Lesley Sutton.

       Miss Sophie (Veronica Fourie) enters the dining room for her celebratory 90th birthday dinner. Her Butler, James (Ray Egan), slides out the elegant carver chair, helping Miss Sophie to be seated. For years, Miss Sophie regularly entertained four of her treasured gentlemen friends. However, they have passed on, and only her faithful butler is there to share this special occasion, but she is determined to relive the evenings of the past.
      In order to make Miss Sophie feel as though her friends are with her, James, toasts and drinks all of the guests’ drinks. Not a wise move.

I have seen actor and director Ray Egan perform this hilarious comedy a couple of times before; he gets better every time! This act is universally recognised as one of the theatre’s funniest sketches, and Ray’s brilliant madness is outstanding in contrast to the dignity of Veronica’s Miss Sophie. Ray acting talent with this part, is arguably as good as Freddie Frinton’s performance. Half the audience had not seen this act before, and their tears were flowing as they struggled to laugh and breathe without missing a second of the performance.
I have seen this comedy a dozen times and still love every second. Many congratulations.
The lighting was by Michael Hart, and the sound by Guy Jackson and Rachel Vonk. A simple but well designed, colourful programme by Sally Ketteringham and Docuprint gave us all of the details.
Where else could you get four, quality, contrasting plays for such a reasonable price? Try to catch this special night out which is selling very quickly.