The Farndale Christmas Carol

‘The 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 ten plays in the ‘Farndale’ series by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin. They are based around an untalented, local amateur theatrical group. Both authors were British; Walter was a barrister who died of cancer at the age of only 51. David? Well, he was a screen critic, then a script writer for comedian Julian Clary – and a couple of porn films, but don’t worry, this script has been sanitised.

This two-hour, off-the-planet production is being presented by The Darlington Theatre Group, at the Marloo Theatre off Greenmount Hill in Darlington, each evening at 8.00 until Saturday 4th December.

The scene:           Present day in a local school hall, that is set up for a Charles Dickens’ play – a Christmas Carol – It is Christmas time 1850 in snow covered England.

The set:                was designed by Gail Palmer and Shelly Miller. Minor flats assemblies, but with several artistic props such as the speaking front door, graves and bed that were beautifully painted by graphic artist, Molly Gilchrist. The properties were built and supplied by Lesley Sutton, Luke Miller, and Richard Palmer

Set painting:      by Adrian Ashman and his team of Sandra Sando, Richard Palmer, Gail Palmer, Amanda Moloney and Zac Moloney.

The stunning backdrop projection with its delightful pictures was by Shelly Miller. These new projectors still make me gasp at the quality. Shelly had the picture alignment perfect.

The lighting design and operation:           Shelly Miller – does this lass ever sleep? Often in fun shows like this, some lighting designers are happy just to put on a couple of floodlights and that is their work done; here, areas were picked out by spotlights and plenty of colour added for visual excitement.

Soundscape design :       Iain Martin and Guy Jackson. The creepy sound effects were most realistic and the cab service interference most believable. The sound operator was Jonathan Bigelow. Good work.

The real stage crew  controlling the pandemonium were Locklen Falkingham and Lee Thompson.

Throughout the year the interval tea and coffee has always been delivered with a smile by the catering ladies, Jacquie Ashman, and Amanda Moloney. Thankyou girls.

For the uninitiated, this is a play within a play.

The narrator Mrs Reece (Sandra Sando) is in the wings, as she relates 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 is being selected for the lead, Thelma, who is playing Scrooge (Chloe Wiggers) arrives with her scatter-brained friends.

In Scrooge’s office the accountant, Bob Cratchit (Belinda Beatty) played by Mercedes – who has undergone arm surgery – is preparing for his only day off in the year. He will spend it with his family having a meagre meal. Mrs Reece, one of the group’s senior members ends up with a myriad of parts, including the youngest Tiny Tim, the disabled child.

Being short of men in their ladies’ group, general handyman Gordon (Chris McRae) has been allotted several parts, including Scrooge’s partner Marley. However, Gordon is generally disinterested in the whole production. With great jealousy in the Theatre Group, Felicity (Rebecca McRae) who considers herself the only truly talented actor in the Farndale Club, has been given only brief and trivial parts. She hopes to steal the lead from Thelma, but her brain and performance is always a few seconds behind the real action.

The stage manager, Mandy (Amanda Moloney), has to look after her senile mother Rosemary (Rosemary Mowbray – delightful) who aimlessly wanders on and off the stage at the most inopportune moments throughout the production.

Will the play ever be presented in its entirety?

With the styles of acting being from intentionally basic ‘pure ham’, to over-the-top with ‘look at me I am great’ from Chloe as Scrooge. Then Sandra, our very own female Billy Connolly had her own way of addressing the audience, clarifying what should have happened. To play bungling or incompetent idiots takes skill and this cast were magnificent.

Farndale plays often take until the interval for the audience to appreciate the strange genre, and to realise that all the set collapses, forgotten props and general technical difficulties are all part of the play. Sadly, many of us will have been in or experienced real-life theatrical groups like this, and so may find it difficult to laugh when you really want to cry at past memories. This cast has tremendous drive and energy as they plough through the production. Last night’s audience grasped the genre early and the laughs flowed well. Some nights the audience  can be too embarrassed to laugh in case they upset the actors, thinking they are trying their best. Youngsters in the audience are less inhibited and tend to start the bursts of laughing.

A warm welcome to Perth for Chloe Wiggers, a fabulous new import from Bunbury

Musical director, Iain martin has selected a singalong Christmas carol and a few musical frivolities. The cast managed to get the audience involved without the usual resistance to taking part.

Marjorie DeCaux’s costumes were top-notch as always. ranging from an opulent scarlet and black ballroom gown to an immaculate quick-change Santa suit and the shredded clothes of the ghosts.

The director, Gail Palmer, who was assisted by Lee Thompson, set a cracking pace. The acting was wonderful and the energy never lagged. The accidents were slick and at times horrendous.

A tricky show to put on but the troupe cracked it. Well done to all.