A Christmas Carol   December 2022


The Lympstone Players’ beautifully-staged production of Dickens’ still-loved story, A Christmas Carol, was a well-chosen play for our time. The Director, Sharon Wayland, used the thrust stage format to good effect, creating thoughtful groupings when the scene was full of actors, whose sense of ensemble carried the action to the audience around them.


Heather Redding gave us a subtle interpretation of Scrooge as a capitalist business man rather than just a heartless skinflint. He could have walked straight into a Tory cabinet. This was no caricature, but a fine piece of acting, with the eyes and the body as well as the voice, effortlessly commanding the stage. It also proved the case for gender-blind casting – there was never any doubt that we were watching Scrooge.


Grace Packman as Marley’s Ghost was just as convincing, clanking around in chains and boots and a wild wig, acting as a morbid master of ceremonies, dispensing advice to his former partner in doom-laden tones.


If the script sacrificed Dickens’ own language for everyday modern English, the actors did much to restore the spirit of the original with characterful performances. Andrew Minter as both the Ghost of Christmas Present and as Mr Fezziwig brought a Pickwickian ebullience to the proceedings, much needed in a story that doesn’t shrink from the darker side of human nature, as well as the poverty and hunger that haunted Victorian times, and haunt us again.


Thomasin Manley Frost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, delivered her homilies with the confident authority of a child prodigy, wraith-like but upright., a strict guide to Scrooge’s memories.  Tim Askew brought the smack of dominant male to his typically Dickensian headmaster, and to his foreboding Ghost of Christmas Future.


It is this Ghost who introduces two characters borrowed by the adapter, not from Dickens but from mediaeval Morality Plays. The production bursts into dramatic life, as Ignorance and Want (Hannah Billington and Katherine Manley Frost) torment Scrooge with all his deadly sins, in rapid-fire dialogue of short monosyllabic lines. This was ferocious and agile physical theatre by all three actors, as the two vices viciously darted and thrust to threaten the hapless miser, who twisted and turned in agonies of remorse and shame. The audience froze at the sight, and children hid their eyes. 


Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s ill-paid clerk, cheerily played by Bruce Ellis,  has his family Christmas enriched by his master’s change of heart. A large white goose is delivered, and the scene-stealing children, Hetty and Huey Robarts-Arnold and Andrew Wadhams, show us how appealing and convincing natural young actors can be. Our Christmas has been saved.


The production was all of a piece, with atmospheric lighting (by Mai Welton and Hester Walshaw), some good sound effects (by L Campbell), and a trio of musicians – Graham Banks, John Welton and Sue Harmes. The large impressionistic backcloth (inspired by Wordsworth’s ‘On Westminster Bridge’?) was designed and painted by Judy Stutchbury, who was also responsible for props.  Jenny Moxom worked her usual magic with make up, and Judy Eaton assembled the splendid costumes.


After a decade in which Lympstone was known for its Pantomimes (most notably those directed by Shirley Wilkes), it was nostalgic to see a straight Christmas play once more, taking us back to the period when Clive Wilson directed several. Sharon’s splendid production has shown us again how potent such dramas can be.


Harland Walshaw  



Oh! What a Lovely War!    November 2018


Joyce Pomeroy - Local Representative - NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Association) 


To stage a show as expansive as this in a village hall could be considered ambitious.  A band is required and the cast is large.  The story spans the four years of the war and there are numerous changes of scene.  Careful thought and much planning of all aspects had been involved in preparing this production.   A stage extension had been set to enlarge the playing area because the band,  very sensibly, was on stage left, visible to the audience but in no way imposing on the scene.  The auditorium was utilised for some entrances, most notably when the two opposing forces met and exchanged gifts and good wishes on Christmas Eve.  Entrances and exits were smooth and each scene moved onto the next without pause.  Above the proscenium arch ran details of the casualties for each "push" showing the resulting horror of the decisions being made by General Haig and others.  Back projection was used to chilling effect showing scenes from the trenches.  A very effective scene showed the gentry back in England busy with the grouse shoot, demonstrating how the carnage of the Great War barely affected the ruling classes.  Then we saw how the women encouraged the men to join up by giving white feathers.  So much coercion was used, some subtle some overt and so many millions died.    This was played in a low key, undramatic way,  which strengthened and brought truth to the play.   There was a strong feeling of the actors being the character, rather than acting it, which drew the audience into the story.  
As is the custom the actors were dressed as Pierrots with additional costume being added.  This works so well, a combination of the entertainment of those times and the horror of war.  Showing initially that for many back home the war was a farp distant happening.  At first in act one the pace was more relaxed and then as the number of casualties was reaching barely believable heights the horror of the war affected everyone and the intensity of the performance increased.  Then to see the soldiers in Pierrot costumes showed how a situation that would have been unacceptable before had now become part of "everyday" existence.
The sound effects were excellent, loud but in no way overly so, as artillery fire and other sounds of war interrupted life in the trenches.   The lighting also was at all times fitting for the story.
This is described as a musical entertainment and contains many wartime songs.  There was some outstanding solo singing but also the group singing was of a high standard and being a drama company the meaning behind the words was expressed so clearly.  The Band was excellent and the balance of sound between singers and band was good.
To mention individuals is unnecessary as i
n the words of Joan Littlewood "I do not believe in the supremacy of the director, designer, actor or even the writer.  It is through collaboration that this knockabout art of the theatre survives and kicks".  But mention must be made of the 
young girl, 
who looked to be of primary school age and at all times was completely in character, never allowing her attention to waver from the story and her part in it.  It is to be imagined that a  bright and exciting future awaits her in the world of amateur theatre.
This production was most impressive and much appreciated by the capacity audience.  Congratulations to all who were involved in its success.





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