What I did at School Today 2013

Saturday saw the arrival of Spring; a symphony of birdsong, an afternoon in the neglected garden and the thud of a gentle, parochial cricket match being played on the village green. What better way then to round off a memorable day than by witnessing Parkend Players’ latest production, ‘What I did at school today’, at our local playhouse (aka Parkend Memorial Hall). The sense of excitement was palpable as friends gathered to eat a superb supper together; both wine and talk flowed freely until, rather suddenly, a booming voice caught us all unaware as the headmaster, Clive Beasley, entered the dining room and we were all transported to year 6 assembly at Lloyd George Junior school, situated somewhere in middle England. A hush descended and the play began.

The play itself was accurately described as a comedy and was very reminiscent of the early days of ‘Carry on’ with banter, backchat and innuendo all present, together with moments of high drama and natural farce. Lines in the first act were generally delivered with alacrity and momentum was well maintained, though the second act struggled slightly with pacing. However, the full force of the final coup de theatre was quite spectacular and the conclusion was well directed and acted.

Debbie James’s lascivious Liz McCleod had the female audience hanging on her every word and the male audience drooling – it was a marvellous piece of comic timing. Jess Collins, newly resigned to her character actress parts, played a doddery old dear, full of malapropisms and antique silliness. Peter Timmins managed to play himself (again) and was extremely funny, choosing his moments to play to his audience, fully aware that the Parkend Cricket team was in that night. Simon Moore played a superbly cynical, acquisitive and horribly manipulative headmaster, whose main preoccupation was not only with the rationing of toilet paper but also with the exploitation of his staff, and the misappropriation of sufficient school funds to be able send his own kids off to a minor public school. The caretaker role was taken by Martin Roach, who perfectly portrayed an individual obsessed to the point of madness with bodily fluids and the general stink and filth that make up humanity. Staff members were played by Nikki Roach, whose character started as the voice of sense and gradually became Juliet to Peter Timmins’s Romeo, and by Beth Roach, whose ditzy maths specialist delivered some very funny lines with great panache. Other cast members included youngsters, Lily Shilston and Niamh O’Connell who played the angelic Emma and her slightly more challenging sidekick, Whitney.

As usual, set, props and costumes were all spot on, with clearly a great degree of care going into every detail. A good visual sense and strong directorial skills made this a terrific show to watch. I commend the work of Parkend Players, who have not only survived during these times of austerity, but have instead, actively thrived and who are able to produce drama of consistently high quality. Parkenders should be very proud of their own repertory company, who continue to inspire, motivate and entertain.

Fiona Crawley

Panto of the Opera 2010

Parkend became Paris and the Memorial Hall the Opera House for the Players’ very enjoyable annual panto, ‘Panto of the Opera’. The occasional dips in pace were more than made up by a huge sense of fun and some rollicking good laughs. Debutante director Debbie Browning was able to draw successfully on the Players’ twin strengths of very talented leading actors and highly creative stagecraft, exemplified by the shrinking of Pip Deave to play the diminutive yet brilliant artist Toulouse Lautrec. A real strength of the show was its musical component, directed by Fiona Crawley. Playing Christine, the romantic lead, Dorothy Rayner exuded Disney-esque sweetness and charm. Her duets with the hero Tom Browning, who now features regularly as a soloist on our radios, were a real delight. Tom Atkinson’s mellow tenor gave his ‘Phantom’ a real sense of anguish and longing, while his wonderful portrayal of the irritating health and safety inspector have left this reviewer’s kids requiring risk assessments of everything I do ever since!

It’s always a pleasure to see Peter Thomas reprise his role as the arch villain, which he does with such wicked relish that audiences cannot fail to engage in the pantomime atmosphere. On the dark side with him as his incompetent nephews, Mike Webb and Martin Roach produced some lovely ‘Only Fools and Horses’ moments. Simon Moore’s impeccable slapstick talents were brought fully to bear as the dame, Beatrix Bakewell, whose name puzzled us all until it led to one killer joke at the end. Debbie James, queen of the smart asides and sharp one-liners, was cool efficiency itself as owner of the threatened opera house. The richness and energy of the show was further driven by the extensive cast of opera house composers, librettists and of course chorus girls, whose singing and dancing culminated in a wonderful can-can to set the pulses racing. And who could fail to mention the charming balletic talents of little Ruby Timmins. With an aaah factor from Ruby and a wow factor from the can-can, a fine evening was had by all.

Ian Hodgkinson

Whodditit? July 2009

Parkend Players continued to push the boundaries of their art in this one-act murder mystery spoof at the Parkend Memorial Hall last weekend. Blessed with a set of outstanding comic actors, director Pip Deave threw them the challenge of working on a blank, black stage with few props. Through mime techniques, the actors had to help the audience visualise sets, props and some of the characters. And how the audience loved it as the pictures unfolded in their minds! It gave rise to some hilarious comic moments. Simon Moore’s Inspector Story’s fight with the Invisible Man, for example, was wonderfully well timed and choreographed.

The comedy was fuelled by the small cast taking on multiple character roles with frequent and fast changes of costume. As the play proceeded Martin Roach, Simon Moore, Peter Thomas, Natalie Martyn, Mike Webb, Debbie Browning, Debbie James and Cathy Folkard were increasingly likely to appear as characters other than their own. The bizarre character shifts culminated in Mike Webb’s huntin’ and shootin’ uncle, machismo firmly established with a Yosser Hughes moustache and Kevin Keegan perm under a pith helmet, emerging as a cross dressing long-lost auntie! Looming over everything though, was Martin Roach’s menacingly crafted Able Bonecrusher, who served to remind us that at any time evil and darkness can threaten the most tranquil, harmless and settled of existences.

Another really well-crafted performance from the Players, then, who always lead us to expect the unexpected!

Ian Hodgkinson

Tea Towels and Tinsel Christmas 2008

Double the Fun for Christmas at Parkend

The PARKEND PLAYERS’ recent staging of the nativity story was very much a show of two halves, with not one but two versions being told on the same evening.  The first, JESUS’S CHRISTMAS PARTY, was performed by the youngest members of the group, and the second, TEA-TOWELS AND TINSEL, put on by the adults.  In a delightfully unexpected twist, the children’s version was surprisingly grown-up and the adults’…  well, less so.

Despite an average age still in single figures, there was no lack of surety, confidence and good old-fashioned talent on offer for the first course.  Jango Jones’s strident performance as the Roman soldier got proceedings off to a powerful start, and the standard was maintained from there on in.  Not only did Joe Thomas (playing the inn-keeper) succeed in concealing any trace of nerves, he threw himself into the role with gusto and an infectious sense of fun.  For anyone who regarded the attendance of nativity plays in the past with little more than a resigned sense of parental duty were in for a welcome surprise.  Not only was Jesus’s Christmas Party full of flare and impressively mature humour (with many genuinely hilarious moments), it was refreshingly original in its approach; the narrative spine of the story being that of the Inn-keeper and his wife trying to get a good night’s sleep, despite constant interruptions from the last minute stable guests and their never-ending stream of noisy visitors – angels, wise men, shepherds et al. – and a menagerie of barnyard animals.  The sight of Lily Crawley as a chicken was a delight few of us will forget in a hurry.  Despite the grumpiness of the sleep-deprived proprietor and his good missus, (played brilliantly by Lydia Matthews) the final arrival of Baby Jesus himself succeeded in melting even the hardest of hearts, both on and off the stage.

Tea-towels and Tinsel was equally surprising, and for all the right reasons. Using adult actors to portray children is a risky theatrical device, but one that has a tradition in the Forest – Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills being perhaps the most famous.  It is testament to the talent on offer that The Parkend Players pulled it off so successfully.  Jess Collins’s experience and confident direction allowed the actors to work around, rather than stick religiously to, an already strong script in order to find the comedy in the moment.  Mike Webb had the good sense to shamelessly milk his predicament as Angel Gabriel, when left dangling helplessly on a wire several feet above the stage.  Martin Roach was so convincing as a self-conscious schoolboy forced into being the narrator, that when he broke off to plead with the ‘teacher’ (played by Pip Deave) to be allowed to nip to the loo, half the audience seemed to cross their legs in unison.  It was all quite deceptively accomplished, since it is only through such a slick, assured and well-rehearsed production that such anarchic fun can truly shine through.

The evening was dedicated to Yvonne Walkerdine, who passed away in June 2008, and was movingly remembered at the beginning by the Director. Yvonne’s husband, Rob, controlled an unruly adult choir with skill and a twinkle in his eye, coaxing not a bad sound from them.

Chris Dunn

Not Now Darling June 2008

Or Parkend Players Bare All. In a thrilling evening of entertainment Parkend Players took on Ray Cooney’s classic 1973 farce Not Now Darling. Farce requires enormous amounts of energy, pace and great comic timing to keep the whole thing under control. The whole cast brought all these qualities and more to the evening’s entertainment. Mike Webb playing the lead role of the philandering Gilbert Bodley was majestic/ at his comic best and was superbly supported by Simon Moore as the highly moralising Arnold Crouch. They were on stage for the majority of the evening as they desperately attempted to control two mostly naked young women with their £5000 mink coats. Debbie James playing a stripper in pursuit of a fur at any cost received the loudest cheer of the evening as she discarded her clothing in attempt to gain the mink. Her husband sitting in the audience looked quite surprised at the turn of events. Next to reveal all was Natalie Martin playing very convincingly the role of a young East End secretary in pursuit of the fur. Even the prim Miss Tipdale, played very subtly by Jess Collins makes the final revealing sacrifice. The whole cast performed strongly under the clear directorial lead of Sue Brand and the production team were their typically professional selves. The show demonstrated the progress the Parkend Players are continuing to make in what was one of their best and most revealing productions yet.

Jim Crawley

Comments from our audience surveys:

“Timing very good”

“When is the next performance? Can’t wait!”

“I would have loved to have come again on the last night” (from Herefordshire)

“Great fun”

“Excellent evenings entertainment, well done!”

Treasure Island The Pantomime February 2008

Timbers were shivered across Parkend last weekend as the Players staged their late-season Panto, Treasure Island. Directed by Simon Moore, this was a typically grand affair with a large cast, riotously colourful costumes, and inventive sets which hosted a series of hilarious visual gags. The musical accompaniment, provided live by a six-piece ensemble directed by Fiona Crawley, added a further touch of wit and class to the evening. At two-and-a-half hours, the show was a bit long, and the pace flagged on occasions with uncertain delivery and timing from some quarters. However, it was lifted by some first-class performances. Peter Thomas was at his rabble-rousing best as Long John Slither, and Mike Webb’s defence of the stockade as Don Iguana, with a verbal tirade against the ‘Eeenglish pigs’, had much of Monty Python’s Holy Grail about it.  Young Isaac Lewis brilliantly combined wit and malice as Israel Feet, and the sea-sickness scene of Katie Hodgkinson’s cool and beautiful Nancy will long stay in the memory. And then there was Keith Gwynne’s giant Parrott……….! Another feast of fun from the Players, with packed houses testimony aplenty to the enduring appeal of these shows.

Ian Hodgkinson

The Shapeshifter Spring 2007

Yet another successful performance by Parkend Young Players in their recent production Shapeshifter by Jo Bousfield. Following The Talking Shop workshops in the summer of 2006 organised by The Centre for the Spoken Word in partnership with Gloucestershire’s Theatre Production Office, with funding from Lottery and Arts Development Funds, Jo wrote the play using the group’s ideas and input. Under Pip Deave’s direction the young payers produced a play of very high quality which played to two full houses in Parkend Memorial Hall. With Simon Moore’s very simple but effective set design of projected images of woodland scenes and Malcolm Shergold’s lighting and sound effects , we were drawn into the mystery and enchantment of the Forest.  A thought provoking tale of a young girl, Gemma, struggling to ‘fit in’ with her peers because of her differences, which resulted in the reaffirmation that it is OK to be who you are.

The story began with Gemma, played by Amelia Andrew with a relaxed and natural flair, recounting to her grandmother Joyce, her day at the swimming pool and how she had been bullied. We then see the earlier events at the pool with Gemma being singled out by her peers played by Francesca Searle, Rosie Hart & Katie Moore.  She was joined by Frazer Searle, Georgina Day-Davies & Isaac Lewis and the story developed further when a very confident and loud Josh Lewis, as the teacher entered and informed them of their walking partners for the sponsored walk. We returned to Joyce who recalled her own story.

We were transported back in time, to her childhood in the forest in the 1920’s. The scene showed the young Joyce, played by a suitably bewildered Meg Walkerdine in a similar situation with her own peers. Young stars Courtney Powell, Shannon Harris, Sophie Brown, Phoebe Crawley, Ellie Grange and Joe Aldridge produced a foray of forest accents in a fast-moving scene and Chris Gibbons provided a convincing performance as the school teacher. Once everyone had left Young Joyce alone and tearful, Runabod, The Shapeshifter appeared, played by the remarkable Matt Powell. This was Matt’s first leading role and was a strong and confident performance. Runabod was brought to life by Matt’s quirky movements and wonderful expressions, aided by Ben Deave’s music, which invited the audience into the enchanted world of Runabod. The Shapeshifter then did just that, changed into a multitude of objects and animals, illustrated by shadow puppets produced by Natalie Searle and ably assisted by Phoebe Crawley . The moral of the story was to show; you can be who ever you want to be if you believe in yourself, which gave Joyce the confidence to face her bullies. Present day, and Runabod returns to help Gemma build her confidence and appeared to the other children to deliver a moral message. We all have something we do not like about ourselves and we all want to be something or someone different but we should all be glad for who we are and embrace the differences.

All the cast gave a sense of pride and professionalism in their performance and Cathy Selwyn ‘rocked’ as the caring and warm grandma whose own experiences as a child influenced those of Gemma. Matt and Amelia were delightful and appeared to really enjoy the experience. Parkend Young Players should be applauded for their enthusiasm and hard work with this project and maybe this will encourage others to do the same, as they were obviously enjoying themselves.

Jess Collins, Debbie Browning & Sue Brand

Outside Edge Summer 2006

From: ‘The Forester’

Parkend’s love affair with the game of cricket transferred to the stage last week as Ann Kent and the Parkend Players staged Richard Harris’s Outside Edge. Many readers will be familiar with the TV spin off still being repeated on ITV, which featured a host of great British comedy actors such as Brenda Blethyn, Timothy Spall and Josie Lawrence. This production featured many of the Forest’s best home grown comedy talents including an hilarious turn by Mike Webb and Debbie James in the Spall-Lawrence combination of ‘little fat man’ Kevin and his voluptuous ‘dozy ciaaa’ Maggie.

Like all the other characters, these two maintained a contented façade to the outside world while their own personal tensions burned away to the point of meltdown. Simon Moore as the ever-efficient but highly stressed club captain Roger and his long-suffering and dutiful wife Mim, played by Jess Collins, sustained and built these tensions powerfully. So did Tom Atkinson as the apparently philandering Bob and his outwardly cool but inwardly troubled latest trophy Ginnie, played by Pip Deave. Except that Bob is really working to do the right thing all the time, while all the other main characters increasingly revealed their darker side.

It’s very clever stuff, delivered for the most part with impeccable comic timing by a strong cast. As ever, the Players ‘blooded’ new talent for this show. Neil Moore was both funny and intriguing as the complex and follicly challenged Dennis. Bryn Morgan suitably got up everyone’s nose as the arrogant solicitor Alex, meting out one humiliation after another to his latest floozy Sharon (Jo Morgan).

Bill Brand and Pip Deave’s excellent set gave an authentic cricket pavilion feel as the show once again played to packed houses. The fabulous cricket tea at the interval, with loads of homemade sandwiches and cakes, would have been a major talking point for Johnners, Aggers and Blowers during Test Match Special. Altogether, the perfect pitch for a midsummer evening’s entertainment!

Ian Hodgkinson

Jack and the Beanstalk February 2006

As we’d expect with Simon Moore as its director, this year’s Parkend Players’ Panto was a lavish spectacle, featuring a tap dancing cow, the hugest beanstalk you ever saw and a truly gigantic giant meeting his grizzly end across the full length of the Memorial Hall stage. A thigh-slapping, wide eyed Pip Deave was every inch the pure-hearted hero as Jack, and (s)he saw off Peter Thomas’s  huge booming giant in fine style. His reward was the hand of the princess, played with the kind of warmth, charm and grace of a Disney heroine by Tamali Hodgkinson. Inspired casting pitted mother against son as vegetable fairy Debbie Browning battled with wit and magic against the wonderfully malicious Fleshcreep played superbly by her son Steve. The efforts of Jack and Princess Melanie to rid the land of evil were hindered in hilarious “Carry-On” style by their respective families. Jack’s mum, Dave Hebbes’s Dame Trot, led the barrage of innuendo with delicious relish, while Dan Browning’s Silly Billy roused the audience to such a level of participation that they took the lead in places! Mike Webb as the penny-pinching king, together with Pete Timmins and Keith Gwynne as his aides, added the sharp quips and slapstick that no panto should be without. Once again, the production featured a large cast of young and very young players who took on a variety of roles throughout. And for those who had been wondering, the remarkable agility and dancing prowess of Daisy the cow was provided at the front by Katie Hodgkinson and at the back by Laura Deave. Another great combination in another magical triumph for the Players!

Ian  Hodgkinson 

Educating Rita Autumn 2005

Educating Rita, an intimate comedy by Willy Russell was very skilfully enacted by Jess Collins and Dave Kent of Parkend Players. Both the humour and the strong messages about class divide kept the audience engaged and entertained. The set created the kind of intimacy which made you feel almost like an intruder. The clash of cultures and the affect on the two characters stimulated the audience’s fascination in their developing lives. Jess Collins gave an outstanding performance as Rita, the young, brash, working class Liverpudlian who sets out on her quest to improve her ‘lot’ and find her true self through education. The subtle changes in Rita’s character were skilfully portrayed as Rita emerges confident, eloquent with new found choices in her life. Rita flourishes in her new found freedom while Dave Kent as Dr. Frank Bryant gave a fine portrayal of a university lecturer increasingly and destructively disenchanted with the constraints placed on his life, never really convinced that he is helping Rita to find her true self but rather suppressing a unique personality and spontaneity of thought and feelings.

Parkend Players are renowned for putting on first class performances. Educating Rita, under the watchful eye of director, Duncan Hatcher, has got to be up there among the best.

Ian Hodgkinson

Amphibious Spangulatos Summer 2005

A balmy week of theatrical weather and Wimbledon histrionics was rounded off in superb style last Friday evening by a visit to the splendid, Edwardian Parkend Memorial Hall, where talented local thespians Parkend Players were presenting their latest offering, a little known but highly entertaining farce. The great and the good of Parkend were all out in force to witness the Players’ first foray into the very grown up world of full length farcing. Before proceedings kicked off, the audience was treated to a very fine supper, or rather one course of it, the remainder followed during the interval, and the atmosphere became very convivial. On cue, young Dan Browning and Phil Brand entered stage right in full cricketing regalia and Amphibious Spangulatos aka Newt on Your Nelly began. Pip Deave played a dippy, daft, disorganised caretaker recently released from an anonymous institution and displayed her talents as a remarkably versatile actress. Debbie James played her hard done by, quick thinking, side kick. Most of the other roles were taken by old hands on the Parkend stage and all impressed with their (almost!) impeccable comic timing; there was much slamming of doors and screaming; there were cricketers in various states of undress; a hen night; a dead body or two in the shower; two proper policemen and a fake policeman kissogram who also appeared semi-nude; a four piece country and western combo; a group of road protestors; a Scot from the environmental health; an eminent doctor and her lisping effeminate boyfriend; and a group of nuns, one of whom was pregnant and another of whom was a, well, a man…So, just another normal day in Parkend, really.

Of course, the success of a good farce lies in its meticulously organised, technically perfect portrayal of utter confusion and director, Sue Brand, obviously had a strong vision of exactly what she wanted to achieve. This was aided and abetted by a stunningly simple set made to look just like the interior of a village hall but this village hall was unlike any other I know being replete with secret doors, moving cupboards and hidden entrances – an ingenious accomplishment for such a limited space. Parkend Players’ first full length farce was a dramatic, hilarious, highly entertaining tour de force and deserved to have been seen by more people than it was. Hats off to all who helped make a memorable experience last Friday and may there be many more to come! Please?

Fiona Crawley 

You, Me & Mrs Jones April 2005

Parkend Young Players enjoyed a fast-paced romp through contemporary popular street culture in their production of ‘You, Me, and Mrs Jones’ at Parkend Memorial Hall last week. The cast are energetic, resourceful and completely up to the challenge of bringing to life a complex allegory, loosely modelled on Pilgrim’s Progress. Two kindred souls, adrift in a bizarre world full of beguilling violence, sentimentality and hypocrisy, search for heroes upon which to model their own lives. In the weird society in which they find themselves, a satirical reflection of our own society, such heroes as they think that they find are tarnished with greed and corruption.

The enthusiasm and commitment of the Young Players, encouraged by sympathetic and imaginative direction by Pip Deave, made for some thrilling experimental theatre. All of the young actors are veterans of the Parkend stage, some have performed at the Forest Theatre at Five Acres, and they certainly know how to deliver a good show. Christopher Gibbons and Katie Hodgkinson were the bewildered innocents, and their integrity and passion illuminated a dark world. The rest of the cast played multiple roles, switching with ease from such cultural icons as television presenters, to extreme cult followers, street gangsters and pop heroes.

The formidable Laura Deave had 6 parts, all given their own distinctive character by this impressive young actress. Max Jakeman and Josh Lewis were suitably sinister in a variety of roles, and experienced performers Stephanie Sauter and Tamali Hodgkinson gave assured interpretations of their various characters.

The play was performed in the round, which presented some technical difficulties which were triumphantly overcome by the director and actors. The set was cleverly designed to involve the audience on all sides in the action, and the cast played to all parts of the theatre with accomplished ease. To accompany the action in this challenging play, there was some original music, written by Ben Deave, another member of the Deave theatrical dynasty, and by Fiona Crawley, a senior Parkend Player, who has made big contributions to many Forest cultural events as flautist, actor, director or musical director. Tony Horitz’ play ‘You, Me and Mrs Brown’ asks some important questions about our present day society, particularly well articulated by Parkend Young Players in this production.

Dave Kent

A Christmas Carol Christmas 2004

Twas the week before Christmas

When all through the House

Sat consciences to prick

And emotions to arouse.

And how! In her programme notes, the director Jess Collins declared her intention to highlight the contrasts Dickens describes in his novel A Christmas Carol: the darkness and light, misery and joy, despair and hope. The Parkend Players’ production of John Mortimer’s stage adaptation certainly achieved that. Throughout, their performance was one of measured control. In this the season for pantomimes, no cheap laughs were sought here. This was played to disturb and inspire, and few eyes remained completely dry throughout the shows.

Mike Webb’s performance as Scrooge was remarkable because he was able to convey powerfully Scrooge’s mood and his turmoil without dominating every scene. The story was able to build around him, and the focus to shift elsewhere even though his presence was felt throughout. He was assisted in this by Simon Moore’s inventive set design, and by the uniformly strong performance of the cast of 50 assembled around him who brought the bustle and the contrasts of Victorian London to life on the Parkend stage.

Cameos by the likes of Duncan Hatcher, Fiona Crawley, Pete Timmins, Nic Wood and Dave Buik delighted us with the rich array of characters good and bad we expect from Dickens. And the children and teenagers in the cast were quite superb. I’m still haunted by the vision of a terrified and shivering Lauren Wallis and Luke Wildman as Want and Ignorance clinging to the Ghost of Christmas Present.  In a highly charged exchange, Tamali Hodgkinson and Dan Browning made the pain of young Scrooge’s parting from his childhood sweetheart Belle palpable for all of us. Our hearts were given a thorough seasonal warming by the Cratchett family, and by Isaac Lewis as Tiny Tim beaming as he pronounced: “Gawd Bless Us, Every One!”

The Players made excellent use of the Memorial Hall and surrounding buildings to lay on an exceptional evening of entertainment, which on Saturday included a very good 6 course supper. Food aside however, we were given rich dramatic fare, which was thankfully lacking in ham!

Ian Hodgkinson

The Man from Galilee Autumn 2003

What a confident and well developed group Parkend Young Players are. Hardly two years old they have made their collective debut with performances that were refreshing, enthusiastic and talented.

Dave Kent  

Cancer Tales October 2003

Cancer – the word is powerful and discomfiting. The disease has touched most peoples’ lives, as sufferers, or as friends, relations or carers of sufferers, but there is a lack of public awareness of cancer and there is a general reluctance to bring discussion of it into the public arena. This last taboo is about to be challenged by Parkend Players as they prepare to present ‘Cancer Tales’, the story of the experiences of people with cancer and of their parents, friends and lovers. The play is by Nell Dunn, who has been writing humane stories of social realism for forty years.

It is not an easy play, dealing as it does with a difficult subject. Many people will find the subject matter personally unacceptable, and this reaction is quite understandable. I was there when the play was read through for the first time, and, as a survivor of hundreds of play readings, I found this perhaps the most uncomfortable of all. There was a palpable sense of unease, the theme is harrowing and the language was brutal in parts, but at the same time there was a clear feeling that ‘Cancer Tales’ is an illuminating story that deserves to be told.

Pip Deave is directing. It is her first show as director, having acted, produced or designed the set in most of Parkend Players productions in the last three years, and this is an ambitious debut that deserves to succeed. It is presented as a rehearsed play reading, with the actors not concealing the text from the audience. There are several separate stories taking place in different areas of the stage, and the play is in the round, with the audience thus able to experience an intimacy with the events and people of the play.

This is not a show which will appeal to all, but the production is sensitively presented, with moments of lightness and humour. It will have a great impact as a powerful drama, and it will also raise awareness and understanding of this terrible illness.

Dave Kent

Edwardian Music Hall Summer 2003

From: ‘The Forester’

The first one-acter was an engaging piece of nonsense from the famous French farceur, Georges Feydeau, all French maids, innuendo and mistaken identity, and it was played for all it was worth. It may have featured the dodgiest French accents this side of the Dordogne, but Sue Brand, utterly delightful as a French maid, deadpan but with the most expressive eyebrows ever seen on a Parkend stage, and Peter Thomas, enjoying himself immensely as a seducer mistaken as a music professor, took the audience into their confidence, and came up with a winner.

Jess Collins’ Music Hall medley in the second half was the funniest thing I have seen on stage at Parkend. Duncan Hatcher was the MC, as egregiously verbose as Leonard Sachs at the old Leeds Palace of Varieties, and also wise, witty, cynical and outrageously vulgar. Parkend’s resident yokels, Keith Gwynne, Peter Timmins and Mike Webb performed a delightfully disgusting folk song about a mole catcher, which I’d better not go into in a family newspaper, Pip Deave and Debbie James cheerfully overacted as melodrama queens, and the mime sequence in which Pip, Debbie, Mike and Peter animated an imaginative reconstruction of an early silent movie was nothing less than brilliant.

Dave Kent 

Arabian Knights January 2003

The Forest pantomime season is now firmly behind us (cries of ‘Oh no it’s not’), and I turned up to watch the last night of the last pantomime, Parkend Players’ exuberant production of ‘Arabian Knights’ by Richard Lloyd, last Saturday. It was a pleasure for me to watch a Parkend show with fresh eyes, for once not having been involved in the show in rehearsals. The sense of anarchy that pervades pantomime preparations is too much for my uncompromisingly formal temperament, although I can always enjoy a good local pantomime that I haven’t had to endure in rehearsal.

And this was a good local pantomime. It was set, by complete unfortunate chance in the light of current world events, partly in Baghdad, where 12th century western crusaders have overshot the Holy Land by a few thousand miles, and partly in 12th century Parkend, where the pneumatic Dame Dollop (played with wit and charm by bubbly, vivacious newcomer Tony Fisher) lives in a desolate turnip patch with her niece, the stunningly attractive Tommy (played with spirit and style by bubbly, vivacious old comer Debbie Browning) who goes off to the crusades in search of her paramour Richard the Lionheart, who is disguised as Hassan the Bandit (played with passion and panache by husky, gallant newcomer Deborah Morgenstern).

I think I’ve got that right. Meanwhile in Baghdad, Saladin, the baddest man on the planet, brought to life by Parkend’s resident Prince of Darkness Pete Thomas, rants and raves in a thrilling manner, but of course eventually meets his come-uppance at the hands of the green genie (wasn’t that a David Bowie number?) (played with economy and good humoured grace by helpful, emerald Brett Cooksley). There is a magnificent wicked witch, The Evil Yasmin, played by another fine newcomer to the Players Scilla Lees, and young players Ben Deave and Phil Brand catch the eye with mature and assured performances as assorted gangsters. Dame Dollop WLTM handsome ex-eunuch Ibn Dun (Steve Coley), and the CIA agent (the far-out Ali-Cat, played by Tim Watson on his welcome return to the Parkend stage) and the camel Mustapha Spit (inhabited and animated by Jess Collins and Pete Timmins) somehow bring the affair to a happy conclusion.

Parkend Memorial Hall stage was a riot of colour for the show. Pip Deave’s first ever set design was about the best I have seen anywhere locally. Sumptuously dressed, the various sets simply oozed eastern splendour. The costumes by Kate Dennant, Ann Blethyn, Fiona Webb and Dawn Wynn weren’t bad either. This versatile and flourishing village group seems to go from strength to strength.

Dave Kent