In a play which involves two couples disputing a holiday villa – assumed identities – a snake which has also taken up residence – a bag of stolen money – and a criminal known as Mad Dog Moon – we have all the ingredients of a mad, fast moving farce. The play has recently enjoyed a successful tour of the UK under the title Snakes and Ladders starring Paul Nicholas and Ian Ogilvy.
And by Samuel French:
Assumed identities, breakneck pace and hilarious mishaps of farce mix with the tension and startling plot reversals of a thriller in this clever, amusing play which toured as Snakes and Ladders in 2002. The Spencers arrive for a peaceful holiday in a luxurious Spanish villa, closely followed by actor Howard Booth and his girlfriend. Unfortunately, Sam and Howard have matching holdalls which have become mixed up. Yet a third, identical holdall, full of money, brings the sinister Raynor to the villa …
And I am cast as the self same Howard Booth, vain and somewhat egotistical over-the-hill actor fallen on hard times. Contrary to the jokes of friends, no I am not typecast, but then competent amateur actors are occasionally at a premium!
This takes me back to Caught on the Hop, Out of Order, Moon over Buffalo and other farces I’ve done in my time. The knack is to do them totally deadpan, remember the timing of your lines and keep the situation credible so the audience can empathise with you, no matter how stupid the stuff you do on stage. In this case I have to have a drink thrown over me and appear on stage totally drenched, having apparently been pursued around a swimming pool by a snake – only to reappear dry a few seconds later in the next scene. As my director Chris is fully aware, I am pretty much always up for a challenge and have not turned one down yet – but watch this space!
22 October 2013
And… it’s finally over. By the end I felt totally drained and with a very sore ankle, but kicking myself about my own performance – though in fairness the errors were spread around the cast more or less equally (see this blog to understand the feeling.) Still, at least the critic, Michael Gray, seemed happy :).
Phoenix Theatre Company at Christ Church 17.10.13
Three black holdalls on the carousel, two couples trespassing in a villa in Spain, one snake on the patio.
Eric Chappell’s flimsy farce features a washed-up actor [skilfully caught by Andy Millward] desperate to be recognised for his soap career in the 80s, with his bit on the side – Angela Gee making the most of Dodie off the cheese-spread commercials.
Their partners in crime are mild-mannered Syd Smith, who should have been creosoting the fence, and his mousy wife [Helen Langley]. The only innocent here is Sir Cliff, whose evocative Summer Holiday is the overture.
The plot curdles with the arrival of Geoff Hadley’s ruthless Rayner – a strong stage presence – as the sangria flows and confusion is worse confounded. Not to mention Mad Dog Moon, the dapper axe-man [a nicely dead-pan Jeremy Pruce].
Chris Wright’s production for Phoenix boasts a nice warm set, with convincing villa furniture and a decorative gecko on the wall. There are some lively, manic moments, but it would have been good to see more consistently confident performances, with a cracking pace building to a satisfying comedy climax.
And finally the review that made me most proud:
Heatstroke by Eric Chappell directed by Chris Wright
The Phoenix Theatre Company Chelmsford 17th Oct 2013-10-18
It’s good to be able to go and see a show and know that this will be a funny, ‘bums on seats’, production and will be suitable for all. This was certainly the case with Eric Chappell’s Heatstroke. This play requires pace, otherwise it might be a bit too wordy but not so pacey that it gets too frenzied either.
This was achieved by the six experienced and talented actors. First are the older couple of Sam and Fay played by the suave Syd Smith and Helen Langley, who reminded me of a younger June Whitfield. Sam yearns for the good life and when he finds half a million pounds in a holdall, which he has mistaken for his at the airport, he decides he is going to keep it. His sensible wife has for the first time in her life also been a little dishonest by borrowing her boss’s villa for a free holiday.
The pace at the start was a little slow but warmed up a great deal when the new couple, actor Howard Booth and his girlfriend Dodie, enter (played respectively by Andy Millward and Angela Gee). Both these two actors really can work the stage and it suddenly became a lot more interesting and funny. I love Howard’s over acting as the failed 80’s TV star and Dodie talking proudly about her cheese spread advert. Both have the same holdall as the other pair and when they swap and find out that the new one has money in it, they want a share or maybe even all of it, if they too can get away with it!
Next to enter is Rayner who they think is a Mafia gang leader come to collect the third identical holdall full of the money but he turns out to be a police Inspector. Good performance here by Geoff Handly. Last but not least to enter the villa is Mad Moon the gangster (Jeremy Pruce) with a twitch which he doesn’t realise he has. This is his money that he has stolen in the UK and will stop at nothing to get it. This could have been ‘over the top’ acting but to his credit he gave an excellent quietly threatening performance, which really got all of them clamouring to return the money.
The set was superbly done with white and terracotta walls, wooden shutters and Spanish plates, painted gecko, paintings and plants. The wicker three-piece also added to that hint of being abroad in Spain. Lots of lovely detail everywhere – well done to whoever designed the set and props.
A very enjoyable night and I do hope the other nights go even better.
Reviewer –Chris Davidson
Deputizing for Stewart Adkins. Regional Representative, District 8, NODA East