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Bring up the Bodies: HADIT’s A Tomb with a View

By Margaret Coupe

Hope drama group’s latest production is a comedy thriller: a sort of Addams Family meets Agatha Christie mash-up, with a plot more baffling than the current Brexit negotiations and a body count to rival Reservoir Dogs.

The setting is Monument House, cut off from the outside world and swirled around by the customary murder mystery fog. There are panelled walls and empty bookcases leading to secret vaults. The room is dominated by a portrait of Septimus Tomb, the crazed-looking patriarch of the Tomb family, whose will reading sets the plot in motion. The set team (Graham Sedgewick, Steve and Jayne Fox, Ian Holmes and David Garwes) have played a blinder.

Enter the Tomb family: ‘mad as hatters, all of them’. Lucien (aka Lucifer) Tomb is played with ranting mania by Jon Haddock. Philomena Washington takes the part of Dora, who has managed to put a whole team of Morris dancers under her rose-bed with her poisonous potions. She has the appearance and manner of a disturbed Kate Bush. Monica Tomb, the sex-mad sister, spends a lot of time harassing Peregrine Potter (Danny Washington in terrified form), a visitor to the house. Jane Bramwell, blonde-wigged and deadly, owns the stage with a sort of glittering craziness. As well as a brother who howls like a werewolf in the cellar, there is Marcus Tomb who thinks he is Julius Caesar, roaming the stage in a toga declaiming Shakespeare (Nick Williams). Jo Elliott, as cross-dressing sister Emily, padded out to resemble an all-in wrestler, was a tour de forcefulness delivering her lines with spot-on timing. Jo usually plays glamorous roles so she really showed her acting versatility in this piece.

 hadit bring up bodies

Photo credit: Kate Chappell Photography

 Add to this mad mix, a weird house-keeper (Pat Gillatt), a dusty lawyer (David Garwes), a Scottish nurse (Jenni Argent), and a lady novelist who is not quite what she seems (Cheryl Mulvey) and the scene is set for mayhem.

 

Members of the regular HADIT audience may have missed the comic presence of Tim Smallwood. This is because he was making his debut as director. The play makes some demands: it is a mixed genre piece, and whilst there are some humorous one-liners (well-delivered by the cast) it is not consistently funny and can be a little wordy. In the last scene the explanation behind all the murders slows the action, even though the actor recounting what happened acted really well.

 

HADIT give every production their all, acting with verve and energy: in this case, with a sort of gory gusto!

hadit review article

 

A Farce to be Reckoned with: HADIT’s Noises Off!

By Margaret Coupe

 

Hope’s drama group tackles Michael Frayn’s brilliant play which takes us behind the scenes of a touring theatre company’s production. The behaviour of the cast proves even more farcical than the comedy they are trying to perform. The trajectory of Noises Off! can only be described as a crescendo of chaos…

 noises off 1

After their success with Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval about a shambolic am dram group, HADIT (Hope Amateur Independent Theatre) turns its hand to Noises Off!, a farce about a repertory company which takes ineptitude to the next level. The oft-quoted advice on the art of acting is ‘Learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.’ In each play the characters fail on both counts; there is far more action off-stage than on, with complicated love triangles leading to punch-ups.

 

Noises Off! contains a play within a play: an excruciatingly bad bedroom farce, Nothing On. The first act shows us a technical rehearsal of the opening act. Act 2 focuses on the same act at a matinee performance from backstage. Act 3 occurs near the end of the run where everything unravels at an alarming rate. It is all a recipe for unadulterated hilarity and HADIT actors have never been shy about milking the laughs.

 

The HADIT company is also not shy about taking on a challenge. In Noises Off! the set needs to turn around twice to capture the shenanigans both on and back stage. Multiple doors are required for the quickfire entrances and exits, which are a staple of farce. Congratulations to Alan Bailey, set designer from Bishopston Amateur Theatrical Society (BATS), who advised the HADIT team. A huge pat on the back to construction team David Garwes and Graham Sedgewick for the impressive set.

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Acts 1 & 3

noises off 3

Act 2

 

Frayn’s play also makes demands on its actors, who essentially play two roles: their own character and that character’s part in Nothing On. Valda Dagnall shines as ageing actor Dotty Otley, who has invested her life savings in this turkey of a play. Valda brought out the contrast between her role as housekeeper Mrs Clackett and her ‘luvvie’ persona. By the end of the play Dotty has lost the plot in more ways than one. Gary, her younger lover, is played by Paul Archer. In a high-energy performance, he portrays a man driven so mad by jealousy that he ends up banging his head on the set and attacking another member of the cast with a fire axe.

 

Tim Smallwood creates much humour as Frederick Fellowes, a nervous type, who holds up rehearsals fretting about his motivation. Sheree Smallwood as Belinda Blair, a beacon of sanity in a maelstrom of mayhem, was a good foil. Every farce needs a scantily clad young woman: enter Jo Elliott. With her high-pitched mockney voice and ditsy demeanour, she carries the role off with aplomb. Nick Williams relishes his part as Selsdon Mowbray, a Shakespearean actor relegated to playing a burglar.

 

The production team of Nothing On certainly have their work cut out. As the exasperated director and part-time lothario Lloyd, Jim Driver gives an assured performance with excellent comic timing. The role of Poppy (assistant stage manager) is well-acted by Jenni Argent. Never have I seen a facial expression convey ‘fraught’ so perfectly. Danny Washington (stage manager) catches an air of haplessness well.

 

Farce demands slickness and a quick tempo. Parts of Act 1 were a little hesitant in pace, but this was, after all, the first night. Act 2 was brilliant and the laughs came thick and fast. As Nothing On is acted down stage, the backstage action is at the front – like a slapstick dumb show. (Excellent staging from director Carolyn Garwes.) At one point, most of the cast was out of control whilst clutching a cactus. I shall not forget the vision of solicitous Dotty plucking prickles from Lloyd’s posterior…

 

Well done to HADIT for taking on such an ambitious project. May the farce go with them!

 

hadit review article

 

 “Give me a child until he is 7 . . .”

I attended HADIT's latest production ready for a gentle, relaxing pre-Christmas knockabout – some laughs, a few carols. It didn't turn out that way. Like flint itself, Tim Firth's The Flint St Nativity Flint Street Nativity is hard, sharp, and some sparks were certainly created. The joys and woes of putting on a kiddies’ Nativity are highlighted in this well observed play that is funny, thought provoking and, at times, emotionally challenging.

flint street 1The cast of adults portray a class of 7-year-olds all playing their parts for Mrs Horrocks, the teacher who is never seen but is ever present.

Jenny Bennett, the blue-eyed girl, always ready with her answers and over keen to please, was convincingly played by Jenni Argent. She gets the plum role of Mary of course. Jenny is supported (not really) by Ryan as Joseph (wonderfully played by Paul Archer). Unfortunately, Ryan is easily distracted and lives in his own fantasy sports world. He is dragged around from inn to inn by Jenny but he's far more interested in impressing his parents in the audience than acquiring shelter or impending fatherhood. Poor Jenny is also challenged throughout by school bully and arch manipulator Ashley (skilfully played by Jo Elliott). Intent on stealing Jenny's thunder with her alternative Jesus, Ashley's ambition knows no bounds, culminating in a sinister climax where the little Lord Jesus lays down his sweet head, which then rolls regally downstage towards the front row. A ‘heady’ yet somewhat disturbing mix of comedy and tragedy.

Other participants include Zoe (First Shepherd), the blunt talking, unfeeling farmer’s daughter, unaware of the power of words and of their consequences. There's no real malice, just unfettered, non-P.C. straight talking. A role excellently played by Jane Bramwell and well-supported by her side-kick, the almost silent Judith Coates. We were also treated to an interstellar 'other worldly' performance from Martin Chapman as Marcus, a space nut who wishes for a more authentic portrayal of the Star of Bethlehem. He is pestered throughout by the sinister Bradley (a lurking Nick Williams in Norman Bates mode). Marcus escapes his everyday troubles and gets to live out his 'far out' fantasy in a climactic scene involving an escapee from the Nature table blown up to monster proportions on the overhead projector.

flint street 2The Flint Street children’s production is held together (kind of) by the over anxious Tim as narrator (movingly played by Tim Smallwood) just hoping to please and not be a disappointment, with parental difficulties at home never too far from his mind. Other moving performances were given by Fiona Johnson as the speech impaired Annie and Pushpita Mukherjee as Shamima, daughter of a go-ahead pushy mother, friends and not friends (as allegiances shift) with Jess (Cheryl Mulvey), the emotional ‘round lass’ who just yearns for acceptance. And we mustn't forget to give a nod to the ‘donkey’. How could we forget Andrew (sensitively played by Jon Haddock) the foul-mouthed kid from the special unit who doubles as counsellor and all round ‘wise ass’.

In the finale, we get to meet the parents over mulled wine and nibbles.

‘Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man’. Aristotle's words pre-date Christ but are just as poignant today. At the soirée, we get some clues as to why the kids are as they are, an insight into their values, dreams and insecurities. Are the kids to blame for their bluntness, indiscretions, lack of compassion? This is emotion in the raw – children laid bare, with no decorations, tinsel or trimmings, a tree before it is dressed to impress, a turkey plucked and stuffed but not yet cooked. Through their parents, we get a glimpse of what adulthood may hold for these young ‘luvvies’, for better or worse. The future is unknown but full of dangers, hope and possibilities.

David Garwes on keyboards competently provided the musical thread that allowed each child (and adult) to share with us their innermost thoughts and concerns.

HADIT do not shy away from difficult productions and this is another fine example of a challenging play that was well produced, well acted and well received, leaving in the air the inevitable question . . . ‘what's next?’

Tony Evans

 

 

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HADIT

Click the Derbyshire Times Website Link below to read their review of Jack & The Beanstalk

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HADIT

To see the Derbyshire Times Review of Hadit's performance of Habeas Corpus, click below

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