A LAUGHING MATTER by April de Angelis
Aldermaston Players, Meadow Brook Farm, 13/14 July
Reviewed by Hugh Terry.
The show must go on. If ever an an old cliché summed up a bravura performance in hostile conditions, this was it. As the curtain went up on the Aldermaston Players’ open-air production of A Laughing Matter in a field at Meadow Brook (halfway between Reading and Newbury) the heavens opened and we were treated to a prolonged cloudburst. Nevertheless on the show went, virtually inaudibly at first, but soon becoming clearer as the rain relented.
If the opening scene of April de Angelis’s witty farce (an ‘irreverent version’ of real life events) was more or less drowned out, you got the gist of what was happening and it was most amusing. Set in 18th-century London, the play revolves around impresario David Garrick, his company of players and their rivals, and the controversial question of whether to mount She Stoops To Conquer, a new play by Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith which may or may not be too ‘low’ and vulgar…
The Players assembled a populous cast with varying degrees of experience, some ‘doubling up’ to play more than one role. As Garrick, the greatest actor of his generation, Graham Jerome was suitably ‘theatrical’ where necessary, as was Tom Shorrock in a hilarious depiction of the winning, impetuous Goldsmith.
This pair were ably supported by Chris Boott as Boswell and Nigel Wilson as Dr Johnson; there was an affecting performance by Chris Faulkner as hapless Charles Macklin (Garrick had stolen his thunder!) and a well over-the-top cameo by Tricia Goodchild as the lubricious Lady Kingston.
Everyone contributed commendably, Cath Hannon deserving a special bouquet for her superb comic timing and perfect diction in the roles of Hannah More and Mrs Woffington. Even under the trying conditions, she held it together.
The staging, beards, wigs and costumes were brilliant, even if the front row of the audience were sitting more than the length of a cricket pitch away from the stage; and the play itself highly diverting and original, with historical characters mouthing modern idioms at times to great humorous effect.
The result was a superb evening’s entertainment that began in a rainstorm and ended with moonlight on a muddy moat (well, almost). The old adage from the stage that you should always leave the audience wanting more may well be correct; however on this occasion, while the the play itself was long, its run was sadly short, as punters were only offered two chances to see this production.
I would urge the team to seriously consider a re-run at the earliest opportunity – this time perhaps at an indoor venue? Anyway, as winners of this year’s NODA award for Best Newcomers, whatever this resourceful group of performers chooses to put on in the near future should be well worth watching.