Reviewed by G.M.P. For The Croydon Advertiser
The power of words
It’s a temptation to sub-title the programme presented by Coulsdon Theatre Workshop “The Terry Brant Show” since this enthusiastic young performer was in no fewer than six of the 12 items, sometimes as solo performer, sometimes as actor, sometimes as part of a choral speaking team!
I’m joking, of course. Sunday’s “Festival Farrago” at Coulsdon Youth Centre was, in fact an entertainment (dismally supported) made up of the various entries the Workshop has put into the Purley and Coulsdon Festival currently being held.
Some of the pieces had already been seen at the festival, including those entered by Terry Brant and Roger Keightley in the prose section; “The Death of Nelson,” by Jonathan Miller; and the account of the Virginia Woolf soiree from Alan Bennett’s “Forty Years On.”
I was surprised to hear that the adjudicator has queried whether these were valid prose entries. I’m not familiar with the syllabus so don’t know exactly what they mean by this classification, but certainly if either piece was poetry it was of the blankest verse.
The ‘Nelson’ piece is an amusing speculation about the little Admiral’s last words and Mr. Brant gave it a lively presentation, though on the evidence of this and his other contributions to the evening I think he needs to do some intensive work on voice production, in order to bring down the rather high and insufficiently inflected register of his voice; and vary speed and tone, while punctuating the matter with pauses. Similarly, arm gesture needs strengthening. The player has splendid attack and enthusiasm, and, with technique too, will be one of the Workshop’s most valuable assets.
Of Roger Keightley’s intelligent and effective work I have written before. He dealt with the skit on those name-dropping literary poseurs with the mock earnestness it demands, although I felt the style being mocked needed exaggerating a little more sharply. Nevertheless it was one of the best things in the programme.
There were two choral speaking items, and in this department the most experimental work of the group was offered. (I wonder whether the originality of form here will also prove too unconventional for the Festival?) Alan Clarke directed a series of interesting vocal ejaculations, meditations and fragments of dramatic comment on the Oedipus theme. Here the basic narrative thread of the Greek story of the man who married his mother, killed his father and blinded himself emerged from the ritualistic chant and patterned selection of words, but it was not an exercise likely to commend itself to those who like a chronological story straightforwardly told.
“For The Young,” written and conducted by Vic Bateman, made a similar kind of impact, though in my view less powerfully.
Various drama-based items were also shop-windowed, of which the most polished was the speech from “Richard II” by Terry Richardson, poetry and emotion being both appreciated and communicated.
Of the two duologues, one was a Beckett-influenced fragment by Vic Bateman, acted by himself and Rosemary Quin, an enigmatic piece called “The End Is Why” and one that more rehearsal will probably give better timing and clarity.
The group admitted that some of the work wasn’t yet up to concert pitch, so to speak.
Michael Frayne’s “Mr. Foot” was the other twosome, a duet in which a lovably scatter-brained wife is intimidated by her superior husband’s way of showing of his impatience with her by jerking his foot. This playlet needed pruning and to be rescued from a certain monotony of voice and action, though Jane Briggs was establishing the wife’s feeling of inadequacy fairly well, Terry Brant as the husband made the reactions of the wagging foot rather too violent and arbitrary to be credible as a subconscious nervous reflex.
Roger Keightley’s production of Coward’s “Red Peppers” was also still at an early stage of rehearsal – we had to do without the songs of the cheap variety act who are its central figures. I can’t really say that I think the play a wise choice for young people, who can’t be familiar with the particular kind of seedy backstage atmosphere it depicts so faithfully. (I can speak with personal knowledge, having had relatives who played in a variety orchestra when I was a child). Perhaps they will get something closer to it as their work on it progresses. At present it isn’t anything like vulgar or typical enough.