Emerging into the balmy spring of a Hanwell evening I was astounded to hear someone who, like me, had just experienced “A Rise in the Market” by the St. Mary’s Players state that they thought it had “been a bit fruity”.
Now I’m not one to disagree but it was the surprise in the theatre goer’s voice that brought me up sharply.
The idea that the Players could somehow contain their baser instincts during the course of a play that was surely best described as a subtle cross between a Party Political Broadcast by UKIP and a Leslie Phillips tribute would never occur to anyone who has been fortunate – in the loosest sense of the word – enough to taste the esoteric and rather specialised delights of Hanwell’s finest.
Fruity? Not ‘arf!
This was farce at its finest played with pace, panache and an absence of outer garments only where the artistic integrity of the performance demanded it.
Those of us who not new to the thespian traditions of the Players soon detected the restrained and sensitive suggestions of producer/director Jenny Foxwell (no stranger to the outré herself – I still have the pictures!).
To squeeze so much fun and frolic from a cast of seven is skill indeed and La Foxwell, who is well known for her directorial brutality and a well hidden generosity of spirit, put them through their paces like Aiden O’Brien with a string of thoroughbreds. I will demur from making even passing references to whips or jumps as that would be wholly inappropriate and probably copyright.
The still calm at the centre of the hurricane was Paul Downing as Sir Clive Partridge and if ever a man was predestined to lose his trousers it was this fine actor who was playing a senior UK member of the EU Commission.
I’ve seen young Downing in all his work with the Players and I still cherish fond memories of his tweedy journalist in “When we are Married” but this performance superseded even that.
He managed to convince us that a senior EU diplomat could be a venal priapic scoundrel with the morals of a – well – a politician.
Difficult though it was to convince an audience of wide eyed innocents that such a rogue could even exist, let alone collect his exes in Euros, Paul Downing managed it and probably put back the European cause by a decade in doing so.
A fare more admirable character was given us by the St. Mary’s stalwart Mark Cosstick; playing against type as a subservient apparatchik from the British Embassy in Paris with a total lack of self confidence and of obsequious and somewhat oleaginous manner when interacting with a superior but becoming something of a brute when one lower than he in the civil service hierarchy appeared.
Mark’s character was named as Simon Prout and it was only as an increasingly horrific string of puns gathered pace through the evening that we realised why the surname was chosen.
A flavour of the horror may be suggested by the instruction for him to “..go to Brussels, Prout”. I fear it got worse.
Now when it comes to fruity the character played by Alison Simmons would have outdone the fresh food counter at Waitrose. I initially mis-read the name of her character as Astride but was only partly pacified by the realisation that it was, in fact, Astrid.
Well – at least in name.
Of all the natural shocks that flesh is heir to one of the most agonising is the entrance of Alan Browne in any Player’s production but particularly in panto.
His character – apparently named after an American cereal sold as dog food – was played down so effectively that I hardly noticed him.
Those of us who treasure the full horror of the great actor’s canon could scarce contain their amazement at the transformation.
So modest and humble was he that Mark Cosstick bullied him without mercy and gave a passable imitation of David Cameron talking down to Nick Clegg in Cabinet.
I freely admit that things got a little confusing about now.
Jackie Raynor appeared as Sir Clive Partridge’s wife and much business ensued to keep her and the fair Astrid apart as both appeared to enjoy in depth ussions of the common agricultural policy with Sir Clive and needed to be kept apart – presumable because of some recondite disagreement on the tricky subject of the Greek tobacco subsidy.
Rekha John-Cheriyan is something of a heroine to me as I was present at a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Greenford where she was our speaker.
The subject was something about her career in national broadcasting but the effect that she had on some of the more senior Rotarians is still the stuff of Rotary legend.
She has a similar impact on audiences in W7 and although for once she was not playing the femme fatale she caused many a heart to flutter and added her energy to the chaos that was fast unfolding around us.
I cherish the occasions when David Whitestone is let out during the hours of darkness and their rarity adds to the sense of occasion.
He seldom disappoints and a rain coated and humourless Belgian whose name I first heard as Chuck Berry but who was later identified as Jacques Berri proved to be the latest manifestation of the great man’s genius.
Readers of a delicate disposition should avert their eyes and stop up their ears at this point.
Whereas I am not an absolute authority on the rite of absolution in the established church I felt strongly that there was a need for a collective confession as every character – saving the noble Prout and Kibble – was revealed to be a libertine of the most lascivious type.
Satyriasis was the order of the day and clothes were arded with the speed of abandoned morals and the most cynical and unlikely denouement ensued.
Committed and enthusiastic Europeans in the audience had their faith sorely tested and I really expected to hear a beery chuckle and see Nigel Farage enter stage right (far right) in a fug of Capstan Full Strength.
I’d love to say that all ended happily but, in a very non-EU way, unhappy compromise was reached in which certain sins were concealed and life went on to the sound of slamming bedroom doors.
One thing that we do not need a referendum to decide is the quality of the cast and the overall production of “A Rise in the Market”.
Tightly directed and acted with brio by the most professional amateur company in Northern Europe this was as much a treat for the senses as it was torture for the ribs.
The guffaws erupting from the audience told their own story and if we could park the blatant anti European propaganda this was the St. Mary’s Players at their finest in a truly memorable outing that will look good on their next pre-sentencing reports.
One of the real skills of the Players is found backstage and another superb set by Steve Douglas and abetted by John Foxwell and un-named others really added to the class of the occasion. Malcolm Smith efficiently sorted out the son et lumiere and I suspect that the hand of Ben Douglas was to be found somewhere on the lighting tower or at the mixing decks.
Steve Secombe and Geoff Mules shared the MC duties and the DJ to great effect and although I have but a passing brief experience of standing in front of a restive crowd and trying to impart knowledge I recognised a couple of pros when I saw them and if my thoughts of Steve “Slash” Secombe are always viewed through the heavy metal prism of one of his earlier – and profoundly hirsute –parts I was grateful for him abjuring the Metallica gig to be with us in Hanwell on this and so many other occasions.
Despite my limited engagement with the science of tonsorial artistry I am reliably informed that Di Roberts’ skill with the hair spray was equalled only by the craft of her maquillage.The end product certainly looked good and I am sure that Secombe and Pound would offer our gleaming pates as test beds for any syrups that she may have access to.
Sue Cosstick was as charming as ever at Front of House and my wallet seemed to fly magically towards her and to snap back to me in a considerably lightened state.
If I have a criticism, and I seldom do, it was the dreadful sense of dislocation caused by the presence of Linda Smith at the bar.
Manet would surely have leaped to his easel had he witnessed this elegance and I noticed many people making purchases that they did not want merely to engage the pulchritudinous paragon in passing badinage.
As I am not a wine drinker – having tried it once and not taken to the taste – I was even allowed to import a few cans of Export and I thought that it was so very generous of Kim Rumble to only charge me £5 corkage per tin.
However even the absence of Linda Smith as the leading lady of the Players could not spoil my evening. Although I was at times distracted by thoughts of what part Linda might have played in this farce my overall impression was of a well acted and very funny piece that may have seemed utterly chaotic on the night but which was, in fact, as taut as a bowstring and just as effective in getting the message across.
A memorable night for a delighted audience and another stunning triumph for the St. Mary’s Players – even if they are so replete with talent that one of their finest is left to languish behind the bar.