Review – The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery

Review for THE NOMADS, Nomad Theatre, East Horsley June 2019

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery

Directed by Elaine Burns

Perhaps it’s because of the naff sounding titles, that the Farndale series of plays are sometimes confused with light, frothy comedies that are easy to stage and to perform…and to enjoy. But Farndale plays are complex, very carefully crafted and come with explicit instructions. You deviate from these at your peril.
Staging the play in the restricted area of the Studio could have caused a few headaches. But, in fact, the set design was a triumph; and the intimacy of the whole space added greatly to the atmosphere. There were four exits (SL archway, SR passage, SR stairway and a window), plus a false door and a fireplace
flat. All were used to great comic effect.

The initial disintegration of the set was delightful and nicely timed. The pelmet & curtains fell down; a leg came off the chess-table, sending it and the pieces flying, and the fireplace flat collapsed. Lighting and Sound were perfectly co-ordinated. Deliberately mistimed cues peppered the action and
confused the characters…particularly when the light switch also operated the telephone…great moment! The Isle of Man video was beautifully filmed and artfully projected. Very dignified performances by Mr Beasley and the Manx cat. Props were always available and hilariously inappropriate…particularly the recurring accordion. Costumes were well chosen, in that they were slightly eccentric for the characters and completely bonkers for the fashion show.

Much of the comedy was when people fell out of character into their Townswomen’s Guild persona. Felicity and Audrey struggled with the fireplace flat…first erecting it back to front and then upside down. People used the wrong entrances, shuffled their lines, repeated their lines, corrected each other,
corpsed shamelessly and recited recipes to the audience.

Moyra Brookes was surely born to play Mrs Reece, the Chairman. The “one or two announcements” that went on forever, the rivalry with Thelma, exasperated asides to lighting & stage management, the succession of characters and the final upstaging of Felicity and everyone else. It was a monstrously fine performance.

Juliana Anderiesz played Thelma, second in command and Mrs R’s implacable rival. She showed great comic timing as she flipped in and out of character. Wonderfully funny moment when she and Murray (as O’Reilly) appeared to get into a loop whilst discussing her former lover, Randolph. Very difficult to achieve and very nicely performed. Cheryl Chamberlain played Felicity. Her gentle character contrasted well with the butch portrayal of Dawn and Colonel King, who she played in insanely rapid succession and with good physical comedy. Particularly loved the moment when she switched on the standard lamp…not really believing that it would work.

Fiona Whitehead was Audrey, who vividly portrayed a range of eccentric characters. She was very good as Violet, the spinster aunt with the dodgy Yorkshire accent. Murray Stephen was the stage manager, Gordon, who’d been dragooned into playing the police inspector at short notice. He looked appropriately uncomfortable: searching for his lines, addressing the floor and never knowing where to stand. Lovely timing and characterisation.
The director, of this production, has faithfully followed the script and its instructions…and it has paid off. The pace was excellent and interactions were well co-ordinated…there was a chair arranging sequence that seemed to take up a whole act. It was impossible to spot any fumbling that hadn’t been
meticulously rehearsed.

There was such a rich vein of comedy that we, the audience, hardly dared laugh in case we missed the next nugget of humour.
To conclude: you must be fine actors, well-directed and rehearsed, to appear so exquisitely incompetent!

Maragh Berllotti

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