Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


A miner's tea party with Sandra Haynes as Ida, Peter Cooley as grandpa Joe, Richard Irons as Albert, Sharon Clayton as Vicky, Pip Oliver as Margery and Rob Phillips as t'Daniel Hepplethwaute  Pictures: Alastair Barnsley

The coarse acting show

Highbury Theatre Centre


To borrow the old football idiom, this is a performance of two halves, the first a collection of sketches of variable quality, the second a splendid operatic spoof.

Michael Green’s quartet of playlets, in these times of Brexit and austerity, has been reduced to three but director Ian Appleby has manfully made up the shortfall with his own variation on the theme of A Christmas Carol.

The first act trio have missing cues and props as well as props the cast might well have hoped to have been missing, such as a table that managed to lose its most basic of functions. This is amateur theatre at its finest worst with actors producing more ham than the night shift at Ye Olde Oak, scripts that take drama on journeys no one should suffer, especially an audience, and the only saving grace being they don't go on for ever.

In short it is truly dreadful – intentionally so I hasten to add – which is the point of the whole evening, a chance to laugh at what can . . . and does . . . go wrong, with scripts that should never have been released by the typewriter.

We open with A Collier's Tuesday Tea, rain lashed on a bleak night in’t pit village in’t hovel o’t Daniel Hepplethwaite, played all manly like by Rob Phillips in what appeared to be a coalman’s jerkin and a plastic pith helmet. He is the stern, tell it as it is, patriarch.


Ida makes her point to Dan as Vicky awaits her beau Lionel for a collier's Tuesday tea

Keepin’t house is matriarch Ida, played with suitable wifely ways by Sandra Haynes, and then there is daughter Vicky, Sharon Clayton, who is pining for Co-op bank clerk Lionel, played by Dave Douglas, and of course son Albert,  the flat-capped Richard Irons, who has a scholarship for university, which is red rag to a bull for Dan.

He wants no son of his going all namby pamby to university - Albert goes down t’pit like his father, and his father before him . . .  for several generations . . . AND . . . Vicky is not going to marry some stuck-up clerk in a bank . . .

You get the picture.

Then there is Margery Hackforth, played by Pip Oliver, a neighbour . . . but could she be something more?  

Add relation Jessie Throttle, played by Highbury newcomer Ann Bravey, Phil Astle’s panicky policeman and grandfather Joe Cleghorn, played by Peter Cooley, and then chuck in a mining disaster down t’pit and we are in for a dramatic climax. The playlet is a send up of D H Lawrence and his much less dramatic play of 1934 A Collier’s Friday Night which was about the mundane, ordinariness of working class life among Derbyshire miners.

Next was Definitely Not A Christmas Carol; a send up of . . . do you really need to be told? 


A merry(ish) Christmas for the Scratchitt family with Kimberley Marlow as Tiny Tim, Laura McLaurie as Randia, Phil Astle as Bob, Sharon Clayton as Virtua and Mandy Yeomans as her identical (?) twin sister Perfectia, all admiring the free range, roast canary feast

Peter Cooley is out of his wheelchair as Mr Scroo, although the name’s sound rather than its spelling gives some idea of what is to come, and the cast is joined by Phil Astle as Bob Scratchit along with Sharon Clayton as daughter Virtua, Mandy Yeoman’s as her identical twin sister Perfectia (even though they are identical only in the programme description) and the wanton sister Randia, played by Laura McLaurie.

Kimberley Marlow tap dances around the stage stiff legged as Tiny Tim, Yvonne Lee and her bedsheet appear as the ghost of Christmas . . . whenever . . . while David Kemp plays a kitchen stool . . . yes, you did read that right.

The whole thing is not so much theatre of the absurd as, well, just absurd, but it got some laughs and that is what comedy is all about.

Ending the act was All’s well that ends well as you like it which must have Shakespeare spinning in his Holy Trinity tomb. It is tale of a deposed duke, Frederigo, Phil Astle, his son Dronio, Duncan McLaurie and Testiculo the jester, Dave Douglas with bells on.

They are the goodies, sort of, while leading the baddies is Bronchio, the usurping duke played like Richard III’s long lost cousin, by Rob Phillips, and his beautiful daughter Delia which sees the return of Pip Oliver.

Sandra Haynes plays the lute player, sadly getting her hand stuck in the sound hole of her instrument which perhaps detracts a little from her disguised appearance as the loons Mud and Grot, a messenger and the nurse Dracula – oh and Bolio the fairy. She probably swept the coridors and made the tea as well.

Afonso and maria

Duncan McLaurie  as Alfonso and the impressive Laura McLaurie as Maria

Richard Irons is the holy man Crucible while another newcomer, David Kemp is Pan amid a collection of trees – or at least six people holding branches

Nicking lines and bits of plot from the Bard and sticking them in a blender we have a love story as Delia disguises herself as a boy – a boy with a chest problem I might add – to tease Dronio, who seems . . . well tempted, which doesn’t auger well for the future - poor Delia won't know which way to turn - but all’s well that ends well, so its curtain down (ish) and off to the ice creams.

The language is sort of fractured Bard which must have been a devil to learn but they made it sound . . . Shakespearean, with laughs.

It had been three daft playlets, badly done well, if you see what I mean, which left everyone with a smile.

The second act Il Fornicazione is a different kettle of fish, taking the mickey out of opera quite beautifully. Anyone who has been to Grand Opera will recognise the jokes immediately. For instance, it can take an aria and 10 minutes from the chorus just to tell you a lover is on his way – and the words won’t run to much more than that, he’s on his way, his way, on his way, he is, on his way . . . up and down the keyboard. Major, minor, neck aching reading the surtitles.


Our three maids, Kimberley Marlow, Sharon Clayton and Mandy Yeomans

Thus, we have three pert and pleasing maids, Sharon Clayton, Kimberley Marlow and Mandy Yeomans, along with Countess Maria, old Randia showing you can’t keep a good girl, or in this case, bad girl down, as Laura McLaurie commands the stage beautifully as our diva. She and her maids are banging on about young lover Alfonso being on his way – I warned you - with the words becoming more desperate, as in we can’t sing this much longer, but happily after what seemed to be about verse 46 he turned up in the bewigged and occasionally moustachioed shape of Phil Astle.

Drama occurs when the cheesy cuckold Count Formaggio returns from hunting – actually it is Duncan McLaurie returning from playing Dronio – and the hidden lover is revealed.

As in all good operas no one is going to survive, and, no one is going to die quickly. We avoid the consumption in a Paris garret, leaping from battlements, being shot or dragged into hell and all that fanciful stuff and rely on good old-fashioned poison and daggers. To be honest, most people have shorter lives than this lot take to die.

Just a warning though: For those of a somewhat nervous disposition, or those who had not long finished their tea, I must warn you that Rob Phillips does appear in pink tights with what appears to be a change of clothes stuffed down the front, first as a ballet trio with Richard Irons and Kimberley Marlow and finally as a fairy – which could explain why the fairy tale Brothers were Grimm!

There is a fine chorus of ladies, servants and huntsmen and the singing is not at all bad, especially from Laura as Maria. It’s in tune and most of the words could be heard.

pas de trois

Richard Irons, Kimberley Marlow and Rob Phillips in a pas de trois that could  set ballet back for generations 

 Praise there for Chris Corcoran who not only arranged the music but performed it as well, and no doubt was responsible for the fine choral work. The whole thing only works as a send up if it is a parody of opera which means it has to be done well, performed as a supposedly serious piece of opera, and the cast manage that splendidly.

For anyone who knows opera this is great fun with music nicked from Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, Bizet, Ponchielli, Gilbert and Sullivan and even Offenbach’s Can Can got an airing – all with words to chivvy along the grand opera basic plotting of love and betrayal.

It is funny, witty and clever and lifts the evening wonderfully.

There are some 80 costumes throughout the evening apparently, which all fit in well, thanks to hire, wardrobe and Jenny Fern, Tony Reynolds and Emily White kept it all on track with sound, with lots of cues from thunder to opera with a lot of work by the backstage crew to keep something so bad good.

Director Ian Appleby has kept things moving along apace, even adding additional material to the three Michael Green pieces. The first half is amusing enough but the second act is very clever and funny. You will leave with a smile and some well known tunes to hum on the way home. To 23-02-19.

Roger Clarke


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