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


Stand and deliver. Felicity as Indesit the Martian, with her deadly ray gun heavily disguised as a child's water pistol on the . . . unusual, vicarage set

They Came from Mars

 and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall In Time For The Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning

Hall Green Little Theatre


I think it is fair to say that the The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society is to the theatre what the England front row is to ballet.

Indeed, in the world of amateur theatre even to be classed as amateur would merely constitute an aspiration, an ambition, something to strive for. In short, to describe them as simply dreadful would be seen as a compliment.

But then that is the enduring appeal of the Farnale Avenue series from the no doubt blot inducing, leaking pens of David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jnr. It started way back in 1976 with their memorable (for so many wrong reasons) production of Macbeth at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A send up of amateur theatre companies, it was the original Play That Goes Wrong some 36 years before Mischief Theatre refined the art into a West End and Broadway smash hit.

And the Farndale ladies have continued with 10 unmitigated disasters from mangled public domain works, the most frightening being The Mikado, to their various forays into general theatrical genres such as murder mysteries, French farce and horror  – and here we have their version of science fiction - of the B-movie, low-budget, knocked off in an afternoon type.

The special effects are not so much Alien as Aldi (and with change from a fiver), the plot . . . well, it may have been there, who knows? The script clunks along like a clapped out, misfiring tractor with broken steering while the acting plunges bad into uncharted depths.

In short it is gloriously daft. It says nothing, goes nowhere, has no message, demands no thought process – it is just pure, unadulterated, splendidly silly fun, so you can sit back, forget your troubles, laugh, smile and go home happy.


Armed with clipboard, Kathryn Fisher as Mrs Phoebe Reece, chair of the guild. Pictures: Roy Palmer

The problem with acting bad acting is that it demands good acting, acting bad to carry it off, bad actors can act badly but can’t act acting badly which good actors can, act acting badly good . . . never mind, just trust me and we’ll leave it there. Suffice to say the acting is more than good enough to be appreciated as bad.

We have Kathryn Fisher as Mrs Phoebe Reece, chair of the guild for a decade, who finds it difficult to separate the order of guild business from the current dramatic (?) production. Thus, we have a pause in proceedings at a crucial dramatic moment . . . to announce the winners of the flower arranging competition.

Nor is she averse to chatting to audience members during the play, or explaining. in great detail every little mishap, such as the missing cast member playing the reporter Jack who is backstage, unable to stray far from the toilet.

Her announcement to open proceedings is rather like a vicar detailing the week’s non-religious events and the opening set is . . . different. The stage crew, hidden behind garish curtains to remain unseen despite being in full view, bring on and take off various props before Mrs Reece explodes, gently, and tells them to get everything on now and get started. Which, as they take it literally, producing anything not screwed down backstage, means Act 1 is played out on a set looking like a house clearance gone wrong with hardly a square foot of stage left clear.

Clambering over this mountain of household detritus we have Christine Bland as the somewhat vague Norah, who in turn is playing the vicar’s housekeeper Mrs Tompkins, and, after a Valium mishap, also appears, or perhaps more accurately is appeared, as Roberta the Robot. It is a wonderful performance as Norah goes through the motions for her bits and then spends her time, when supposedly neutralised into a statue by a Martian ray gun, chatting with Jean Wilde, as Joyce the stage manager (Jean was the actual stage manager) about cakes, icing, jam or whatever, whenever she wasn’t required to be speaking.


Christine Bland as Norah, improvising when phone, pen and notepad cannot be found in the jumble sale of a set

Then we have the vicar, The Rev Allsop, played by Gordon, the stage manager, played in turn by the ever reliable Jon Richardson. Gordon is only there because of a last minute illness to another cast member, which sees him needing a crib sheet, which he can’t find in the mess.

Then there is his wife Mrs Allsop played by Felicity who is played by Lauren Rote, who also plays Indesit, the Martian with a large water pistol weapon and a costume that looks like a motorcycle riding turtle which has grown out of it’s shell wearing a crash helmet – a helmet which becomes jammed so is worn for the rest of the show as both wife and alien.

Gordon’s attempts to remove it with Felicity’s head jammed in a desk are . . . well, just as well it was past the watershed. Mary Whitehouse would have been left apoplectic!

Felicity is complaining about the Martian voice hurting her throat and delivers her lines with the confidence and certainty of  a mouse heading for a trap – a lovely portrayal.

Playing the vicar’s children, Jimmy and Susan is Ros Davies who is playing Thelma who is playing. . . you must have got the idea by now. Jimmy is supposed to be eight, so one must assume that a figure, 2, 3 or whatever. . .  must have been missed off the front of that in typing – either that, or, it is a monumental piece of miscasting.

Although, we do get the feeling that Thelma likes, more likely, demands to be the star, the young, innocent, romantic heroine of any production. And as Jack is holed up in the gents she can fill in his gushing words of love and admiration for him. Her love scene with the missing Jack (think Charles Aznavour), and Felicity’s fights with him are . . . different.

norah 2

And Christine Bland again, this time as Norah in her relaxed, as in near comatose, portrayal of Roberta the Valium fueled robot, after being lifted gently out of the cake.

Then there is Hilda, played by Gail Scott, who plays the flower show judge, a show which seems to be judged on Mars, and she adds an extra character here and there.

And leading it all is Mrs Reece, who plays the Professor, the hero of the piece, with a pantomime German accent, while telling everyone what to do and informing the audience of anything that flits into her head. She invented the guild's robot which can make tortes and sandwiches and is wanted by the ladies of Mars to help them make tea - at least I think that was the plot. Anyhow, everyone lives happily at the end, which is all that matters.

The sets are chaos, intentionally, with the mayhem of Act 1 giving over to a Martian landscape backdrop at the primitive end of the art scale. The vicarage bureau reappears in Mars, by the way, as it was too heavy to be moved.

The space ship flight to Mars is a gem under UV lights with a garish craft, a touch of Atari Space Invaders, Disney’s When You Wish Upon a Star and Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Add in interspace collisions in the dark, dancing stars and upside down moons and it is a kaleidoscope of dayglo mayhem.

Tai Bainbridge’s lighting design has plenty of cues for operator Robert Scott to follow while Dan Honor and Daniel Beaton’s sound design had plenty of wrong cues for Lin Neal to get right.

Louise Price is a Farndale fan and it shows, with a deft touch to bring out the ridiculous without descending into panto. It is a play packed with the pitfalls of theatre, particularly at the amateur end with missed cues, lines delivered too early or too late to make sense, and then delivered repeatedly in an attempt to get back on track, or sections falling into a loop repeated over and over again.

Then there are the wrong sound and light effects, the missing props, entrances and exits all over the place and that doesn’t even include Norah’s Valium overdose in mistake for painkillers after she was poked in the eye by Phoebe while she was paralysed by a Martian water pistol – sorry, ray gun.

The ladies have been moved from the intimacy of the studio to the main stage which gives more room to get things wrong and more people a chance to enjoy this particular insult to Thespis.

It looks easy, but trust me it isn’t. To get things this wrong demands skill, timing and precision. If you are a Farndale regular, then the guild have lost none of their traditional ineptness and if you are new to the Farndale experience, it is a delightful evening of undemanding, laugh out loud and chuckle away to yourself comedy. Simple, silly, daft entertainment and a glorious, joyous antidote to Brexit.To 06-04-19.

Roger Clarke


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