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


Jill Simkin as Milly, Joanne James as Coun Mrs Pearce and David Weller as fete organiser Gosforth


Grange Players


Just to confuse you, this isn’t actually a play as such, it’s five plays, well, playlets really, which are all linked by a character drifting from one play to the next until we get to the last, a circular, disconnected moment in the lives of five strangers who only have misery in common.

Not that it is a miserable evening, far from it, there are laughs a plenty and Grange have found some five star performances from their cast of six playing 20 roles in another of Ayckbourn’s sorties into the ordinariness and vagaries of suburban life – given that little Ayckbourn nudge sideways.

Part of his strength is in creating characters that, although exaggerated and larger than real life, we can recognise, they are people we know, or at least know of.

So we start with Mother Figure and Lucy, played by Jill Simkin, (Ladies in Lavender, Sense and Sensibility) a harassed mum bringing up three children, with no time to answer the door, or the phone or even get dressed, and with a husband Harry, a ladies fashion salesman, and would be lothario, on the road and rarely at home.

Neighbour Rosemary, played by Joanne James, (Habeas Corpus, At The Sign of the Crippled Harlequin) pops round to see if she is all right when Harry can’t get through on the phone and she drags in husband Terry, played by Robert Onions (Heroes, Gaslight), when she realises Lucy is away with the fairies. The problem is that Lucy is so used to dealing solely with children day in and day out that that is now how she deals with everyone including Rosemary and her male chauvinist - and proud of it - hubby Terry.

Meanwhile at the other end of the country in Drinking Companion Harry, played by Dominic Holmes, (Habeas Corpus, Funny Money) is holed up in his travelling salesmen’s hotel in Middlesbrough desperately trying to chat up perfume sales lady Paula, Simkin again, trying everything short of kidnap to get her up to his room, 249 if you are interested, with intentions far more carnal than honourable.

Paula is waiting for her friend and colleague Bernice, James again, who arrives with all the attributes Harry needs, female with a pulse, to encourage him to double his desperate efforts, and buy them even more drinks, into his ever more frantic attempts to turn room 249 into a sort of loser’s haven of lust. One suspects that his overall chances of sexual conquests are slightly less than winning Euromillions three weeks in a row. But he will keep buying tickets, or in this case, drinks in the hope . . .

pa system

Testing, o . . . wo. . . ree. David Weller's Gosforth testing his errant PA system

At the first opportunity the girls escape, helped by the waiter, played by Roger Shepherd, (And then there were none) who carries on his shift into the hotel dining room in Between Mouthfuls where we follow him as he serves two couples dinner, hearing snatches of conversation as he attends each table.

It means we are hearing the table talk as he does, a sentence here and there, slowly building up a complete picture from the snatches we hear. We have Martin, Holmes again, a middle manager, with his wife Polly, Simkin again, a wife who has just arrived back from a three week holiday, alone; and on another table we have Martin’s boss, Pearce, played by David Weller, (Beryl -HTC, See How They Run, Bracken Moor) with his wife who we only ever know as Mrs Pearce. Pearce has just returned from a three week business trip . . . all right Sherlock, we can all put two and two, or in this case, one and one, together, but keep it to yourself.

All of which leaves Martin not so much devastated and feeling betrayed as desperately worried about his job if Mrs Pearce takes her revenge on him.

Coun Mrs Pearce though seems to have got over it as she agrees to open Gosforth’s Fete where Milly (Simkin) is arranging the tea tent, Stewart, (Holmes) her fiancée is running the by now feral cubs, Gosforth (Weller) the bumptious publican is arranging the event and the vicar, a return of the good Shepherd we might say, is wonderfully woolly and ineffectual. Add in a thunderstorm, a dodgy PA system, a drunken scoutmaster, a missing brass band, an intimate secret broadcast over four acres of village fete and a mud splattered Coun Mrs Pearce ending up in the still to be finished first aid tent after being electrocuted and it might be said Gosforth's event is not a resounding success.

Which takes us to A Talk in the Park, which changes tone completely. The four one act plays preceding it are unashamedly comedies. Yes. they have bite, they characterise human traits and failings, desires and longings, but above all they are funny, clever, comic writing, packed with laughs.


Robert Onions as cigarette card collecting Arthur, not that anyone is interested, and ignoring him Dominic Holmes's Ernest with his own problems no one wants to listen to . . .

In the park there is no link with the past, or at least the past we have seen, just five strangers desperate to share their own troubles with someone else yet with no interest, even a resentment, at helping or even listening to anyone else.

There is Arthur (Onions) who collects cigarette cards and has an unhealthy interest in women, who sits next to Beryl, (Simkin) who moves away to tell Charles (Weller) her troubles of an abusive boyfriend, all too much for Charles who tells Doreen (James) about his impending bankruptcy, and she in turn tells Ernest (Holmes) about her obsession with dogs, until he tells Arthur about his wife problems.

Everyone wants someone to listen to them, yet no one is prepared to listen to anyone else – talking without ever wanting to hear.

We end with a stage full of miserable people, each complaining to the next about the person pouring out their troubles to them and not one person is prepared to listen, all trapped in a lonely, lost world of their own making.

The play dates back to 1974 but director Dawn Vigurs has resisted the temptation, as I have seen in the past, to set it in the 1970s which immediately dates it, and although the programme notes indicate 2000, it could be anytime, giving it a much more contemporary feel.

The six actors cannot be faulted with some wonderful comic performances with hats, wigs and glasses, along with rapid changes of clothes (dresser Anne Chamberlain) and some fine acting bringing the 20 characters to splendid life, each new entrant different and distinctive with Simpkin and James, in every scene, particularly effective.

It is not one of Ayckbourn’s best known works but don’t let that deter you. It is a beautifully acted and well-paced production which will first amuse, and even encourage a few belly laughs, before making the laughter a little hollow in the final one act play. There are still laughs, but somehow the problems and the people and their problems have become more real . . . while you have become the only ones listening. A lovely start to 2020. To 18-01-20

Roger Clarke


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