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

six of cast

Newly weds Sarah Brooks and James Burton, game to love Gemma Matthews and Jason Moseley, and happily bickering Michelle Whitefield and Chris Isaac proving love and marriage go together like . . . well they do sometimes 

Mixed Doubles

An entertainment on marriage

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

The Swan Theatre, Worcester


There is plenty of choice to pick from when it comes to eight short sketches about relationships in all its shapes, sizes and peccadillos with actions, words or situations that anyone who has tied the knot, or several knots in some cases, will recognise.

Sometimes it stirs a memory with amusement, a smile perhaps, sometimes a regret at things done or not done, memories of loves lost or never found – whatever it is, it is personal. Plays about murderers or Shakespeare’s Henrys are fine, but they are just plays, relationships, though, they are about our world, the one we live in.

Short sketches about mundane, ordinary lives are a much underrated genre, given some credence by Alan Bennett with his talking heads, yet it is one that has attracted some stellar names such Alun Owen, Harold Pinter, Alan Ayckbourn.

It demands both brevity and discipline, telling a story in as few words as possible, each word pulling its weight, and we open with The Vicar by George Melly, better known as a jazz performer, but a writer on the side. Keith Barrell, in his most pious tones, sets our unseen couple of their way to married bliss, hopefully, with a hint of damnation and salvation and away we go.

A Man’s Best Friend, by James Saunders, sees Jackie and Pete on a train on their way from their wedding reception to their honeymoon suite, except Pete, played by James Burton, doesn’t want anyone to know they are newly weds, fastidiously removing every scrap of confetti. You suspect the marriage could well have a limited lifespan as new wife Jackie starts to point out, gently, a catalogue of his faults starting with tapping his foot when worried, and his funny walk, and his biting his lip . . . nothing nasty, or even irritating she says, although you can’t avoid hearing a silent “yet” echoing somewhere in the background.

As for Pete, you have to wonder about a bloke who brings a guitar he can’t play, on his honeymoon with him. He bought it hoping to impress Jackie who loves guitar music but has yet to find any musical ability – mind you he might find learning easier if he didn’t play a right hand strung guitar left handed . . . just saying.

Let’s just say Jackie, played by Sarah Brooks was not impressed, although Brooks herself was impressive, returning to STAC after a lengthy gap, she was the star of the show, with wonderfully clear diction and lovely characterisation in three sketches.

mans best

Sarah Brooks as Jackie and James Burton as hervouse new husband Pete

She was next to appear with Jason Moseley in Norma by Alun Owen. She is a very matter of fact married woman whose husband has discovered she is having an affair.

Infidelity is about fun, she tells her lover, adding, “We enjoy telling each other we love each other but we don’t mean it.” The game, it seems, is over.

Her marriage had settled into a comfortable routine, she loves her husband dearly and adultery was just a bit of fun but now it posed a moral question for her that “Anything that hurts people is wrong.”

It is a dark and rather sad view of infidelity.

She was also the wife in Harold Pinter’s bittersweet Night. A married couple sitting having coffee and reminiscing about their past and how they first met, yet each remembers their most intimate first moments differently, different places, different times, he, played again by James Burton, telling of holding her breasts standing behind her on a bridge, she with no memory of it, asking if it was both breasts and remembering she was leaning against railings with no one behind her.

The stories are not remotely similar, then there is the child, she thinks she hears one crying, he says there is no sound, leaving us wondering if there is far more beneath that innocuous exchange than the words tell us.

The chasms between their memories are Grand Canyon wide, but the couple have survived and seem to be happy living with their own versions of a past that perhaps neither of them actually remember, versions that might not even have happened.

Jason Moseley reappears in Score by Lyndon Brook, as a remarkably grumpy Harry, mixed doubles partner of his wife Sheila. They are playing Jim, Harry’s boss, and his wife Jane.

We never see Jim and Jane but from the sniping, griping and squabbling we can ascertain that Jim and Jane are wealthier, happier and even better looking than Harry’s perception of his own situation. They are also far better tennis players.

The game being played goes far beyond the baseline and is merely a court to display Harry’s world of dissatisfaction and resentment.

The pair reappear as Helen and Norman in a tent, old and orange – the tent that is – in Permanence by Fay Weldon. It is pouring with rain, Helen has broken her glasses, jumping back to avoid a wasp, so cannot read, so she talks, and talks, and talks . . .

Norman, who must have been off sick when the school did charm lessons, is trying to read and trying to not talk.


 Michelle Whitefield and Frank Welbourne ending their days with kippers for tea

They have 18 years of camping trips being them, along with 40 years of life, Sheila unhappy her elbows now crease when she bends her arm. But that is not her only worry and a troubled relationship with a troubled past starts to be seen through the rain.

Alan Ayckbourn’s Countdown is more basic. Chris Isaac and Michelle Whitfield are a long time married couple who spend their lives muttering about and second guessing each other under their breath. It’s a daily routine centred around tea, the making of it, the carrying of the tray, the stirring of the cup, a ritual in which they have each ended up with their part to play with neither wanting the part they have ended up with and neither wanting the part to be there at all.

The missing whistle for the kettle is the thing that causes mayhem, throws the whole routines out.

We have slowly gone through the ages and stages of marriage and here we have all the irritations and moans that our couple have not only learned to live with, but in a perverse way are even finding comforting.

Finally we have Resting Place by David Campton which sees and old man, gently played by Frank Welbourne and his wife, played by Michelle Whitfield again, taking a short cut, or maybe a detour, through the cemetery, a place, she says, you can sit down an watch flowers all year round.

He is more interested in getting home for his tea, she is worried about what the future, rapidly becoming the present, holds for them.

The local bookie has died and even has orchids in his floral tribute. He is interred in his family grave, something she doesn’t have. She worries they will be buried in old graves with strangers, not be together, have no white marble angels – angels being her thing.

All her husbands fault for not being a millionaire like the bookie. He, happy in his life as a shoemaker, doesn’t worry about what happens when they are dead, to him it doesn’t matter he just wants his tea.

And perhaps he is right, tea is more important for the living, and off the old couple go for pikelets and jam and kippers for tea, another day of life ticked off.

Director Jane Lush has done a fine job with what are effectively eight plays, all different, involving eight actors, all providing an evening of varied entertainment which is at times thought provoking, at times sad, at times funny, but always interesting. To 24-06-23

Roger Clarke


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