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


Playwright Jonathan Owen as his creation Frank. Pictures: Christopher Commander 

Teapots and Superglue

Sutton Arts Theatre


Truth and honesty are not the best of bedfellows. We all have our secrets, things we want people to know, or not know, how we want to be seen, how we see ourselves, how we see everyone else . . . and then there is how everyone sees us . . . or how we think everyone sees us.

Putting it all together to find out who we really are is the hope of Roy Carr from the university psychology department, who has finally got funding to run an outreach programme – which sounds far grander than it is.

What it comes down to is loads of people filled in an application form and Roy, a lovely performance from Richard Clarke, picked his group of seven subjects, who would meet weekly and gradually, through friendship, or at least familiarity, would find out about each other and, in theory, themselves. And what a disparate lot they turn out to be.

There is Doreen, right-wing, up market, M&S shopper Doreen, perfect, in her world at least, with views that could almost make her a poster girl for the Reform party. She has a son who lives in Scotland. He is high powered, something in the stock market. It is a glorious, stage filling performance from Joanne James.

At the other end of the social scale we have Pat, who doesn’t just call a spade a spade but a f***ing spade. Married, 45 with six kids, she makes coarse into an art form with some glorious, salt of the earth lines in a wonderful performance from Sarah Stanley, displaying the sort of exquisite timing you can’t teach. Beneath all the laughs and crudity though, lurks a heart of gold.

chalk and cheese

Sarah Stanley as salt of the earth Pat and Joanne James as up-market Doreen

There is Judith, 28, a civil servant, a repressed, chaste, shy daughter hiding within the excellent Michelle Dawes. She is living both with and under the strict rule of parents who see the Bible as life's instruction manual – with all the fun and sexual bits redacted.

Then we have the go it alone single mum, Dawn. She’s 17 with a baby son who’s father she doesn’t talk about. Ella Clarke gives a lovely, convincing performance as the quiet, defensive teen, thrown out by her mother and having absolutely nothing to do with her father.

It’s not all women though, we have Mo, a sixth former and a Muslim, who has a cultural identity dilemma. He is born here, and sees himself as British, while his parents are traditionalists, old school Islam versus a new generation questioning how religion, and life, is seen. I first saw Leighton Coulson last year in an exceptional Blood Brothers – The Play and the promise he showed then is still growing here as Mo.

His soliloquy as a Pakistani teenager at the start of Act II is a difficult one and he carries it off with some style.

Soliloquies are a feature of the play, using the simple tool of each of the group bringing along and then talking about a photograph from their past illustrating a happy time in their life.

It gives us a chance to get to know more about them, and the characters a chance to reveal a little more of who they really are.

There is Greg played superbly by Stuart Goodwin, who also happens to be the play's co-director; Greg is a French and history teacher, unmarried, not in a relationship, who gets along on his own just fine, and that’s about all he is admitting in a matter of fact performance. No secrets there then.

Saddest is probably Frank, retired, a rather lonely widower, not sure why he joined the group but he enjoys the company. It is a poignant and telling performance by Birmingham actor Jonathan Owen, the writer of the play. Frank is a gentle soul, with boundless tolerance, understanding and humanity.

frank and dawn

Frank with young single mum Dawn, played by Ella Clarke

Act I is the set up, a university funded project in a run down community centre in a run down area and a chance to get to know, or at least find out the names and form our own initial impression of the characters.

After all that is what we do when we come across someone new, weigh them up, decide if we like or dislike them . . . even if we fancy them. Instant judgment based on . . . who knows. There must be a another university project somewhere on that to tell us, I suppose. 

By the interval we are pretty sure we have a fairly good handle on the characters such as Dawn who is in a dilemma about her father wanting to be in touch or Pat looking forward to her sister who she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl, visiting from New Zealand.

We know Doreen is so busy you wonder how she finds time for the meetings, and Frank has little else to do but the meetings, Judith is frightened of her own shadow and haunted by her parent’s holy ghost, Mo is deciding on which university to apply to and is being helped in his choice by Greg . . . who is happy as a loner.

First impressions are as reliable as the weather on a summer holiday in Britain though and the real drama, the real stories, come as our secret seven open up as they become more comfortable with the group and confident in themselves.

They were not exactly two dimensional, cardboard cut outs at the start but slowly they are fleshed out as real people, with real problems and real secrets. Each character has a tale to tell, fears, hopes and secrets revealed, lives changed for both them and those around them.


Richard Clarke as Roy with a troubled Stuart Goodwin as Greg

There are little triumphs such as Judith’s religious rebellion, revelations and, maybe, reconciliation in the case of Dawn, Mo coming to terms with his family, faults and all, with Frank finding a purpose to his empty life and Greg laying the ghost of the lost love of his past and accepting who he is.

Their soliloquies break the fourth wall and so do their stories with perhaps the audience seeing some traits, some fears, some foibles that stray a little closer to home. First impressions . . . remember.

The final revelation is that of Doreen and Pat, the chalk and cheese sniping duo who have been a potential war zone from moment they first met. No one could have predicted a finale awash with so much anger, emotion and tears – but then again, friendships can have funny beginnings.

The community hall set of swing doors and stacking chairs is convincing while David Ashton’s lighting and sound design does a fine job of highlighting the all-important soliloquies

It really is a delightful play, funny, sad, poignant, with belly laughs and the odd tear, wonderfully acted by a superb cast and co-directed by that experienced old stager Barry Atchison.

It is also a mystery. The play premiered at The Crescent in Birmingham in 2004 and my old colleague, the late John Slim, who reviewed it for The Birmingham Post, thoroughly enjoyed it and predicted at would be a staple offering, particularly of amateur companies, for years to come. He was not usually wrong.

So, the mystery is why has it taken 20 years for its first revival? There might be the odd line that shows its age, but nothing untoward, and what a wonderfully entertaining comedy drama it is. It is full of laughs and tears, with eight parts for a range of actors to really get their teeth into, yet it seems to have been forgotten and left gathering dust on a shelf for two decades. Why? That really is a mystery.

As for the title, Roy, explaining the purpose of the project tells us "Each life is full of cracks. Like an old teapot, it has a history. And each fault in the glaze represents a story. Whether it’s worth the effort or not I have to wait and see.

“It’s like waiting for superglue to dry. You’re never sure it’s worked until you take your hands away."

And this one worked a treat. The superglue will be holding everything together to 23-03-24.

Roger Clarke


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