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 romp through the Scottish play

Felicity (Christine Bland) as a murderer - or possibly Dick Turpin or the Lone Ranger - imparts information of vital import to Thelma as Macbeth (Jaz Davison)

The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of 'Macbeth'

Hall Green Little Theatre


TAKE Acorn Antiques, add a bit of Airplane, a dash of Reduced Shakespeare, a pinch of Monty Python and a large dollop of Noises Off and mix well with possibly the worst amateur dramatics group in the known universe and that gives you a flavour of the celebrated Farndale Macbeth.

This was the first of a series of mishaps – one hesitates to call them plays – which befall the enthusiastic ladies of Farndale Housing estate - the invention of writers David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jnr.

The Ferndale Macbeth was originally a sortie into the world of the Edinburgh Fringe in 1976 where it was an instant success and ten more plays spilled forth from their version of A Christmas Carol to horror and even the Mikado to become firm favourites of amateur dramatic companies everywhere.

So you take a drama group with more women than men, with aspirations in a different league to their talent, a missing Lady Macbeth who has got lost after catching the wrong bus on her way back from the chemist's, props that don't work – or work too well and too often – and even Shakespeare would struggle to recognize the Scottish play - best to play safe. You can never be too careful.

The play fits in well in the Hall Green studio in some ways but adds to the confusion in others. For example in Michael Frayn's Noises Off, another play within a play, it is clearly defined what is happening on stage for the supposed audience and what is happening offstage, the play within the play for the actual bums on seats.

Here it is not always clear if we are watching the supposed performance of the Scottish play – best not to take chances - or what is happening among the cast backstage.

Not that that makes it any less funny - all aided by a lighting crew who work on the basis that you slide every control you have until you find the right one, a sound crew who can wipe out whole scenes with storms and bells and props that appear to have a life of their own.

This must be the first version of the Scottish play, for instance, where it is not so much a dagger Macbeth sees before him as a set of kitchen knives or where Banquo's ghost appears sitting in a shopping trolley with wonky wheels which jam and leave her/him stranded on stage.

Mrs Reece (Maria Whitehouse), one of those Mrs Bucket types, jolly souls with clipboard who seem to inhabit committees, sets the scene to tell us that we are about to see an entry in the national drama festival hoping the reach the finals in  . . . Welwyn Garden City. Living the dream or what!

The ghost of Banquo played by Minnie in turn played by Margaret Whitehouse who appears draped in a bloodstained sheet floating like a spectre(ish) sitting in a supermarket trolley pushed by two moonlighting witches.

She introduces us to the adjudicator, confirmed bachelor Mr Peach (or plum, pear, lemon, nectarine . . . that joke did start to wear a little thin by the second act) played with gay abandon by a flouncing Brian Milnes.

The only other man in the cast of ten was Les Jukes, who played stage manager – have hammer will travel – Henry.

An easy job until Lady Macbeth goes missing and he is cajoled, threatened, persuaded and sweet-talked into taking on the role encouraged no doubt by Mrs Reece informing him that Shakespeare is up there in writing talent with Noel Coward and Ivor Novello – praise indeed.

Thus we have one of the greatest female roles in the theatre played by a bloke in a dress that is too short, striped ankle socks and a pair of comfortable black gent's slip-ons wearing a wig that would only look convincing if you were an old English sheepdog or were auditioning for Wurzel Gummidge and – to top it off – he gives  his lines as if reading a list which is not as easy as it sounds. Until of course he got into the swing of things and sets off on his own into Richard III's “Now is the winter of our discontent . . .”

While we are at it the entire cast should be complimented on producing some exquisite moments of well rehearsed and nicely timed examples of bad acting – they were all pretty good at being pretty bad.

Thelma, Jaz Davison, gave us a Macbeth who perhaps had ideas above his/her station surrounded by fools – which he/she of course was – while Dawn (Diane Lowry) who played a witch, murderer and other odds and sods was a bit of a liability when she lost her glasses and was left hanging grimly to scarves and cloaks to get on and off stage or wandering about stabbing audience or cast members at random.

What a cracker! You would never guess that Farndale's glamorous Lady Macbeth is really a bloke called  Henry  played by Les Jukes

Kate (Helen Dawson) was a witch on crutches amongst other parts while there was wonderful support from Margaret Whitehouse as Minnie who was a not an entirely convincing Banquo  . . . “Hold, take my sword. (searches and finds she has forgotten it) here take my brooch.”

After being told by Mr Peach that they only had nine minutes, well eight and a half now, to complete the remaining three hours of the play under the rules of the drama competition we had Mrs Plumber (Amanda Grant) going into overdrive with a high speed scene with Felicity (Christine Bland) which took some learning as we launched into the Readers' Digest condensed version in the race to their ultimate triumph.

It was not only the actors that were bad though. Perhaps limited by the effects the sound department had available the call of trumpets  was left to Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass while the three witches, one in a wheelchair with a foot in plaster, made up their magic potions to the strains of  That Ole' Black Magic.

Indeed there was plenty for both sound and lighting crew to do to get it wrong, right, or right, wrong . . . whatever . . . suffice to say both they and the cast did an excellent job of getting it wrong - if you see what I mean.

As a result HGLT has a true romp on its hands. Some of the jokes are a little forced, some a little old – perhaps the Charles Atlas line could be updated to Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude van Damme for instance.

Atlas died 30 years ago and people under 40 will hardly remember seven stone weaklings having sand kicked in their faces.

At times it is a little confusing as to what is going on and where but you forgive all of that because most of the time it is gloriously, unashamedly, hilariously funny with a cast who show impeccable comic timing, commendable discipline and who are clearly enjoying themselves - and I dare anyone in the audience not to do the same. Great fun. Directed by Louise Price it runs to 25-02-12.

Roger Clarke 

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