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

party head


Toby, Andy Jones, and Dr Michael Smethurst played by Rod Bissett.

Party Piece

The Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


YOU have to admire the sheer work-rate and athleticism of an excellent cast in this Richard Harris comedy which is riddled with chaotic situations.

At times the humour is farcical and takes some swallowing, since the story is built round a doctor and his wife staging a fancy dress house-warming party-barbecue in the back garden of their home.

Late in the action when one of the characters points at Dr Michael Smethurst and snaps: “You are supposed to be a medical man”, I found myself nodding in agreement.

At that point the good doctor, played with terrific enthusiasm by Rod Bissett, is dressed as Ginger Rogers in a fur-trimmed gown (and earlier a blonde wig) while his wife, Roma (Jill Simkin) is in top hat and tails as Fred Astaire, as part of the reverse roles format.

Jill covers a considerable distance dashing from the garden to the front door to welcome guests, though in fact very few turn up (did they know something) and she certainly puts her heart and soul into the role.

But the star of this show is Sheila Grew, playing Mrs Hinson, the widow next door with the acid wit whose poisonous relationship with her latest daughter-in-law, Jennifer, provides some of the more realistic humour.


Never missing a chance to praise Jennifer’s predecessor, with a mischievous glint in her eye, she repeatedly antagonises wimpish son David’s furious wife before all three are invited to join the failing party next door.

Liz Webster, as Jennifer, and Christopher Waters (David) are convincing in their back garden battles, and Rod Bissett’s commitment as the madcap medic is underlined late on as he hangs precariously from the bedroom window ledge.

A couple of genuine guests who do turn up at the weird house-warming are Toby Hancock, in kilt and fez, and man-mad Sandy Lloyd-Meredith, wearing white hotpants and a red Welsh rugby international shirt…clearly ready for a scrum.

Andy Jones gives a sound performance as Toby and Louise Farmer excels as sexy Sandy who doesn’t need more than one drink to go into her first tackle.

For this production the play is supposed to be in Walsall, and set designer Martin Groves and his helpers Rob Onions and Quinn Paddock have created a brilliant set with two adjoining houses and rear gardens with flowers and even a pond, sheds, a porch and patio windows opening to reveal the inside of the Smethursts’ home.

And between the two houses there is a realistic painting shows the town’s St Matthews Parish Church in the distance.

Directed by Martin Groves and produced by David Stone, Party Piece runs to 19-03-16

Paul Marston

And getting in the party spirit . . .


Although author Richard Harris is relatively unknown to the general public, his writing has figured in numerous hit television series and stage shows.

For television, he was a regular contributor for forty years, from 1960 to 2000, writing for shows like The Saint, The Avengers, The Sweeney, A Touch of Frost, and Darling Buds of May.

Some forty of his plays have been performed for stage. Thus his grasp of drama, and comedy, is a given. The only variable is the production. Harris fans will see similarities with one of his earlier plays, Local Affairs.

Events unfold in the back gardens of two adjacent neighbours, as Doctor Michael and his wife Roma's fancy dress house-warming party descends into disaster and chaos, incorporating a notable shortage of guests, a shed engulfed by smoke, and an aerodynamic Zimmer frame.

Grange Players have located the action in Walsall. Martin Groves and his team have done a marvellous job creating a back gardens set with full rear elevations, incorporating all manner of associated horticultural paraphernalia, and a mural of a Walsall church.

Next door lives Mrs Hinson, an elderly woman being persuaded to sell up by her son, David. Mrs Hinson is curmudgeonly, scheming, duplicitous and has a Zimmer frame which her long suffering daughter in law suspects is for cosmetic sympathy purposes only.

Her downtrodden, over-mothered only son David, (Chparty guestsristopher Waters) stoically battles with his mothers’ foibles, not least of which is her refusal to accept his wife Jennifer (Liz Webster), while trying to improve his mother’s (bad) humour.

Jennifer does not like being ignored, or being compared to David’s previous consorts, resulting in regular mutual sniping, culminating in her launching her mother in law’s Zimmer frame into the distance with considerable enthusiasm.

Sandy played by Louise Farmer and Roma played by Jill Simkin

Rod Bissett as Dr Michael portrays a neurotic, fastidious man with an excessive estimation of his own talents, which sadly do not include an ability to procure defrosted food for a barbecue. His wife Roma, (Jill Simkin), struggles to help him to rectify this omission, and his serial other shortcomings, to repeated comic effect. She ends up as deflated as her squashed top hat. He ends up as a man on the edge.

Only two invited guests actually turn up to the barbecue, Toby (Andy Jones) and man-hunting Sandy, (Louise Farmer). Both milk the most from their supporting roles, the former, in a kilt, after free food and booze. The latter, after “up-for- it” men, sporting tight white shorts which are somewhat hotter than the barbecue, a rather good Welsh accent, and some good jokes. Both inject vital energy into the second half script.

However, it is the abrasive and formidable long standing resident Mrs Hinson, wonderfully played by Sheila Grew, who steals the limelight. Initially she neither appreciates her upwardly mobile new neighbours, nor the gentrification of the area, until the benefits of having a doctor next door for her numerous ailments dawn on her. Her own property and her persona are perfectly matched- frayed around the edges.

Liz Webster, Christopher Waters and Sheila combine formidably in the first half to garnish a slight script with amusing bickering, and acid asides. The plot is enlivened overall by two unseen figures; David’s first wife Rosemary, who stalks Jennifer through Mrs Hinson’s rose tinted memory, and burly Gareth, husband of randy Sandy, who stalks the party as his arrival, and the consequences, are anticipated.

This is escapist fun, with improbable, implausible plot twists, cross-dressing, and a big fat smile on its face. Director Martin Groves and producer David Stone have realised a fast-paced farce that depends upon rapid exits and entrances, timeous sound effects, and perfect verbal and physical timing. It delivers in spades, and with plenty of laughs. Party Piece runs to 19-03-16, returns only for this sold out show.

Gary Longden


The Production has sold out.

or Box Office 01922 625100 or  07909036835 for returns 

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