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

Late Entry

Highbury Players

The Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton.


THEATRE festivals have a certain protocol about them as players and adjudicators strut their well-trodden paths across the stage and David Tristram’s well observed one act play follows their roles within the scheme of . . . amateur theatre things.

This was Highbury’s entry in the All England Theatre Festival, and the two-hander served them well taking them to the Central Area final at Nuneaton, utilising their successful pairing from Educating Rita, Rob Phillips and Emily Armstrong.

The plot is simple, or so it first appears, as Armstrong appears in a Scottish monologue with an accent that not only wanders around Scotland but visits relatives in the North of England and has a holiday in Ireland across the way.

Her acting ability is, should we say, challenged by the part while a broken lamp and slow, quick costume changes in hit and miss blackouts, all add to the impression this is a play several workshops and months of rehearsals away from reaching a stage where it could be classed as merely bad.

And as Armstrong leaves the stage Phillips enters as the adjudicator, whose role in these things, is to look for the positives – a position reviewers can also find themselves in.

So Phillips discusses the role played by the chair, the table, a truly dreadful piece of embroidery of a missing cat and anything else he can waffle on about before he finally runs out of nice, or at let  not nasty, things to say and breaks down, telling the truth – the play was . . . shite.

I am sure it is a sentiment many an adjudicator would like to express in early rounds of festivals. His honesty would not have been quite so bad had it not come in the middle of the play as Armstrong returns for the rest of her performance to find the adjudicator condemning her acting, direction, lighting and given time, no doubt her parents for having created her

Whereupon Armstrong tells of how she has had to do everything on her own and this was her one chance to  give her disabled and dying six year old daughter, operating lights and sound, a chance of working in the theatre before she shuffles off her mortal coil.

It is a moving performance, with the bonus of laughs, winning her the adjudicators acting prize for overcoming all her hardships – except it was all a lie and when she is confronted by the adjudicator in the dressing room we get another tale of how she was bullied at school and at work and this was her way of fighting back.

Moving stuff again and another lie but one that at least justifies her acting prize as the adjudicator throws caution to the wind and heads off into the night with her.

Armstrong gives a measured performance with a mix of terrible acting, and you need talent to be that bad, and pathos balanced by Phillips’ initial appearance full of rather pompous, adjudicator speak which finally collapses as he realises there is nothing good to say about the play.

From there was see a human side, taken in twice by an actress who is a skilled liar, although we are left wondering whether her tale of bullying is really all fantasy.

It is a play written for laughs and the pair, directed by Denise Phillips, extract as many as they could out of a short play – but there is also some pathos in there as the actress bares her soul, or at least we think she does.

Denise Phillips kept up a good pace and there was a nice contrast between the initial adjudication and emotion driven prize giving and the adjudicator’s later reaction when he realises he has been conned, twice,  by good acting which never showed in the initial play. If there was a fault it was a play which did not really hit the stage running, which meant a sluggish opening, although it did then get into its stride quickly.

When it came to the real adjudicator, Robert Meadows, he had much good to say about the production and the acting, without having to resort to praising the chair and table, incidentally, and although Late Entry did not come out on top of the six semi-finalists to win a place in the English finals at Evesham later this month, it was still a performance which did Highbury proud. 31-05-14

Roger Clarke 

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