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

opera top

Dafydd Ap Llewellyn looks for inspiration from above (chapel of course) in rehearsals

Chorus of disapproval

The Circle Players

Aldridge Youth Theatre


SO we have a professional Welshman who directs with exasperated zeal, a secret land deal everyone seems to know about, a cast where male characters drop like flies and enough hanky panky to give a maiden aunt the vapours.

All to the strains of The Beggar’s Opera, the Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society’s latest production which starts with a happy ending, to confuse matters ever further, with Guy Jones triumphant as Macheath in the final rousing chorus of a stunning performance of John Gay’s opera.

Wild cheers then the clock turns back to months earlier when Guy, a young widower, from Leeds turns up for an audition. Leeds being a city beginning with just one L and not somewhere beginning with two, much to the disappointment of director Dafydd Ap Llewellyn who wears his Welshness on his sleeve like a badge of honour.

With the novelty of an ability to sing in tune Guy is in, and with a minor speaking part. But as mishap piles on mishap, and with a little subterfuge behind his back, he slowlguyy moves up through the ranks until, after a somewhat painful encounter between Dafydd and his leading man Crispin Usher – a knee in the groin often offends – Guy finds himself in the lead with just a week to go.

Guy, played with an earnest innocence by Jon Holmes, is a bloke who does not seem to be able to say no to anything or anyone.

Jon Holmes as Guy Jones being transformed to Macheath by the loose ladies of the opera

 He works for a multi-national in the village, who rumour has it are wanting to expand into land that might be up for sale, nudge nudge, wink wink, thus he finds himself cast as a reluctant spy for anyone with an interest in the land – three parties, all in the cast.

First is Dafydd, a dazzling, confident performance from Lee Tregellis who keeps up not only his Welsh accent but Welshness brilliantly – unless he is Welsh of course, in which case, well played boyo. He is as intense and single minded about this production as he was about past efforts to the exclusion of everything else, including wife Hannah. He talks misty eyed about his professional career treading the boards – mainly in Minehead. Hints of Hi Di Hi and Butlins there perhaps . . . Now a solicitor he will see Guy right for expansion information for a client looking to purchase the land to make a killing.

Tregellis commands the stage whenever he is on, always convincing, alive and animated and he has a voice that could probably be heard in Cardiff when he lets rip.  

Against that is his meek wife Hannah, played by Gill Troman, who gives us a sad, unappreciated woman in a marriage that has lost its way. She falls for Guy, and he for her, which is a complication the production hardly needs. They are just two lonely people looking to fill empty lives.

Then there is Ian and Fay who have a relationship which is . . . flexible; swingers in the modern parlance. Ian, played by David Daly, is a no nonsense, hard-nosed businessman with all the charm of a brick, while Fay, played by Clair Tregellis is, how should we say, somewhat horizontally accessible. With a subterfuge unbeknown to Guy, Ian drops out of the show to give Guy a better part while Fay, and her favours of the flesh, become part payment for a bargain he never really struck about inside info about the land which Ian is looking to buy for a quick profit.

Then there is Jarvis, a dour north country man a century behind the times, who listens to tapes of beam engines, and who owns the family business, a local factory, played with no-nonsense Moorland gruffness by Stan Hubbard. He owns the land so has a real interest in any expansion – with its subsequent effect on value - and there is a hint that perhaps he, or wife Rebecca, played by Jean Kirby, know more about the origin of the development rumours than they are letting on.

And amid all this we have Ted and Enid Washbrook, played by John Richardson and Anne Troman, who have a splendidly delivered double act speecastch about their missing daughter in the first act, their daughter being Linda, played by Vicki Troman. They dote on her and it shows.

Linda is an item with Crispin, a dubious sort of chap with a ready smile at other’s misfortune, played by Alex Howell. He likes to keep his options open so is also having if off with the local publican’s daughter Bridget, played with a real air of bolshiness by Jenny Culligan.

Dafydd loks on his cast with a resigned air of despair

Bridget is the stage manager, rehearsal prompt and pub bouncer and you cross her at your peril as Linda found out in a very realistic cat fight over Crispin – whoever choreographed that deserves a round of applause . . . unless they really hate each other in which case well done for stopping them killing each other before the run ends.

Interspersed amid the action are snatches of songs from John Gay’s opera, given a new context by the shenanigans during rehearsals as life follows art. A couple of times the music overawed the voices but that only needs a minor adjustment. Clair Tregellis, for example, showed a lovely voice unaccompanied but it was in a bit of a battle with the music.

The deep stage at Aldridge Youth Theatre allows a sort of three layered set with full stage as a rehearsal room or pub with old scenery stacked at the back, a black cloth divider to provide a space for sitting rooms and the main curtains with its front of stage area.

It makes for quick scene changes and Lee Tregellis and Bob Jeffcoat’s sets were minimal but effective helping director Clive Barlow to keep everything moving at a cracking pace. First night blips hit in the second act a couple of times, but the rest was so good they were quickly forgiven in what is a splendid production full of smiles and laughs, but with its moments of pathos as Alan Aykbourn exposes the frailties his characters, particularly a sad, heartfelt outpouring from Dafydd to Guy, the man, if he but knew it, having an affair with his wife.

The result is a splendid night’s entertainment which ended with a unanimous chorus of approval from the audience. To 18-06-16

Roger Clarke


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