A PDF download of the review is available here.
Thank you for inviting me to your production. I do like it when the seating is at tables – somewhere to put my drink and notepad! The open stage gave me plenty of time to admire your set which was excellent (reminder – you did promise some photos before you dismantled it). Your programme did not say who designed it but just that Bill Kear and Graham Leach built it with help from a team of decorators. It was so redolent of a suburban house in the 1960s with its genuine period front door, which I gather you got from an architectural breakers, long narrow hall, open front room door into a 'through lounge' and plastic strip kitchen door curtain. Clever use of two apron stages allowed for the back part of the lounge and a very well presented kitchen. A little more carpet on the floor would have helped to deaden the sound of the ladies' heels – or perhaps flat shoes or rubber heel tips?
This play is very powerful and thought provoking, indeed, as the programme asked us, do we know who our neighbours are? The audience was mesmerized and you could have heard a pin drop between the scenes. The atmosphere was helped by the choice of music; was this down to director, cast or were there scripted suggestions? Anyway, it was accurate and I know dated from 1960 – when the play was set. A well chosen selection. The period is not easy to get right because the common perception of the 1960s did not apply until, in Philip Larkins' immortal words in Annus Mirabilis:
"Sexual intercourse began
in nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me)"
The props, organized by Lisa Callcut and Wendy East, who I realise also painted the set along with Mark East and Dave Turner, were all very good and in period. I particularly noted the leaf tea and teapot – no mugs and teabags then. The hall table was a good touch as it helped to give the impression of a wall between sitting room and hall.
Lighting by Chris Deal was well nigh perfect, especially when the cast came to the front of the stage to deliver their monologues – all of you put these over very well, incidentally, and were word perfect with some very long speeches. You also had suitable 'outdoor' lighting which gave the audience the effect of the time of day/evening.
Sound, Lisa Callcut, (what a very busy lady you are!) was well managed, especially the very audible sound of a dial telephone – which again put the action firmly before push buttons and very long numbers.
I see from the programme that the cast were all responsible for costumes, hair and make up, virtually all of which was consistently in period. The one exception was Julie's hair style; long hair was not fashionable in 1960 so the few school girls who had it usually wore it in plaits or bunches – believe me, I know, I was there!
Jane Deal's prompting was rarely heard fortunately and was so unobtrusive that it passed almost unnoticed, a difficult trick to pull. I also realized that all the cast acted as a team and helped each other out at times; I think few people would have noticed this and I only did because I am supposed to pick up on moments such as these!
Stuart Mead directed with sensitivity and accuracy, quite how when you also took the part of Peter Kroger I don't know. I think, however, that had you been able to direct the character from the other side of the stage the part might have been played slightly differently at times. Usually you were the stereotypical American, despite your claim to be Canadian. Your accent was consistent but your occasional uncertainties were not born out by the brash and bouncy character you portrayed at other times. However, this may have been your intention if you wanted to demonstrate that you were concerned about the danger you were courting if your real activities came to light. With your Director's hat on, you got the best out of your cast, helping them to appreciate the complexities of the situation and, in the case of younger members, assisting them to appreciate what life was like in 1960; I think that you did quite a lot of research into the period, didn't you? You also brought out the developing strain that the Jackson family were under very well.
Amy Robinson gave us a Helen Kroger who was bombastic and forceful. My companion had known all the people involved as he had grown up in Ruislip, virtually next door to the protagonists, and he said that Helen was just as you depicted her. The occasional speech could have been slightly slower and uttered with more projection but your accent was consistently maintained. You brought out one additional side of the character very well, for the first time I believed that she did really feel genuine friendship for the Jacksons, especially for Julie.
Miss Stewart, played by Linda Hug (oh, please not Ms as in a couple of places in the programme, Ms was not really an option in 1960 in this country – women were Mrs or Miss until well into the decade). You developed a ponderous delivery and were heavily pedantic at times, which I suspect may have been how you, and/or Stuart, saw this character? However, I felt that in her position, at the top of a tree in what was then really and truly a man's world, she would have displayed the very forceful personality which had propelled her to the apex of that same tree. You needed to project your voice a little more at times as it was not always easy to hear you clearly.
Bob Jackson was played by Andrew Royle. Andrew, this was really excellent. You were just so believable and the strain on you, as you understood just how your wife was feeling and your helplessness to cope with it, came out beautifully. You alone in your family appreciated just how serious things were becoming and you found that you were totally out of your depth in your attempts to deal with the situation. One small criticism – when Miss Stewart visited you on one occasion and got up to start prowling around, I think that you would have automatically got to your feet; she could then have indicated that you should sit down. Most middle class adult men in this period, which is what you were, had been trained to stand when a lady stood up.
Another excellent portrayal was from Melanie Winward as Barbara Jackson. Your initial sunny, suburban housewife was well developed when it then changed, almost imperceptibly, into the final nervous wreck you eventually became as the strain on you intensified. Barbara was never cut out to be two faced – open and honest at all times could have been her motto – a difficult contrast to get right but you certainly managed it.
Amelie Royle as Julie Jackson gave a superb performance. Your diction and projection were both really excellent and we heard every word clearly when you were on the phone right at the back of the stage. I see from your programme note that you are grateful to both your Dad and Stuart for helping you to understand the character; the main point, which I think you fully understood, was that, in 1960, we did not have teenagers, believe it or not. America did, we didn't. You were a child until you left education and then you were a young adult; huge wardrobes of the latest clothes and masses of possessions were very rare then too so your props and clothing were just right.
The other two parts, those of the watchers Thelma and Sally, played by Jane Bryson and Anne Pinkus respectively, were pitched accurately. The thoughtful compassionate Thelma, who became interested in the family, contrasted well with Sally whose attitude was different in that, for her, she was just doing what she was asked to do by her superiors and had little interest in the personalities involved. Small parts but very important in helping the audience to appreciate just how Barbara's emotions became so torn between her friends and what she was told was her duty.
I look forward to Sleeping Beauty next year although I don't want to wish the summer away!
Regional Rep NODA London 11A