(Honorary Patron: Vanessa Redgrave CBE)

A Laughing Matter

November 2013

Well done The Grayshott Stagers for having the ambition and confidence to take on, and stage successfully, yet another challenging production. Their latest play A Laughing Matter, an irreverent comedy set in 18th century Georgian London, was a diversion from their more usual choice of comedy. The play, written by April De Angelis, not only required a large cast with considerable acting talent, but also a director of sufficient sensitivity and inspiration to extract the eloquence and humour from a well-written script. The Stagers provided both in good measure. The outcome was a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable evening of theatre.

The cast
The cast
De Angelis' play provides an insight into why David Garrick, one of the most influential and innovative theatrical directors of English theatre, rejected Goldsmith's new satirical comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, with disastrous financial consequences, in favour of Cumberland's inferior play The Fashionable Lover. Through her semi-fictional account De Angelis suggests that Garrick was, perhaps, more concerned with upholding moral propriety than remaining true to dramatic genius.

Eighteenth century English theatre was subject to the dictates of the censorious Lord Chamberlain's licensing office, with only two London theatres, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, holding licences to perform. By declining to perform Goldsmith's play for nearly two years, Covent Garden had placed the undoubtedly gifted Goldsmith in financial dire straits. In desperation he seeks the services of Samuel Johnson to plead his case with Garrick, manager of Drury Lane. But alas to no avail. Garrick increasingly importuned by his patron and paramour, the feisty Lady Kingston, hypocritically rejects Goldsmith's play, perceiving it to glorify "low" values and behaviour. Prompted into action, Covent Garden immediately stages Goldsmith's play to great acclaim and considerable financial benefit!

Richard & Brezetta
Richard & Brezetta
The Stagers are indeed fortunate to be able to call upon so many experienced and talented actors from its own ranks which, together with several newcomers formed a strong cast of 16 which excelled. The play was well cast with actors complementing each other's styles and roles to provide congruency and empathy with timings and inter-changes, both delicate and clumsy, being expertly directed to achieve a rich mixture of comedy and pathos. With frequent use of bawd, ribaldry and humour this was not a play for those with delicate sensibilities, but coarseness notwithstanding, this was a very humorous and entertaining production.

Many fine performances were led by Richard White who was outstanding as Garrick. He used his considerable acting talents to the full to portray the many changes of mood, temperament and dynamism demanded by the role. John Hilder was equally excellent playing the fumbling and socially inept Goldsmith and switching seamlessly to the quite different role of the philandering Duke of Kingston. They were more than well supported by Bernard Whelan as Dr Johnson/Rev Cumberland, Adrian Warner as James Boswell/Spranger Barry, Nigel Dams as Joshua Reynolds/Charles Macklin, undertaking duality of roles with much accomplishment. They combined well and played strongly, providing pace, energy and authority to bring to life some of the greatest characters in the history of English theatre. Michael Thonger, playing his first major roles for The Stagers can be very proud of his performances, as most notably Edmund Burke/Sam Cautherley. As the aspiring young actor and Garrick's protégé Sam, he succeeded in bringing to the stage freshness and naivety in stark contrast to that of the life-worn characters around him. David Laudau gave an amusing and sympathetic performance as Cedric Bounce, displaced by Garrick from actor to stagehand after 30 years in Drury Lane!

Michael & Lynne
Michael & Lynne
The strength and depth of The Stagers' female on-stage contingent has almost passed into legend and this play drew heavily on this. With such talent abounding a high quality production was assured. Jane Clayton as Mrs Garrick, Angie Hilder as Mrs Cibber, Brezetta Thonger as Peg Woffington, Melanie Tyrrell as Lady Kingston and Lynne Mitchinson as Hannah More, provided excellent characterisation, encompassing sentiments and behaviours from the puritanical to the downright bawdy and lustful! Brezetta's portrayal of the wanton Peg Woffington, with her fondness for coarse language and men in equal measures, was particularly memorable. Trudy Hathaway as Mrs Butler, Valerie Shears as Mrs Barry/Miss Stevens, Margot Tringham as Miss Kemble and Jennifer Charters as Mr Larpent, added admirably to the dramatic illusion sustained throughout.

Dog ears
The wig
The production was well staged in all aspects. The challenges of providing contemporary costumes and wigs were fully met by Sylvia Boddington and Pauleen Dowsett and their supporting teams. Costuming and wigging of the cast added considerably to the enjoyment of the evening and no doubt inspired the actors in their roles. Particular mention must be given to James Thonger's creation of Garrick's hilarious 'mechanical' wig, with its ability to rise up akin to a dog's ears!

Ellis Nicholls in his debut as a director for The Stagers can feel justly proud and satisfied with the end result. This was a challenging play in many respects and one which could have fallen 'flat' or degenerated into farce. However, under his direction, the actors were well prepared and carefully guided to achieve a well-balanced production which was thoroughly enjoyable and highly entertaining.

AJDB.

Copyright © 2013 Tony Legat. Updated: