Alan Ayckbourn's play Improbable Fiction is a brave choice for an amateur theatre group to tackle,
a choice that could so easily have been disastrous due to the complexity of the plot and the demands it makes on its actors.
I am delighted to say that The Grayshott Stagers carried it off magnificently under the secure direction of Brezetta Thonger.
The play transports us to a meeting of the Pendon's Writers' Circle where we meet six writers in search of characters, plot, anything to overcome writer's block and get the creative juices flowing - with very little success.
The chairman is Arnold (a convincing and subtle performance by John Dowsett) - the meeting is held at his home. He is a genial chap who writes instruction manuals and whose life is dominated by his bedridden mother's demands. The other members include Jess, a lesbian farmer (wittily played by Sara Rowe) who dreams of writing Victorian romances, Vivvi, an enthusiastic thriller writer (Jane Clayton captures her just right) whose unpublished novels are stacked up in her spare bedroom, the nerdish Clem (hilariously played by John Hilder) who churns out science fiction oblivious to everything including his own malapropisms, Grace, a nervous housewife who is determined to finish her Doblin the Goblin story but has only pictures, the words refuse to materialise (an impressive performance from June Hegarty), and Brevis (a robust interpretation by Mike Pennick), a cantankerous ex-schoolmaster who hates children but wants to write musicals. Completing the cast is Ilsa (played sensitively by Laura Musco) the home help, who comes in to look after the bedridden mother while the meeting takes place.
The characters clash, criticise and encourage each other and as the meeting comes to an end Arnold suggests that they join forces and write something together. At the end of act one a dramatic clap of thunder signals a change, and in act two the story ideas come to life and their characters take the play over - with very fast costume and character changes where the actors have to jump from one character to another at a moment's notice, some playing three or four different parts. These included a poetry-quoting policeman and his adoring sidekick, spoof sci-fi characters (costume and hairstyle echoes of "Kill Bill"), a rogue, and a damsel in distress, to name but a few.
The actors managed all this with great success and judging by the audience's reactions a good time was had by all. I was on the whole very impressed with the acting; the characterisation and body language were very convincing and entertaining and if I missed the odd line occasionally it was because the audience laughed so loud. It was good to watch a play where everybody gave a strong performance and the team-work was first-class. It should be mentioned here that John Hilder (Clem) took the part over only two weeks ago when one member of the cast had to withdraw; not only did he have to learn a large role in a very short space of time, he excelled in it.
The play was well directed with clever use of blocking throughout and the pace was excellent. The set was stylish and authentic and looked very professional, and the costumes hit just the right note. The director and the cast and crew are to be congratulated with this great achievement. It will be a difficult one to follow.