'Gaslight' - The Morrell Room, November 2023
The Autumn production by the Goring Gap Players was Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton. It is a dark tale of a marriage based on deceit and trickery, a psychological thriller originally written in 1938 and based in 1880s’ London
Over the years it has had several incarnations with different productions in the West End, Broadway , television and cinema. The play is set in fog bound London in late afternoon. The coercive behaviour of one of the major characters, Mr Jack Manningham, towards his wife still has resonance today. The title of the play having developed into a verb as 'gaslighting', meaning to manipulate a person or group of people.
John Turner Jo Watson
John Turner Jo Watson Chris Bertrand
In this production the director David Irving skilfully demonstrated the light and shade of the play. John Turner as Jack ably showed his intention to manipulate and demoralise his wife Bella to the extent that we see her beginning to believe in her own insanity. Her vulnerability as revealed by Joanna Watson, especially in the first act, was such that as an audience we sympathised with her and developed strong doubts as to Jack’s intentions towards his wife. However, as the first act progressed some light was brought into the play by the appearance of a detective inspector called Rough who brought sympathy to Bella, but also some light humour into the plot as he gradually reveals to Bella what he has discovered about her husband and his intentions. Chris Bertrand’s portrayal of Rough gave us some much needed laughs.
In the second and third acts we see Rough help Bella to break the cycle of her torment and, to the delight of the audience, get her revenge by using the insanity Jack has accused her of against him. All three actors are to be congratulated for their portrayal of these complex characters and for ably taking us, the audience, along with them as the mystery unfolded. Light and shade was also demonstrated by the two supporting characters that no period drama can be without the servants!
Elizabeth the housekeeper, while ably fulfilling her duties, gradually showed us the sympathy and support she had for Bella - at one time reminding us and Jack that she saw it all! Her support is an invaluable twist in the plot as she enables Inspector Rough to enter the household . Jo Griffen carried off this difficult role of a character torn between duty and sympathy who puts herself in danger of a controlling man. In contrast to her character, we had the flighty maid Nancy whose loyalty, it became clear, was to herself and who was also capable of manipulating a situation to her own advantage. Emma Jhita ably showed her flighty nature, her contempt of Bella who she sees as a weak woman and her own strength of personality.
Emma Jhita John Turner
The setting of the play added to our enjoyment, the clever use of the panelling in the Morrell room, the period furniture, props and costumes all added to the atmosphere the cast created and perhaps the star of the show were the gaslights! The clever use of the lights as they dimmed and then revived made the play. As the audience left you could hear them discussing what they had just seen and obviously enjoyed. Another fine production by the Goring Gap Players.
'Still Life' and 'Gosforth’s Fete' - The Morrell Room, November 2022
One grey evening in November 2022, a pair of visitors came from distant parts to see two short plays performed by the Goring Gap Players, following the group’s earlier success with 'The Titfield Thunderbolt'. The new productions were 'Still Life' by Noel Coward and 'Gosforth’s Fete' by Alan Aykbourn. Each was one of a series of short plays by their respective and much respected, but very different, authors.
In Coward’s play, an apparently respectable Doctor removes a cinder from an equally (if not more) respectable married woman stranger while each is waiting for a different train. This leads to a succession of meetings in the station tea room which are at the same time both public and clandestine. The relationship intensifies during the couple’s discussions about love and doing the right things in life and eventually there is a meeting 'off-stage'. Having been the prime mover, the doctor himself hinders any form of permanence in the relationship by hesitatingly accepting an appointment overseas. A final farewell is in turn frustrated by the appearance in the station at the wrong moment by an ignorant chattering female friend of the woman.
Set in a suburban railway station in the 1930’s, 'Still Life' may be the title but the performance on the night displayed with great skill varying emotions moving back and forth between the two central characters. This took place above a foundation of ignorance and stolid humour by the supporting cast of station employees whose realistic accents added to the humour of the internal gossip about their own indiscretions. They produced silhouettes of exaggerated normality which highlighted in a very effective way the heightening emotions of the couple. There were some very witty insights into the social niceties of the era.
Caro Armstrong Martin Leckie
Turning to 'Gosforth’s Fete', I hesitate before describing it with the world’s corniest joke as being "worse than death". However, it was so for the central character Mr Gosforth, a local publican attempting to organise the annual village fete, frustrated in stages by the worsening weather, the faulty sound system, the too early arrival of the local councillor who was to open the event, and the all too public disclosure of Mr Gosforth’s affair with a younger, not so innocent, spinster of the parish.
Martin Leckie Amanda Holland
Rita Butler Michael Fielding
The cast performance was the quite the opposite of disastrous, being increasingly uproarious as the story line developed. Who will forget the image of the dignitary being dragged out of the marquee wriggling and shouting, the hapless fiancé seeking refuge in the bottle, the bumbling vicar, the complete collapse of the event and the failures of Mr Gosforth? All the actors individually and collectively brought out the riotous nature of the plot. We saw an excellent display of human thought and behaviour with spectacular comic effect.
Bryony Warren Michael Saunders
The scenery and stage effects in both plays formed an essential and realistic backdrop to their respective settings. They included precisely the right amount of focussed detail to bring out the talents of the entire cast.
Bryony Warren Beverly Wilden
Noel Coward is perhaps the more devious author. Alan Aykbourn may be more transparent. Food for thought and both performances reflected very professionally the attributes of each. The Goring Gap Players were on top form and the informal intimacy of the venue enhanced their performance. We will definitely be going to the next production.
Graham White, Hertfordshire
What a delight to see two excellent short plays put on by GGP, both directed by Phil Davies. The first one, 'Still Life' by Noel Coward, was set in the tea room of a railway station which was so realistic that one member of the audience queued for 30 seconds to buy a cake before realising this was part of the set!
This is of course the play which formed the basis for the film 'Brief Encounter'. Over the five scenes a romance develops and fades and we’re witness to the meetings between the couple first as they fall in love, and then as they realise it cannot succeed. The meetings were well handled by Caro Armstrong and Martin Leckie, ending in a failed suicide attempt and tears.
Rita Butler Amanda Holland
The lead actors were really very convincing and the supporting characters provided a welcome comic backdrop. Well done Chris Hawes on the endless train sound effects.
Martin Leckie Caro Armstrong
Bryony Warren Beverly Wilden
Then a complete scene change, the second play a five hander about a disastrous summer fete written by Alan Ayckbourn. With such a talented author we knew it would be funny and it was.
Gosforth is the organiser of the fete who gradually loses his temper in a measured way as everything falls down around him. Well done to Michael Saunders for remembering all those words and successfully conveying the frustration whilst refusing to give in to all the provocation.
David Irving Michael Saunders
Michael Fielding Bryony Warren
Thanks to all the technical and backstage teams for working hard to provide good entertainment.
The plays were well chosen; neither was too long nor did they drag, which is all down to the director, Phil Davies.
29th November 22
'The Titfield Thunderbolt' - Goring Village Hall, March 2022
The Goring Gap Players have, once again, pulled out all the stops in their latest production: ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’, a rollicking railway romp adapted from the original Ealing Comedy film of 1952.
When faced with the closure of their local branch line, enterprising villagers exploit a loophole in the Transport Act and take it upon themselves to restore their beloved railway with a liberated museum steam train.
Ian Morrison Rita Butler Phil Davies
The driving force behind the cunning plan is the brash and bossy Lady Chesterford, played magnificently with unending jolly-hockey-sticks enthusiasm by Sara Benbow. Coming to her aid are the village’s millionaire lush, Mr Valentine (Mark Eagle), who is eager to bypass pub closing laws by operating an on-board bar, and the elderly Reverend Sam Weech (Derek Benbow), who is roused from his Sunday sermon stupor by the possibility of playing with real trains. The comically evil Verna Crump (Fran Weetman), owner of the local bus company, does her best to derail the scheme, dragging her reluctant son Harry (Daniel Evans) into her dastardly plots
In the audience, early soft snickers quickly turned to belly-shaking guffaws as ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ crew entangle themselves in intrigue, sabotage and 50s’ bureaucracy before chugging happily to a farcical and deliciously drunken denouement. Intertwined in the intrigue is a sweet romance between the bumbling Crump junior and the delightful barmaid, portrayed so skillfully by Emma Jhita that her young children, seated in the row in front of me, felt they had to convince their father in loud whispers that Mummy was just pretending and not really going to marry Harry Crump.
Mark Eagle Emma Jhita Sarah Benbow Derek Benbow Ian Morrison
Emma Jhita Derek Benbow
Jane Davies Rachel Haverson Tori Benbow
Clever direction by Dorothy Hirsch, whacky gimmicks and innovative set design helped to integrate the audience into the play’s action. The ‘ticket holders’ in the packed Goring Village Hall served as pub goers, community meeting attendees and, of course, train and bus passengers. Alongside hilarious acting and cleverly choreographed slapstick, it was this village-hall intimacy that salvaged a relatively simple and lacklustre script.
There was a well-oiled chemistry between players and ‘minions’ (all dressed in the same railway blue coveralls) who coordinated seamless set changes and configured ingenious tongue-in-cheek special effects such as crab-walking up and down the aisles carrying painted landscapes to mimic passing views from the moving train.
In a few understated strokes the set and costume designs created a real 50s’ feel; seedy, threadbare furniture, drab, bare pubs, barren, sooty railway stations. Adding to the nostalgic period authenticity and charm of this show was the superb (mostly brass) 5-person band at the back of the hall that not only offered a perfect accompaniment to the story, but managed to get the entire hall, cast, crew and audience, belting out Flanders’ and Swan’s ‘Slow Train’ at the end. A fitting end to a charming, whimsical production. In equal parts, brilliant and barmy -- a fitting tribute to British resourcefulness and that dash-it-all village spirit that can make the impossible happen.
This reviewer eagerly awaits the next production from the Goring Gap Players. Review by Anne Fox, March 22
If you set out to review a production of Philip Goulding’s ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ or, indeed, a production of anything that even tangentially involves a locomotive – there’s an inevitable demon which appears on your shoulder urging you to hark back to the days when railway ticket prices were less-aggressively byzantine and kick things off with the strapline “A ______-class performance”. But in the case of the Goring Gap Players’ production (Goring Village Hall, 16th – 19th March), any reference to that kind of arbitrary division would do a disservice, because the central thesis of the evening was grounded so strongly in the message of rallying a community together.
Based on the Ealing Comedy, the play charts how (almost all) the residents of Titfield rally round to save their passenger train service to Mallingford in the face of a both pre-Beeching cost-cutting closure of their branch line and the opportunistic and unscrupulous profiteering of Verna Crump, whose ruthless disaster capitalist introduction of a dilapidated omnibus proves almost as damaging to the community as the blind indifference of central government policy.
The driving forces of the plot therefore hinge on the determination of Lady Chesterford and the enthusiasm of Reverend Weech on the one hand, pitted against the machinations of Verna Crump (and son) on the other – with young Harry Crump steadily crossing over to the other camp not least thanks to his budding relationship with Joan Weech, the vicar’s niece.
Sarah Benbow Derek Benbow
Ian Morrison Daniel Evans
Natalie Davies Fran Weetman
With the narrative dependent on believing that these characters are so determined to retain their railway they will take on the burden of running it themselves, even as multiple obstacles are thrown their way, much rides on the actors’ interactions and delivery to make their determination feel plausible. There were one or two occasions where the speed of that delivery couldn’t quite keep pace with the expectations set by Ealing, but the passion that was put behind the lines never faltered and the crucial shift in Harry Crump’s allegiance as his mother became more ruthless and Joan more beseeching managed to feel like a natural evolution of loyalties rather than an abrupt adjustment demanded by the plot.
The necessary interludes to adjust the set were energised by live period music and I particularly admired some brilliantly flexible set design; it has never previously occurred to me that the beer taps of a public bar look at least a little like the reverse side of a set of steam engine controls, but I suspect the thought will now return regularly, probably somewhere in the middle of the second pint of an evening.
Fran Weetman Daniel Evans
Emma Jhita Derek Benbow
Sarah Benbow Phil Davies
Derek Benbow Fran Weetman
As an audience we were also culpable for our choices – which side of the central aisle one sat on determined whether or not we were riding on the train or succumbing to the blandishments of the bus company – and for a brief frenetic interlude those along both sides of the aisle had to form a rudimentary bucket chain to ensure there was enough water in the tender to build up steam (the Crumps having perfidiously perforated the water tower in another attempt at sabotage). But, divided as we may have been by our means of locomotion, everyone was encouraged to unite in song after the curtain call – to ‘Slow Train’, Flanders & Swann’s 1963 elegy, to the losses imposed by the Beeching cuts.
Among the comedy and enjoyment of the evening, the communal singing helped underscore the core message of the production as, only a couple of years behind schedule, ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ offered an extremely timely reminder that our communities are at their strongest when we offer up our skills and passions to pull together for the common good.
Review by J T Allen March 22