During rehearsals of this play, Carole Slarks successfully collected £80.00 that was sent to a Ukraine Charity
The Titfield Thunderbolt
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 Sarah 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.
Jane Davies Rachel Haverson Tori Benbow
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.
Natalie Davies Fran Weetman Paul Davies
Sarah Benbow Derek Benbow
Ian Morrison Daniel Evans
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.
Fran Weetman Daniel Evans
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.
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
Sense & Sensibility
It was a joy to watch Goring Gap Players relish Jessica Swale’s fast-paced and deft adaptation of Jane Austen’s first novel, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, for a justifiably sold-out run at The Morrell Room in Streatley directed by Janet D’Alton.
The cast had enormous fun, as did the audience who were in hoots throughout the evening. This sharp and entertaining satirical observation of English early nineteenth century upper middle-class life, where social status is writ large, dependent on property, wealth and marriage prospects, shows how two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, must navigate society’s expectations, ensure their financial security and fulfil their own romantic aspirations.
Which is best – common sense, represented by Elinor, or emotionality as represented by Marianne? Or do we need both for a happy and contented life? Strong performances from all the cast and very well rehearsed scene changes – for there were many – kept the story moving along.
A large cast of 21 makes it difficult to mention everyone, but lovely touches included Rosie Till’s debut as a delightfully wide-eyed Margaret Dashwood innocently brandishing the contents of her ‘naturalist bucket’ at the most inopportune moments; Amanda Holland embracing the infuriating, though ultimately useful match-making efforts, Mrs Jennings with characteristic aplomb and great comedic timing; the tilt of Caro Armstrong’s nose and crisp enunciation giving a suitable imperious feel to spoilt Fanny Dashwood alongside her cowed and equally spoilt husband, John, played by Michael Fielding.
Admirable also was John Turner’s quietly steadfast, bass-baritone Colonel Brandon, whose unrequited love is finally returned by the exuberant, emotional Marianne, played with just the right amount of freedom and liveliness by Summer Morrison.
Phil Davies’ Edward Ferrars was suitably awkward and enamoured of Jo Watson’s restrained demeanour as the sensible Elinor. Heather Trevis captured very well the cunning flattery which ensnared vain Robert Ferrars, played by a simpering Ian Morrison.
Droll servants, gossipy gossips, the whirlwind of pregnant Mrs Palmer, her monosyllabic husband, the ‘uncommonly handsome’ Willoughby and the ebullient and kind Sir John – the cast carried the audience from start to finish with great humour and they richly deserved the long applause at the end. Review: Imogen Smart and Yvonne Braby
by Joe Orton
GGP’s reminder of the “Swinging Sixties”
'Loot' first hit the West End stage in 1966. This black, irreverent farce evokes a time of intense change and deepening rifts between generations, classes and cultures. Its shockingly humorous take on murder, greed and corruption recalls an emerging “permissive society” when behavioural norms were challenged and establishment ideas lambasted.
It was a time of revolution in drama too. Who else remembers the toe-curling teenage experience of watching BBC’s The Wednesday Play, unsure how to react to the language, sex and amorality, alongside tut-tutting parents incredulous at “what things are coming to”.
Goring Gap Players attempted to make sense of all this for today’s audience. The first thing that came across was that Loot is very much of its time. Scandalous then for exposing taboo themes, today it shocks in a different way, with attitudes and phraseology scarcely voice-able in our more enlightened, politically correct world.
Such a play represents a big challenge for am-dram to meet. GGP gave it their best shot, though hampered by illness. Director Paul Davies manfully stood in at the last minute as central character Mr McLeavy, now the on-stage father of his real-life brother Phil, who played Hal. In the first half this inevitably led to some disjointedness in performance, against the backdrop of an audience nervously coming to terms with the play’s outrageous content.
After the interval, this production’s most experienced and talented actors, Chris Bertrand (Truscott), Carolyn Armstrong (Fay) and Robin Bertrand (Dennis), took the play by the scruff of the neck. Adding pace and personality, they combined hilariously to make the most of Orton’s absurd plot and dialogue. The audience relaxed into uproarious laughter at some very funny lines and situations.
Well done to all concerned both on stage and behind the scenes.
Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'
I saw the last night of Twelfth Night last night and was frankly blown away by the organisation that would have gone into it, the acting, the imaginative design for the costumes and the overall sense of teamwork and great fun that everybody seemed to be having. I just wanted to say congratulations to everyone involved.
As I will be moving to Goring after 37 years in London in early February, my new neighbour kindly suggested that I might like to come to one of the Twelfth Night showings to get a feel for the community spirit and acting of Goring Gap Players – and I was quite blown away by the experience. Very impressive!
I look forward even more to my move now.
Having travelled from Reading on 23rd November to see Goring Gap Players production of ‘Twelfth Night’, I found to my delight a company of talented amateurs who put on a most entertaining show.
The high standard of performance from skilled comedic actors was well delivered including a mixture of comedy, well executed slapstick enhanced with live sound effects and clever comedic asides from the
Congratulations for their excellent comedic performances goes to Ian Miles as Sir Toby Belch, the riotous uncle and drunken rogue; Alastair Dunstan who played Sir Toby’s side-kick, the gangling Sir Andrew Aguecheek; John Turner as the sober, gullible and pompous steward Malvolio and Fran Weetman as Feste, Fool/Clown, who had licence to say what she wanted. Abbey Gillet (Viola/Ceasario) gave a confident performance and Joanna Watson (Olivia) played her part well.
Live music from Graham Underwood (Virginal), Nick Cooper (tabor, one handed whistle, trumpet) and Fran Weetman’s beautiful authentic singing all served well to enhance the performances. The music chosen for the play, the imaginative costumes, use of period instruments and the minimal use of set captured the spirit and essence of the play.
All of cast performed well and so congratulations to them and to the Director, Chris Bertrand.
'The Rivals' by Richard Sheridan
- a collaboration between The Basildonians and Goring Gap Players in the gardens of Little Bowden, Pangbourne.
Amongst the very greatest of English comedies. Of all our plays, if, like me, you reckon comedy trumps tragedy , this ‘Rivals’ made us laugh from the very start and heartily throughout. All concerned are therefore to be congratulated on letting us hear it again. I say ‘hear’ in defence of the spoken word, our age being apparently obsessed with the visual....
I cannot avoid a few gripes and wishes, shall get them over with now and should be interested to hear if others agree. First, that central chair helped impose parallel acting and a dearth of depth and angles (mind you, in swept Bob Acres, closing gaps and varying the stage picture most admirably!); then, dimmed lights please upon the – hitherto charming – interior set when we got to the duel; Sheridan’s ending, for me, rather than the new one; a programme piece about his extraordinary life and work rather than a needless synopsis; some first-night textual uncertainties; and a more ‘bustling’ start to our evening in bustling Bath. Oh! and yes, the play needed to be cut, but Falkland and his Julia were both very good and I yearned for more of them.
Very much to enjoy, though. Well-chosen music throughout. Truly luxurious costumes, confidently worn. And at least two clear signs of close collaboration between Director and cast: the characters, even the broadest of them, were inhabited and clearly drawn without even the slightest risk of over-playing (I cannot name them all, but I thought Mrs. Malaprop admirably truthful, even when saying the most hilarious things). Likewise Sir Lucius’s blood and thunder is only funny if we believe in him - and we did). The phrasing of the whole text, supported by occasional, giggle-inducing pauses, had clearly been polished and gave us a lot of pleasure. I guess the cast felt the same. Eddie Reed as ‘The Boy’ was clear, charming and handled his Director’s inventive business with confidence.
So, a true monolith of western art on a balmy evening in lovely surroundings. Much hard work, utterly justified by our enjoyment. Like the sward, one was green – but with envy.
In June 2018, in recognition of 100 years since women first got the vote, Goring Gap Players put on a 'Staged Reading' about the Suffragettes. Whilst being informative, the performance was lightened by the inclusion of humour and music I am pleased to say that the performance was a 'sell out' and we received extremely positive feedback.
The Director, Chris Bertrand, included some brilliant songs from the era (researched by himself and Stu Weetman and sung by individual cast members). Bryan Urbick did a brilliant job providing visual images from the period which added to the overall impact and we had a wonderful cast of brilliant actors which included some very talented newcomers
Fran Weetman, GGP Secretary.
“All the world’s a stage” somebody once said, but the Goring Gap Players’ spring production brought two worlds – Shakespeare’s midsummer woodland and 1930’s Hollywood – to the Village Hall for a comedy of errors and an evening of fun, fairies, glitz and glamour. Jennamarie Smith’s inventive direction combined a witty script with plenty of Shakespeare quotations to spot, a talented cast – many new to the GGPs – and the added bonus of a nostalgic thirties sound-track played live by Teri Stevens and Dave Holt.
The audience was introduced to the world of the silver screen by the bitchy gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Rita Butler, grabbing our attention and the microphone) and the suave entrance of matinee idol Dick Powell (Kevin Goodfellow, crooning “Young and Healthy” to the ladies in the front row). Famous director Max Reinhardt (Stu Weetman, with a German accent ideal for Hollywood war-movies) had persuaded studio boss Jack Warner (the magnificently-moustachioed and stentorian Jim Tubbs-Galley) to produce “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Into this developing confusion come the “real” Oberon and Puck, improbably transported from the Bard’s imagination to the Warner Brothers set by Puck’s efforts at time-travel.
James Gwynne’s Oberon was a commanding presence and – although puzzled by telephones, waffles and Coca-Cola – this King of the Fairies could produce sudden flashes of anger appropriately accompanied by thunder and lightning. Fran Weetman’s Puck, whilst dizzyingly accident-prone, was soon endearingly adopting American slang and sun-glasses. Unexpectedly cast as themselves in the film, they soon encounter the two starlets playing the romantic leads.
Sophie Beaumont’s Olivia was a delicate heroine who knew Shakespeare’s plays better than Oberon, and perfectly suited for her brief romance with him. Summer Morrison’s Lydia was a bold, brassy, culturally-challenged, blonde bombshell straight from Jack Warner’s casting couch.
The versatile supporting cast (Dan Evans, Mike Fields, Ian Morrison, Tom Morton-Taylor, John South) delivered a wide range of Hollywood characters, as well as classic Shakespearean comic devices: mistaken identity, cross-dressing, mixed-up love potions and convincing animal impersonations (an ass – twice!). Amidst the chaotically funny studio party, Puck’s magic began to fade, forcing the fairy duo’s departure, but not before ensuring all’s well that ends well.
Fast-paced, with great costumes and make-up, and cleverly staged to put the action close to the audience, this play presented many challenges. The whole production team deserve special credit for their contribution, often taken for granted, to the show’s success. Such an imaginative performance of a play not usually found in the am-dram repertoire is another reminder of the great entertainment we get from the GGPs. Look out for details of the next production ….
Celebrating 200 Years of Jane Austen – Goring Gap News review
by D. Hirsch
The latest offering from the Goring Gap players was a charming evening of dramatised readings from Jane Austen’s novels and letters directed by Chris Bertrand and hosted by the same gentleman. It was an excellent ensemble effort by the cast of GGP stalwarts in which each had their moment in the sun. The combining of music, dancing with the readings worked well as did the pre-show and interval entertainment provided by Janet Pound and Catherine Jarvis on piano and violin.
The set was simple but very effective, the centerpiece being a writing desk and quill framed by a row of chairs either side upon which the cast perched when not performing, making them part of the set as well. All were dressed in costumes of the period, which completed the setting of the scene. The Morrell Room was set up as a café with little tables, dotted around the stage area and attendees were treated to tea and cakes served by some rather unlikely servers. My favourite part of the show was Fran Weetman’s a capella rendition of a remarkable naughty 18th century folk song called 'My Thing is My Own'. A good time was had by all.
Ann Hart, Helen McCutcheon, Caro Armstrong, Jacqui Bertrand, Fran Weetman
Helen McCutcheon, Michael Saunders, Michael Fielding,
Caro Armstrong, Jacqui Bertrand
Ann Hart, Michael Saunders, Jonathan Rohll, Jacqui Bertrand, Michael Fielding,
'Murdered to Death' by Peter Gordon
Photos ©2017 D A Hirsch
A Personal Review by Leighton Thomas
We arrived early for the first of the performances on Wednesday, 29th March. We wanted to listen to the ouvertures of the (reduced membership) of The Goring and Streatley Concert Band as they set the scene and indeed helped to transport us very gently to the place where all respectable murders can take place - in the drawing room of a rather grand but neglected country home somewhere in the shires of southern England. Here, the immediately recognisable rogues and sleuths were ready to play their full part.
It didn't take an analytical mind to determine the origin of this murderous scheme. Peter Gordon, the author, was - firmly tongue in cheek –celebrating successes of Agatha Christie's Hercules Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. There was, therefore, much opportunity on stage for sweet satire and heavy irony. From the outset, Inspector Pratt was seen to possess none of the "little grey cells" of the Belgian detective; and even the more refined elements of Joan Maple's enquiring mind did not match the ruthless investigative skills of the lady from St. Mary Mead.
Peter Gordon allowed the characters to be as pompous and ridiculous as they chose. Some could be inflated to the point of self-destruction, the audience would not mind. It was part of the fun. That is the nature of theatrical pastiche. After all, did not the great Noel Coward make his name for his hard-cut consonants and tongue-rolling articulation?
What cannot be tolerated is muffled whisperings - and there were a few – or miss-timed 'entries'. English comedy does not enjoy lacking concentration on the part of an actor - at any level of production - or a careless exchange between the characters. Fortunately, we in the audience had little to make us uncomfortable or embarrassed.
The play was long - perhaps too long - but we came away feeling it was an evening well spent. The remnant of the Goring and Streatley Concert Band, at the end, graciously took us up again and brought us back home. We went to our beds still chuckling at its absurdities and waywardness.
Review by Mary Napper
In answer to Phil Davies (Pierre Marceau) - oui the evening was trés agreeable! Enjoyable performances by all, from the butler, of few words, to the loveable Miss Maple. Though my favourite has to be Constable Thompkins, for coping with the bumbling inspector; and the Colonel and Inspector for proving that there's life after 60+!! Great music from Sara and the Chalk Hills Mob (even though a tad loud). How could anyone not tap their feet or hum along!?. Last, but not least congratulations to the Director - here’s to your next performance!
Review by Janey Maple
I recently went to see Murdered to Death at Goring Town Hall and what a jolly romp it turned out to be. A classic English farce wonderfully cast and expertly directed by Dorothy Hirsch. The characters were beautifully drawn and the action well paced. An Agatha Christie spoof that left me guessing "Whodunnit" until the very last scene. A fabulous evening with first class music from the Chalk Hills Mob and an enthusiastic audience. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday evening - I cannot wait for more !!!
Carole Slarks and Rachel Frost
Review by Ivor Coleman
The art of parody is tricky. The credible send-up of famous work is hard to pull off. So well done to Goring Gap Players (GGP) for giving it a go with this Agatha Christie pastiche, Murdered to Death. Moments of comic incompetence, country-house intrigue and melodramatic revelation made for an entertaining evening in Goring Village Hall.
Compared with the greatest spoofs, such as Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s “Young Frankenstein”, Peter Gordon’s play shoots a little wide of the mark. Though humorous and well-constructed, it doesn’t always achieve a winning blend of homage, satire and believability. Nevertheless the GGP team approached this production with customary commitment and gusto.
As usual, the staging was excellent. Graham and Jacky Underwood’s set, Ian Shears’ lighting and Chris Hawes’ sound made the Bagshot family pile a living scene. This was the backdrop to a weekend get together for a group of Mildred Bagshot’s friends. As the action progressed, unexpected connections were revealed and murderous consequences ensued… Mildred’s 30 year desire for a tryst with Colonel Craddock... dubious art dealings with a shady Frenchman… Dorothy Bagshot’s unforeseen ruthlessness... a purgatorially slow butler in cahoots with the Colonel’s “old girl”... the alter egos of Miss Hartley-Trumpington and Monsieur Marceau... all punctuated by behind-the-door gunfire and Bagshots dropping like flies.
Into this maelstrom entered a motley of sleuths: Miss Maple, cast of course in the mould of Christie’s Marple, the eccentric amateur; the hopelessly incompetent Inspector Pratt; and the insightful but downtrodden Constable Thompkins. Two shots in the foot later, it all resolved rather formulaically around a will and its inheritance, overheard conversations, an ample supply of booze and some timely admissions of guilt.
The cast of ten actors ranged widely in experience and gave a creditable all-round performance. Newcomers Rachel Frost and Phil Davies did particularly well as the believably Posh & French couple who transitioned seamlessly into gold-digging spivs. Congratulations to Derek Benbow for “returning to the stage decades on with the benefit of age” as the old buffer colonel, a major role accomplished with aplomb. Heather Trevis switched convincingly between dutiful and hardnosed Dorothy. Carolyn Armstrong shone out with her brilliantly natural portrayal of Miss Maple, bringing much needed joie de vivre, confidence and pace to the production. Daniel Evans displayed considerable presence as Constable Thompkins, especially with his facial expression and comic delivery. John Jones achieved hitherto unplumbed depths of ineffectuality as Inspector Pratt.
Live music is always a welcome addition to these productions and was provided here by The Chalk Hills Mob. In this case the size of the ensemble was perhaps just a little too much for the Village Hall though, inhibiting audience conversation.
Thanks are due to Dorothy Hirsch, directing a GGP production for the first time, for successfully bringing together such a large and varied team.