The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
October 15, 16 & 17, 1981.
Man About the House
by John Perry
Neil Shepherd – Salvatore Ferraro
Sally Bacon – Assunta
Robin Lee – Ronnie Sanctuary
Sally Pumford – Maria
Douglas Tucker – Antonio
Frances Moulton – Carolina
Pat Moss – Agnes Isit
Joan Bearman – Ellen Isit
Ronald Cheesman – Sir Benjamin Dench
Daphne Thornton – Mrs Spettigue
Ralph Dawes – Mr Potter
Stage Manager – Brian Moulton
Assistant – Margaret Davy
Assistant – Susan Whittaker
Assistant – Sally Pumford
Lighting & Sound Effects – Frank Hurrell
Assistant – Jonathon Dawes
Set Construction – Brian Moulton
Front of House – Betty Dawes
Programme Design – Antony Muzzall
Programme Note #1: Man About the House
DT wrote: “I joined WICK in 1969, so it has taken me exactly twelve years to take the plunge into production. After this week it will probably be my first and last! However, whatever the outcome, it has been for me, an exhilarating experience. I shall always remember the tremendous support I have received both from all the members of the Company involved and many friends outside; I am very grateful. The team spirit of the cast has been all that one could ask and it certainly has been a tough six weeks of rehearsals.
To turn to the play for a moment, it is, I consider a powerful piece of theatre calling for many changes of mood on the part of the principal characters. It is a story of failed aspirations – a restrained melodrama building on the familiar theme of the unexpected half-comic, half-tragic impact of the warmth of the Italian climate and character upon the English discipline and restraint. In the end we are left wondering which side has the more ‘passionate realism’ and whether Italian panache will always give way before the reserves of character hidden beneath the naivety and sentiment of the English. Or is the play unfairly weighted in favour of the latter? Will you sympathise with Salvatore or Agnes?
For my part, I reiterate that this production has been a memorable occasion for me and I can only hope that it will be for you.”
Programme Note #2: Man About the House
“To all our patrons. We very much regret the necessity to increase seat prices but we have had to face considerable increases in Royalties, publicity and theatre charges. We would, however, draw your attention to the advantages of PERMANENT BOOKING. Substantial discounts can be obtained by undertaking a permanent booking. The scheme offers you the same seat for the whole season, every season. All tickets and advance information will be sent to you in exchange for advance payment for all the season’s tickets.
The DISCOUNT available is 33%, that is you see one play in three absolutely free.”[web ed: Tickets were being sold at £1.50 and £0.90 subsequently]
Publicity #1: Man About the House
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: October 2 1981 issue – page 11
Text Header: “Edwardian dream”
AFTER their musical comedy Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be, the Wick Theatre Company are trying a new formula for their latest production, Man About the House, by John Perry. Produced by Douglas Tucker, rehearsals are well underway for this ‘tale of shattered illusions and broken dreams’.
An Edwardian period-piece, the play is described by Wick publicity officer Margaret Ockenden, as a romantic drama. This is their first attempt at production for Mr Tucker, who has been in the company for 10 years.
The show begins its five night run at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, on October 13.
Publicity #2: Man About the House
Publication Data: Unknown
Text Header: “For the love of money …”
A MAN About the House is the title of the Wick Players’ [sic] latest production. But it has nothing to do with the TV sitcom that starred Richard O’Sullivan as the lone male sharing a house with two girls. “I expect we have a few people confused by the title,” said company member Margaret Ockenden. “In fact, it is quite a well established play by John Perry, based on the book by Francis Brett Young.”
The play tells the story of Agnes, who tricks and Italian into marrying her by pretending to be on her death bed. He is hoping to inherit vast sums of money. But he soon finds out about her little ploy and tries to opt out of the relationship. The play stars Pat Mills [sic] as Agnes and Neil Shephard.
It is being performed at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, from October 15-17.
Review #1: Man About the House
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: October 23 1981 issue – page 7
Reviewer: – Murray Morse
Text Header: “Too long about the house”
IN the programme director Douglas Tucker said he hoped Wick Theatre Company’s latest production A Man About the House, would be memorable. It was a fine performance by the company at the Old Barn Theatre but it will not stick in my memory for long. Everything was right about the production … except the choice of play. The acting was powerful, the set was marvellous but the play was, I think, the wrong choice. At 2 1/2 hours A Man About the House is too long. John Perry’s script is laboured and some lines could, and should, be edited.
Wick’s production was not ‘cut’ by Douglas Tucker – taking his first plunge into directing – but the players showed verve as they enthusiastically injected life into a long and sometimes dowdy script. Neil Shephard – bellissimo! His performance as rogue Italian Salvatore Ferraro was a delight to watch. He totally immersed himself in the character and was able to put across his moods, his charm, his innocence and his greed. Shephard’s Italian accent was strong but not overpowering. The task of matching the Italian was eagerly taken up by Pat Moss, who delicately portrayed English aristocrat Agnes Isit. She introduced herself as cold and domineering but under Salvatore’s charm slowly melts into a doe-eyed lover.
The two leads were surrounded by other fine character portrayals. Joan Bearman was lively in her rôle as Ellen Isit, an innocent romantic, and Robin Lee, as Ronnie Sanctuary, had a ‘Malcolm Muggeridge-type’ accent as the Englishman who ‘went to Italy for luncheon and stayed for life’. Ronald Cheesman never really got to grips with his rôle as the doctor Sir Benjamin Dench and faded against other sound performances from Daphne Thornton and humorous Ralph Dawes. Sally Bacon was the peasant girl Assunta, again using a strong Italian accent, and there were brief glimpses of attractive Sally Pumford [Maria] and Douglas Tucker [Antonio].
The atmosphere of the play was painstakingly built up but unfortunately the script dictates all the drama coming in the closing minutes. This was Douglas Tucker’s first production – it should not be his last.
Review #2: Man About the House
Publication: Wick Newsletter
Publication Data: October 22 1981
In-house reviewer – George Porter
When I was asked to write a criticism of this play, I was a little apprehensive about possibly having to criticise some of my friends. Even through the company at the AGM had bravely agreed to put their heads on the block, so to speak, and also indulge in an orgy of self-examination.
I need not have worried because I found the play absorbing and enjoyable and an absolute tour-de-force for a first production. So before I go any further, congratulations everyone! Especially Douglas who has done a magnificent job.
So you will understand that in examining the play in more detail, if I criticise, it is more of a nit-picking exercise and also perhaps a device for getting you to discuss the play. Playing the devil’s advocate is for me, as you all know, more appropriate to my talents than acting on the stage.
First then, the play itself. When I first heard that Douglas was offering the play for production I had a feeling in the back of my mind that we would be resurrecting an old melodrama which might rather creek at the joints. I vaguely recalled Kieron Moore in a film some years ago. [web ed: 1947] I need not have worried, the play stood the test of time and is remarkably robustly written. It maintains interest and only goes over the top a little in the second half.
Now as regards the production; it strikes me that in this present age, we must try to restrain the author from laying it on too thick – or perhaps play the whole thing for melodrama by making the first half of the play more earthy and menacing than is indicated by the light, spicy dialogue that emanates from the Baron, Ellen, Porter and Mrs. Spettigue. If you play it that way, then Salvatore has to be more of a brooding, sinister person and less of an opportunist with dreams of gold.
Douglas took the lighter course and gave us a delightful first half. This made it important to underplay the second half despite the pretty obvious clues being thrown around in the text. The problem then is how to tie up the ends; we’re pretty certain that good Sir Ben will come to the rescue and that good will triumph but how can we sew it all up tidily and make Salvatore plausible at the ‘denouement’? I saw the play twice and on each occasion, the audience tended to laugh at the end despite Neil and Pay acting their heads off. The pitiful gunshot didn’t help but I think the cast were given too big a task in subduing the audience.
I put it to you – would it not have been better to have had Agnes quietly and distraughtly saying her last lines as she hauls herself up the stairs? But what magnificent stairs to stage a final picture!
As for the staging, I find no fault. Everyone was seen and heard and moved entirely naturally, so it seemed, in a setting which found them all relaxed and in character.
To return to the production, at least the setting and staging part of it. The set was solid and superbly constructed. No walls or doors quivered. The staircase was truly magnificent. Quite the most apt and splendid seen in Southwick. It was used with great confidence and servants positively bashed their way through the kitchen as if they were waiters entering a hotel kitchen – lovely to see!
My one quarrel is with the colour of the decor. It did not offend or prevent my enjoyment of the play but I felt Monfalcone’s villa would have been decorated in cooler shades, then if you wish to bring out the sinister under-current, you can juggle with light and shade, black and white. The way the first half develops in Douglas’ production makes the heavy hand and darker sides of Salvatore unnecessary and I also have a feeling that the women’s marvellous costumes might have been less striking against a cooler background.
A word about the dresses and all costumes. These really were excellent. Agnes [Pat] set the scene superbly in her first entry in black – tall and elegant like a curved wand as she walked across the front of the stage. It took us straight back to the turn of the century. Both girls had beautiful clothes and knew how to wear them. Daphne had an entirely appropriate dress which went exactly with her salty, outspoken character. The men dressed very acceptably, though perhaps a little less meticulously rooted in period. I felt the footwear of the women seemed authentic and I noticed Joan’s on several occasions [not a practice I’m particularly noted for!].
So thank you again for a triumphant first production which will enhance Wick’s reputation and be ranked with the best seen on the Barn Stage.
Now to talk about the acting … what can one say? It was altogether excellent – in teamwork and individuality, and one must congratulate Douglas again there – he had picked a wonderfully suited cast, each taking on a character like a glove. There was not a weak link and even the small parts of Assunta and Maria seemed entirely creditable. Sally, as Assunta, seemed to live the part – certainly one of the best cameos she has given. Even her Italian improved as the week went by.
We all know Neil is a linguist but his characterisation of Salvatore and his use of the Italian Language was marvellous. Having lived in Italy for two years, I have some ear for the cadences of speech. This was one of Neil’s great performances to rank with his Iago. His change from servant to the man of ‘property’ so to speak, and his coarseness in the second act was very convincing as was his breakdown under questioning at the end of the play – a difficult thing to do when, as I mentioned before, the melodrama had been underplayed in the earlier scenes.
Ronnie – Robin was a revelation to me. I had seen him in small parts but this was a total characterisation which he maintained throughout. A lovely performance with a great sense of timing and with pacing himself.
Maria, in her two appearances, looked delightful and the way she said ‘Commandi Signorina’ made one think she was a true Italian lass. Thanks Sally. Antonio and Carolina were so true in their walk-on parts no-one could doubt that they belonged to the Castello Inglese.
Pat’s Agnes was a powerful performance. She is after all the backbone of the plot. How well she sustains her character throughout! The change from the ‘formal’ spinster to submissive wife was superbly done. Because she is at the centre of the play, this question of the melodramatic is particularly apt in her case and as I said earlier, at the end, I felt the production had required her to go over the top.
I saw the play on Thursday and Friday. I thought the Friday performance was better. Now comes my little quibble – Pat has this rich, deep-toned voice and she domineers her sister and everyone else, I felt on Thursday, she was laying on the disapproving monotone too heavily. On the Friday, she seemed more relaxed and consequently, her voice more flexible and modulated. Also on the Friday, her second half was beautifully sustained – the loving wife, entirely submissive and devoted – did you agree with the end?
Ellen Isit – Joan gave us a lovely, warm contrast to her sister’s earlier rigid attitude to life. She looked pretty and her good spirits and optimism made her absolutely delicious. She established her character and captured the audience right from the moment when she peeps at the nude painting. A lovely piece of mime. I also liked the way she and Ronnie weren’t afraid to take natural pauses in the dialogue. I noticed this often in the play – thank you Douglas for so directing and ‘prompt’ for not butting in. Great stuff Joan, we loved it.
Ronald gave a completely convincing performance as Sir Ben. Absolutely believable! What else can one say. He handled the medical examination of Agnes and his St. George-to-the-rescue bit, wonderfully. One felt like cheering when he appeared from the loggia.
Daphne with her bright, clear voice and confident stage presence made Mrs. Spettigue a lively and entertaining person. From the play’s point of view, she had the right attack to bring the play to its first-half climax – she matches Agnes’ impassioned strength and brought excitement and anticipation to the play at that point.
Finally, Ralph as Mrs. Potter. The old ‘dogs’ know all the tricks don’t they? Well done Ralph. I don’t think you missed a laugh – and perhaps squeezed in the odd unexpected one!
Douglas in his note on the programme talks about ‘passionate realism’ and failed aspirations. I would presume that both these aspects lie with Salvatore. Surely he has a blood feeling for the land, an earthy realism about family and roots – but after that he is a completely amoral spirit with no other feelings except self gratification.
So Douglas, did you consider playing out-and-out melodrama?
Anyhow, we loved it as it was, and it was a notable success.