The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
June 28, 29 & 30, 2001.
A Month of Sundays
by Bob Larbey
Derek Fraser – Cooper
Hugh Hemmings – Aylott
Jane Richards – Wilson
Claire Wiggins – Julia
Kevin Isaac – Peter
Heather Richards – Mrs. Baker
Prompt – Christine Fearns
Lighting & Sound Design – Mike Medway
Properties – Margaret Davy
Properties – Sue Whittaker
Costume – Margaret Pierce
Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Publicity – Rosemary Brown
Publicity – Frances Thorne
Workshop Team – Brian Box
Workshop Team – Dave Collis
Workshop Team – Dave Comber
Workshop Team – Mike Davy
Workshop Team – Marc Lewis
Front of House – Valerie Bray
Box Office – Margaret Murrell
Programme Note #1: A Month of Sundays
STUDIO THEATRE AT THE BARN – Welcome to an exciting new chapter in the history 0f the Wick Theatre Company and Southwick’s historic Barn Hall!
This production marks the start of a new approach for Wick. We are now expanding our traditional season of four productions a year, up to six a year – or more. And at least two of those productions will now be performed in a ‘studio’ style.
Sometimes this will mean that plays are presented ‘in the round’, with the audience sitting around the acting area, in the main body of the Barn. Sometime the production may be presented in the even more intimate are of the big new stage. In any event the maximum audience will be no more than 100 people – and all the action will be very exciting and ‘close up’!
The next studio production this year will be a double bill – by two of the masters of modern British comedy. Black and Silver by Michael Frayn is a brilliant comic miniature, by the playwright of Noises Off. It’s a nightmare farce, as a young couple try to enjoy a quiet night in a honeymoon hotel – but with the handicap of having to share their room with their own screaming baby. The Real Inspector Hound, by Tom Stoppard, is an acknowledged comedy masterpiece. It’s the ultimate spoof of the Agatha Christie ‘whodunnit’ – and a whole lot more besides!
But – to start our expansion into different styles of production at the Barn – is Bob Larbey’s A Month of Sundays.
Tonight’s play is a gem of subtle comedy, rising above the sadness and disappointments of life. Larbey, the writer of TV’s The Good Life, has created a heart-warming look at the challenges of growing old – and the way that humour and humanity can rise above the problem.
This production also marks the directing debut of Jan King at the Barn. She is one of six Wick members in 2001 who will be presenting their first production for the Company. This is a sure sign of the ‘strength in depth’ that Wick Theatre Company can now draw on. We wish Jan and her cast and crew all the very best for a successful production – and for the first demonstration of an additional style of theatre now on offer at the Barn!
Publicity #1: A Month of Sundays
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: June 21 2001 issue – page 20
Text Header: “Gather round for Wick’s first play in the round”
WICK Theatre Company’s first presentation “in the round” at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, is A Month of Sundays by Bob Larbey.
A delightful cocktail of humour and pathos, the play revolves around the droll and independent Cooper [Derek Fraser] and his friend Aylott [Hugh Hemmings]. Together in their rest home, they keep ageing at bay with flippant determination, wit and humour. Cooper’s daughter Julia [Claire Wiggins] and her husband Peter [Kevin Isaac] dutifully drive over to see him once a month, but with nothing left in common between them, it is a visit dreaded by all concerned. But Cooper does get on rather well with the warm-hearted Nurse Wilson [Jane Richards] and the cleaning lady Mrs Baker [Heather Richards].
The director is Jan King and performances at the Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre, are from Thursday to Saturday at 7.45pm. Tickets are £5 and are available from the box office on 01273 597094.
Review #1: A Month of Sundays
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: July 5 2001 issue – page 20
Reviewer: Frank Horsley
Text Header: “A round of applause for a real gem”
OH my Compton and Edrich of long ago and the other eight men good and true who helped make up Middlesex’s county championship-winning side of 1947 – but who was the eleventh man? There lay the rub in Wick Theatre Company’s poignant production of A Month of Sundays at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, last week.
Rest home residents Cooper and Aylott manage daily to name only 10 members of the Lord’s super team of ’47. Yet the all-in wrestling required to try to pluck the 11th name from the birdlimes brains is one of the few things that keeps them going in their struggle against mental and physical decay.
Jan King’s ‘in the round’ adaptation of Bob Larbey’s comedy, with the front row of the audience within touching distance of the actors, brought the piece beautifully to life. Humour and pathos touched us in equal measure. Derek Fraser [Cooper] and Hugh Hemmings [Aylott] complemented each other perfectly. The former gave a brilliant reading of a crotchety, overwrought mind [what Ernest Hemingway called an ‘in-growing brain’] trapped within a creaking, soon-to-be leaking incontinent body. The latter, in contrast, looked as dapper and as spry as they come, seemingly togged out for a visit to Henley Regatta, but the tragic, irreversible decline into senility was just around the corner. Jane Richards, as Cooper’s favourite nurse, Wilson, struck just the right balance between professional self-possession and a deeply humane understanding of the old man’s need to flirt outrageously with her. here were two people who really did respect, if not love, each other.
Anyone who has had to honour a regular familial visiting arrangement that is about as pleasurable as sitting in a bath of cold porridge will have recognised the looks on the faces of Claire Wiggins and Kevin Isaacs. They got the resigned martyrdom bit off to a tee as Copper’s daughter Julia and son-in-law Peter, whose monthly Sunday chore it was to visit him, a visit he no more wanted t receive than they wanted to make. And there was the nice touch of the Miriam Karlins or maybe Dot Cotton about Heather Richards’ all-singing all-dancing cleaning lady Mrs baker.
If you missed this gem, there’s another chance to see Wick in the round when they perform comedy double bill The Real Inspector Hound [by Tom Stoppard] and Black and Silver [Michael Frayn] at the Barn from August 9 to 11.
*Anorak’s corner: The 11th man whom Cooper and Aylott could not remember was none other than the Middlesex skipper himself, R. W. V. Robins. What memory they did have didn’t serve them quite right, because J. G. Dawes never played for the ’47 side. Alec Thompson did. Finally, a 1947 Wisden was produced on stage which would have been no good for looking up the Middlesex team of that summer. A 1948 edition would have done the trick. Spot the trainspotter!
Review #2: A Month of Sundays
Publication: Words & Music
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Gordon Bull
Once again Wick Theatre Company has turned up trumps with a good feeling for A Month of Sundays, set in a retirement home. In her first production, Jan King has shown sensitivity for the sentiments of old age expressed, choosing an effectively simple set in the round for Bob Larbey’s slightly outdated play. This could have been remedied by allowing Nurse Wilson to be addressed by her first name.
Cooper [Derek Fraser] as the lame officer carried the action impeccably. His stalwart success in maintaining the limp deserves special praise. Aylott [Hugh Hemmings] was a worthy foil with appropriate degage look as required. Wilson [Jane Richards] the adored about-to-be-wed nurse was a modest but attractive charmer able to excite, yet uncompromisingly comfort Cooper, the lonely widower. Nor did he lose opportunity to banter with the cheeky cleaner [Heather Richards] who convincingly elicited the maximum humour from her small rôle. The visiting daughter and husband [Kevin Isaacs and Claire Wiggins] had exactly the right touch as they dutifully carried out their regular monthly chore.
Review #3: A Month of Sundays
Publication: Wick Newsletter
Publication Data: July 2001
Reviewer: Peter Thompson
Breaking new ground in the history of theatre will always, I suppose, be a challenge to enable the possibility, certainly in the history of this company, of moving into uncharted territory. The new Studio experiment has enabled Wick to do precisely this. That the opening night, indeed the night under review by yours truly, was very well attended [particularly for a Thursday], was one positive factor that nobody could dispute.
Using the Barn as a theatre ‘in the round’, which meant discarding the main stage altogether and using only five rows of the raked seating plus two or three rows of seats with rostra to make up three sides, could be seen as much more involving for the audience. Despite the pillars, practically no one person’s view was seriously obscured. The arrangement maximised the use of the floor for the actors. I was concerned that the main ‘stage’ area was accessible to people generally other than the actors, in that it was being walked on quite freely during the interval and before the performance. Fortunately no disruption to the set resulted.
The audience’s attention was focussed towards the east-facing wall of the Barn, so this became the main backdrop. Screens were used for this purpose, which was quite telling in view of the setting of a room in a nursing home. The arrangement also enabled use of two exits left and right. Lighting was clear and simply arranged. The sound was crystal clear. So far, so good.
So what of the actual play, and the performance generally? The music was well chosen. Songs such as My Way and other Sinatra classics, which pointed back to past memories, were especially poignant.
The play itself centred on one person’s reflections on his past life, good and bad, cocooned as he was in his room, and how this is portrayed in the ensuing relationships that unfolded. Derek Fraser’s performance as Cooper was a tour de force, being on stage more or less the whole time, maintaining throughout a limping gait when required. He brought the script, so crisply written, to life regarding the character’s ongoing use of sarcasm and regret, and unconscious references to symptoms concerning ageing, death and dying. The regret particularly came out in the fact that he missed his wife, long since dead, and his grandson. Jane Richards as Nurse Wilson, came across as the caring, tolerant and sometimes confiding professional, aware of Cooper’s foibles and weaknesses, even playing on them sometimes. Her performance over the death of the Colonel was true and full of pathos.
Heather Richards as Mrs Baker, came across well as the knowing housekeeper, gently yet firmly able to chide Cooper for his sarcastic, idiotic ways, yet having an undercurrent of concern for him. Her off-key singing, when she had the stage to herself, was delightful! Hugh Hemmings as Aylott, Cooper’s cricketing and chess-playing companion, showed him to be Cooper’s only real ally in relation to those of his generation. Yet not even he was able to escape a] Cooper’s biting sarcasm and b] the dreadful realisation, despite his efforts to the contrary, that he too was ageing more than he wanted to realise. Nowhere was this more dramatic than in the final scene over the winegums, and how this pointed to his fast-fading memory. The performance here was unrelenting.
Claire Wiggins and Kevin Isaacs, as Julia and Peter [Cooper’s son-in-law], played well the part o the dutiful couple, Julia being particularly infuriated by her father’s outbursts, how this rebounded on Peter, as well as her father’s lack of understanding as to why he could not see his grandson. Thus was particularly poignant during the emotional outburst after Peter left the room to get Cooper’s gift of a 1947 copy of Wisden. The relationship between Cooper and Peter portrayed a son-in-law ready to make allowances, yet the brunt of it being borne between him and Julia.
All actors made continuous good use of whole stage area, a tribute to Jan King’s direction. Being so close up to the actors was, in itself, a real test of each person’s knowledge and use of technique to carry the play through. Here was acting under the closest scrutiny, and it worked. Body language, timing, overlap and pauses were crucial to the play’s success. The use of mime was convincing and two prompts that were given did not detract from the performance to any significant degree. The actors acknowledged each section of the audience during curtain call, which was entirely appropriate.
All in all, judging by my own assessment of the performance and that of the audience’s reaction throughout, this was an event not to be missed. It was strong enough to continually hold one’s attention, a very positive advertisement for future Studio productions, and one which I do believe would answer the sternest of critics over this type of venture.
I commend it to the House.