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A Sweet (Re)Frayn

If Shakespeare had written only plays lasting only one act; if Jane Austen had only written short stories; if Rembrandt had only painted postcards, would they still be the darlings of the intelligentsia, performed, read or looked at all over the world centuries after their deaths? Well, Iíve actually no idea, but it is certainly the view of the theatrical community, both professional and amateur, that with very rare exceptions, one act plays are death at the box office. And sadly this belief was confirmed by the lack of bottoms on seats at the Hempstead Ads summer production of Michael Fraynís trilogy.

Which was a great shame for two reasons; first that Frayn is a brilliantly comic writer, well up in the firmament with Sheridan, Congreve and Wilde; and second that their productions was one of the half-dozen BEST amateur performances I have seen in many, many years of theatre-going. I will in fact go farther than that. By chance, I had seen two of the three plays performed professionally within the last few weeks (at Bury and Cambridge). The HDS was not inferior to either of them.

But now we must attend to our muttons.

PLAY THE FIRST.
No set, just curtains, and three chairs set in a row, each occupied by a respectable middle-aged man. (Well at my age it is not only policemen who look younger; so does everyone else). Two are very determinedly reading newspapers; the third (Alan Weedon) is looking eagerly and anxiously about him. Over the loudspeakers come the dulcet tones (Diana Frost) of an air-line stewardess, that unmistakable mixture of infant school teacher and old style nursing Sister, intoning the usual pre-flight liturgy; gradually we realise that all is not quite as usual, As the newspaper readers resolutely ignore the harangue, it becomes increasingly bizarre, until at about the moment that the life-jacket is donned, the monologue takes an increasingly sensuous if not indeed not quite pornographic turn, as the newspapers are held in hands ever more trembling, and Alan Weedonís efforts at physical self-control become more and more frantic, until the final crushing admonishment; Ēand for those who smoke in toilets (a minatory pause) THERE WILL BE NO PUDDING!Ē.
Flying will never be quite the same!

PLAY THE SECOND.
No need for a set; in seconds Nigel Smith (all suavity) and Liz Buckeridge (all eagerness) establish themselves, with the help of background noises as two participants in a noisy party who, unable or unwilling to hear what the other is saying, continue a smooth and utterly meaningless series of non sequitors and misconstructions until the final misunderstanding brings them to a clinch which indicates an intriguing possibility of a mťnage a trois with Diana Frost. Very nicely played by all concerned.

INTERVAL During which we were entertained by BOREHAMíS BEAUTIFUL BIG BEEF BURGERS.

PLAY THE THIRD.
A slightly more conventional set; curtain walls, but practicable windows and doors, tables, chairs and a pot plant (which later gave Tricia Ridgway an opportunity to show a surprising expertise). A young couple Jo and Stephen , (Trish Ridgway and Alex Knibbs) are preparing for a small dinner party for two married couples, one of which have just separated. The wife of this couple has recently acquired a boy friend (remarkably lacking in couth), and he has been invited in place of her husband. Unfortunately, Stephen does not know this, and having met the husband in the street has confirmed that he is expected too. The efforts of Jo and Stephen to keep husband and estranged wife apart form the basis of this almost hysterically funny play, as lies, evasions and increasingly panic stricken contrivances spiral madly into near hysteria.

Tricia and Alex performed near miracles at changing characters at the drop of an eyelid. Their pace, timing and stamina were astonishing, and the audience loved them.

I must not forget to mention the off stage team who produced the right sounds and lights at the right times (not as easy as you might think), and of course the Directors, Anna and Frances Sladen, who achieved such an outstanding evening.

Let old Bill have, roughly, the last word

And citizens of Hempstead, now abed

shall think themselves accursed they were not there,

And hold their shamefaced peace whiles any speaks

Who laughed with us upon St. Michaelís play.

Take my advice- DONíT MISS THE NEXT ONE!

Charles Flaxman

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