The scenery is rolled up, the scripts laid aside and the players can finally put their feet up and enjoy sweet release from the treadmill of rehearsals, productions, matinees and the last night party.
In the case of the Holy Cross Players they have more than earned a bit of a break and they can look back on their astounding production of Dick Whittington and his Cat with a quiet purr of satisfaction and a certain pride in another job well done – as well as a very large sum raised for Macmillan Cancer Support.
The key quintet this year were Stephanie Ward (Producer) Sarra Taylor-Brown (Director) Marianne Saulsbury (Author and choreography) tyrannical and bullying Chris Ward (Associate Producer – and actually a sweet, charming and innocent soul) as well as the unassuming genius that is Tony Freedman (musical director).
These five are responsible for a brilliant and unforgettable production that will live long in the memory and – possibly – in the nightmares of some.
Regular aficionados of the Holy Cross Players will recall the show stopping performance of Stuart Dingwall as a very hungry wolf in last year’s production and his numerous fans were delighted again as he led the cast in the role of Dick Whittington.
Stuart’s Dick was a sight to behold and although he started with a rough Gloucestershire accent he soon reverted to his aristocratic West London vowels and unless I am very much mistaken his voice has strengthened since last year.
Stuart has great stage presence allied with a talent for sly asides and rather dodgy ad libs but most will remember some superb sung solos. I’d tell him that he was a star but it would go to his oddly coloured head – even if it is true.
For much of the show Stuart/Dick was accompanied by the extraordinary Morgan Hastings as Kitty Galore and I’ve never before seen an overacting cat – or such a performance of feline felicity fettered with furry frivolity. Mind you, I’d never previously seen a cat wearing glossy pink Doc Martens ankle boots either but the Holy Cross Players never cared for convention.
A strange sort of continuity was provided by four more front of curtain felines; Wellington/Puss in Boots (Elizabeth Hornal), Zeus/Doctor Seuss (Thomas Ward) and Nelson (Thomas O’Leary) and Sailor (Jimmy Dingwall). Their job was not easy – it was to link the scenes and allow a spot of surreptitious stage management behind them.
You won’t be surprised to hear that they did a first class job and played beautifully off each other.
They introduced the opening scene of bucolic bliss in some distant rural retreat where Dick Whittington was operating a cart-wash and wrestling his Ian Holloway accent into submission. We were required to suspend all disbelief and accept that his parents were the far too young Tracy Minson and the already spoken for Rector of Greenford: Neil Richardson (Mrs. and Mr. Stroud).
Zoe Rowe and Jacky Mitchell hammed it up in the roles of Little Chef and Costa but a new face to me appeared in the role of the Traveller (Lakshmi Raja-Rayan). Now the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi brings wealth and prosperity and –in the case of Lakshmi Mittal, part ownership of Queens’ Park Rangers so it’s not all good news – but we were blessed with the richness of a new talent and one who embodies the finest traditions of the Holy Cross Players, a bizarre range of accents and the ability to just about keep to the script while delighting fellow cast members as well as the audience.
Arriving – somehow – in London our Dick and his feline friend enjoyed some banter with the continuity cats before encountering a rather odd character who appeared to be a cross between Arthur Daley, Del Boy and Ian Dury out of the Blockheads. This proved to be the metropolitan spiv – Chris.P.Bacon (I know, I know !)who whipped out a series of delights from within his filthy old raincoat.
We now had the hero, the faithful cat and the hero’s mate(energetically played by Paul Hornal) on stage so it was about time for the villain to slither on and believe you me there has not been such slithering since Peter Mandelson sloped off to the Lords. Luke Bakin-Anger was a top hatted cad played with sublimely evil intent by Ian Muxlow – who actually seemed to enjoy the boos and hissing.
A rather contrived pub scene ,possibly based on the Red Lion immediately prior to its demolition, took place with Sarra Taylor-Brown somehow finding time for yet another character – Carrie Oakey – the dream barmaid of many a fantasy.
For no particular reason apart from a love of neat alcohol and coarse acting the characters of drunken sailors Duncan D’Sorderley (Susan Chick) and Dickie Hart (Chris Ward) appeared slumped over a table having enjoyed several wets and showing that some of the finest traditions of the Royal Navy still persist. A third – sober – sailor appeared in Act 2 and I have to say that Dec Athlon the Sporty Sailor as played by Lisa Rowe embodied rather more of the standards of the Senior Service than did those inebriated reprobates Duncan and Dickie.
Most of the cast had now been introduced to an audience whose reactions veered sharply from the delighted to the horrified but there was far worse to come and, sure enough, Merry Berry flounced onto the stage with a billow of petticoats and a large amount of rubber padding about the thorax.
To see Liam Tebbit – a fine classical actor who was the star of the Raglan Players for many years – done up in frills and furbelows as the dame to end all Dames was a shock to the system but fair play to the lad – he excelled in this role as he has in so many others in the past.
Rather confusingly the juvenile lead – Alice Fitzwarren – was played by none other than Emma Green who is the beloved of Liam in another life. We also made the acquaintance of Dame Berry’s “son” Blue Berry (Conor Taylor Brown – the rapping pig of last year’s production) and eventually the immensely dignified figure of HXP stalwart and now lurker in Lincolnshire; Ray Allen as Alderman Fitzwarren.
I freely admit that things got just a little complicated at this stage with much ensemble acting and a lot of mouse activity from Skye Dingwall, Zoe Rowe and Jenna Chick who were well reinforced by the squeaky squadron of Aimee Rowe, Claire Muxlow, Sophie Tebbit, Poppy Griffiths and Charlotte Norris. Abigail Tebbit was sadly indisposed as she has managed to find the keys to the cheese cupboard and may just have scoffed a little too much cheddar on this occasion.
As the first act ground remorselessly towards the end the audience experienced a real treat with Merry Berry and Blue Berry reprising the famous Morecambe and Wise routine that saw them making breakfast to the sound of David Rose’s “The Stripper”.
This was brilliantly choreographed and worked a treat.
Seeing the look of agony of the faces of prompts – Pauline Avery and Joan Bird – gave him such a fit of conscience that he immediately attempted to bribe the fair maids with House of Commons chocolates but we fear that the damage was already done.
Act 2 returned us to the bar which was still littered with intoxicated matelots but now accompanied by Captain Ant Aneil (for younger readers this is an obscure reference to the popular ‘70s singing duo – The Captain and Tennille).The good Captain was played by the leather lunged erstwhile Grand Dame – Ian Yardley – who seemed intent on press ganging all with a pulse onto his Morocco bound vessel. The shanghaied sailors may have been dragged up on deck but that was as nought
when compared to the kilos of slap decorating the proud Yardley visage like royal icing on a noble fruit cake. For no obvious reason he was wearing the scarlet headgear of a senior Cardinal of the Church of Rome and I doubt that Ian’s old Boys Brigade section would have appreciated this ecumenical gesture.
There was then a wonderful opportunity for us S Club 7 fans to again enjoy the heart-warming harmonics of Reach for the Stars but something rather strange was occurring below decks.
Odd things then happened on board ship but even odder things happen at sea and the cunning Luke Bakin-Anger appeared to be on the verge of being found out.
He made the near fatal mistake of trying to chat up Kitty and was in the rattle with the minimum of delay – nursing a bruised pride and much else that was damaged as well!
Despite the best efforts of the continuity cats it was never quite explained how the crew washed up on some sandy palm fringed shore guarded by Jacky Mitchell and Tracy Minson.
A rather upsetting variation on the bush tucker trial from IACGMOOH ensured that none of us wanted any supper that night but there was even worse to come and I doubt that there are words to describe the terrifying sight of Bob Hammond as the Sultan of Swing supported by the fair Marianne Saulsbury as Sultan(a) Vinegar.
Bob had underwritten the entire cost of the production on exchange for the now notorious Harem Scene which caused feminists the world over to blanche and Alex Taylor-Brown, Sarra Taylor-Brown, Sandra Baldwin, Lakshmi Raja-Rayan and Rebecca Mitchell to somehow manage to keep straight faces while draped over Bob the Insultin’ Sultan. A hula hoop demonstration followed and then an anthem which would stand as the theme song of the Holy X Players – Spice up your Life.
Somehow it all worked out for the best and Dick negotiated the lucrative spice contract with the Sultan of Spurs and felt sufficiently secure to propose to the fair Alice. Chris P. Bacon and Blue Berry set up in (dodgy) business together and – in a scene that defied both good taste and realistic expectation – Dame Berry carried Alderman Fitzwarren off to her boudoir with the promise of companionship and cooking to warm the winter evenings.
Cue wedding songs and general merriment.
An exhausted audience slumped back into its seats and reflected on yet another superb performance by the Holy Cross Players.
I’m assuming that the cast felt as exhausted as those in the hall but it was without doubt an absolute triumph and a real tribute to the most professional of amateur productions.
Miracles are not created without immense effort and something approaching genius.
In the case of the Holy Cross Players there is a technical, backstage and front of house team without whom none of the above would have been remotely possible.
Bossing the midfield was Stage Manager Andi Brown whose crack team of skilled stage crew consisted of Steve Kiley, Alan Vincent and Louise O’Leary. The set that they handled with such silent skill was constructed by Andy Norman and Pauline Brown while the whole was illuminated by the Caliphs of Chiaroscuro – James Vigor, Will Vigor and Alex Baldwin. Not only were they excellent at their selected skill and hanging off the lighting tower but they were remarkably lucky when the raffle was being drawn and won a plethora of priceless prizes including some very tasteful Formica table mats and yet another box of House of Commons chocolates.
Matthew Harding (Sound) looked like nothing more than Captain Kirk in Star Trek Series One as he sat behind a vast control panel powered by dilithium crystals. He was – of course – stunning.
Terpsichorean Tony Freedman has been mentioned above but we must not forget the Holy Cross Players own Keith Moon – Rob Attewell – destructive drummer supreme. This year he took the wise precaution of nailing his kit to the deck as he had previously driven the bass drum into the playground by some heavy footed work reminiscent of Gene Krupa at his very best.
Choreography was – as mentioned above – blessed by the intervention of Marianne Saulsbury and Kelly Allenby while Alex Taylor-Brown was the force behind the Spice Girls sequence.
Marianne not only wrote the play, sung the theme tune, appeared in the best scenes, was responsible for costumes choreography and make-up but was a constant source of advice on all matters theatrical. A real star at the heart of the Holy Cross Players.
It is always a treat to see Liz Beaven and Ann Woolsey sorting out the props and I well remember the time when the local MP was playing good King Richard and Liz made use of his sword to get his attention. This year they managed to find a copy of the Olympic torch inside Chris P. Bacon’s dirty raincoat and the Princesses of Props deserve the salute that I gladly give them.
Dudley Beaven showed what a fine photographer he is and sorted out the programmes during several lengthy planning sessions at the Royal British Legion – to good effect.
A word for the wonderful Roy and Marion Chick.
They manage to take charge of the front of house with the skill born of long experience but also exhibited that rare and special quality of separating civilians from their cash.
It was only after the last night that I realised that not only had the cunning Chicks collected raffle prizes from me but they had also sold me scores of tickets!
Marion has not been in absolute peak physical condition lately but her good spirits and devotion to the Players are undimmed. Truly the royal couple of Greenford!
By now I hope that you will have seen Emerson Bovell’s DVD and while the Director of Public Prosecutions usually demands a copy for evidence there will be enough left for all to have a record of another dazzling production by the Holy Cross Players.
Amongst the most popular sights on the night was the tuck shop and this was staffed not by the Pet Shop Boys but the Tuck Shop Girls – Ellie and Georgia and Mick and Norah served up warming beverages to a grateful crowd.
Vermin Control (and OIC Mice) was Sue Griffiths and if herding cats is difficult getting the mice to do the right thing at the right time is a near impossibility – but Sue managed it.
A word for the calm and capable presence of Bryan Payne – the man with the keys.
There are certain people who are just indispensible and that describes Bryan.
It would take half a dozen people to cover for him and even then they couldn’t match to degree of skill and expertise that he brings to the job in hand – and he is a thoroughly decent man as well (although he won’t like me to say this).
If I’ve left anyone out then I apologise but the supreme triumph of Dick Whittington and his Cat was the team work. This was a group achievement and all the better for the synergy that was achieved and which delighted the audiences at Oldfield Primary School.
The Players as always will be grateful to Mrs. Day and all at Oldfield School for their help and accommodation.
Dare I suggest that you book your tickets now and dare I mention that an outbreak of good taste and decorum has seen the local MP escape a custard pie assault again this year.
How long will his luck last?
The best way to find out is to make sure that your tickets are booked for next year. Mark Allenby runs an excellent website
and all details of dates and ticket prices are available from there
Mark is also the person who will be managing the site and co-ordinating ticket sales.
Thanks again to every single person involved in the great community fund raiser for charity that is the Holy Cross Players annual Christmas Pantomime.
See you soon – I hope!