Review: Old Tupton’s Chapel Players in triple-bill triumph

Tupton's Chapel Players present Fumed Oak, left to right, Eileen Wildsmith, Barry Johnson, Sally Mason and Madeline Harvey.
Tupton's Chapel Players present Fumed Oak, left to right, Eileen Wildsmith, Barry Johnson, Sally Mason and Madeline Harvey.
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Amateur theatre companies often fight a losing battle in their efforts to attract young blood into the ranks.

Not so Old Tupton’s Chapel Players who have four new recruits treading the boards in their spring production.

Old Tupton's Chapel Players present The Dear Departed, from left to right: 'Matthew Joynes, Sally Mason, Bethany, Colin Sorrell, Eileen Wildsmith and Barry Johnson.

Old Tupton's Chapel Players present The Dear Departed, from left to right: 'Matthew Joynes, Sally Mason, Bethany, Colin Sorrell, Eileen Wildsmith and Barry Johnson.

Director John Harrop and the company’s stalwart actors have worked hard to balance the elements of freshness, excitement and frustration which the newcomers bring to the fold.

The rookie quartet - Sophie Winstanley, Sean Phillips, Madeline Harvey and Bethany - can justifiably feel proud of their sterling efforts in three one-act plays which are running at the village Methodist Chapel’s schoolroom until Saturday, April 5.

Marking the centenary of the start of the First World War and 75 years since the start of the Second World War, the plays are set just before the outbreak of conflict.

Families at war form the basis of the first and last offerings, while the second follows the fortunes of a woman’s vain battle to keep a roof over her head amid failing health.

Old Tupton's Chapel Players paresent Lonesome-Like. Pictured left to right are: Sally Mason, Matthew Joynes, Sophie Winstanley, Sean Phillips.

Old Tupton's Chapel Players paresent Lonesome-Like. Pictured left to right are: Sally Mason, Matthew Joynes, Sophie Winstanley, Sean Phillips.

If medals were to be handed out for performance, Sally Mason would be sporting a row of them. As the only company member to appear in all three plays, she conveys a wealth of lines with the ease of an experienced performer in her pivotal roles. She also handles a tricky Lancashire accent with the polish of a professional.

Sally excels in playing the role of dominant matriarch who gets her comeuppance and two of the plays allow her to do just that. Her verbal sparring scenes with Eileen Wildsmith, who plays her avaricious sister in the first play and her critical mother in the last, are pure gold.

Death makes for an unlikely comic subject in the opening play, The Dear Departed, in which mortality really does bring out the worst in families. Siblings squabbling over their inheritance are well portrayed by Sally and Eileen who are supported by Matthew Joynes and Barry Johnson playing their husbands. The oldest and youngest members of the company, Colin Sorrell and 12-year-old Bethany, who have 68 years between them, play grandad and granddaughter, with the former bringing a shock twist to the play.

A fascinating video about the history of the three plays and the personalities who helped to make the news over the 28 years in which they are set is shown while backstage crew dress the stage for the second play.

In a night of contrasts, the bright reds and pinks of the neat living room in the first offering give way to a slightly untidy, dark home where the gloom is lifted slightly by a candle and gas lamp. This sets the scene for Lonesome-Like by Harold Brighhouse, a poignant yet heart-warming tale of a millworker whose years of toil have taken their toll on her hands and she faces the grim prospect of moving to a workhouse.

Two young workers from the mill bring light into her bleak surroundings, one helping her in her current plight, the other offering her a bright new future.

Marvellous performances from Sally Mason in the lead role, Sophie Winstanley and Sean Phillips who play the mill workers and Matthew Jones as the curate make this a moving and thought-provoking play.

The players return to comedy, albeit bitter-sweet, for their third offering, Fumed Oak by Noel Coward. Played out in a brightly decorated living room and set in 1936, this two-scene offering features three generations of women and a hen-pecked husband. Barry Johnson gives a wonderful rendition of the mild-mannered spouse who eventually snaps and tells gran, mum and daughter exactly what he thinks of them.

Fine characterisations from Eileen Wildsmith as moaning grandma, Sally Mason as the domineering wife and newcomer Madeline Harvey as the snivelling teenage daughter contribute to this well crafted presentation.

The company’s next production is Vinegar by DJD Smart which will be staged on April 16 and 17. To book, call 01246 860601.

GAY BOLTON