Review: Dewsbury Arts Group presents an Evening of Plays

ENTERTAINING PERFORMANCE Dewsbury Arts Group's advance class in Bear's Dead.
ENTERTAINING PERFORMANCE Dewsbury Arts Group's advance class in Bear's Dead.

Getting off to an entertaining start, Dewsbury Arts Group’s Evening of Plays opened with an offering from the advanced class of the thriving youth section of this talented group.

Rocky (Megan Disken) galloped onto the stage with bags of attack immediately establishing her character as the rocking horse who was off its rocker.

As soon as the sheep, a measured and mature performance by Catherine Horner, was introduced as Baaabara it was evident that this play was going to entertain and amuse in equal quantities.

The play, a collaborative piece co-written by the advance class and Richard Brook, tumbles towards solving the mystery of the missing rota.

No spoilers here but suffice it to say that this seemingly unimportant problem is revealed as a real tragedy at the end of the piece.

The characters all have issues with their memories, not least Humpty (Jessica Bailey) sporting a cracked head with pride.

Sophia the fortune teller (Izzy Griffiths) can only talk about the future. Her lovely lilting voice captures the character beautifully. Raggy doll (Caitlin Disken) unselfishly sacrifices her shiny button making the Gerry (Antonia Gospell) share in her grief.

The Indian chief (Isaac England) creates fun with many different options for saying ‘how’ while the Robot (Esme Sandom) creates mayhem after being over-wound. The tin soldier (Ryan Higgins) narrates, holding the intriguing story together.

Interestingly believable performances as a collection of fantasy characters, toys in a toy shop, kept the audience entranced. The title? Bear’s Dead.

I particularly liked the Agatha Christie style ending (or was it more Death in Paradise?) as the tin soldier tried to uncover the murderer. Directed by Richard Brook, this play was an engaging and entertaining start to the evening.

Following this, after a slick set change, Long Ago and Far Away started with the song of the same title immediately creating a contrasting atmosphere.

The scene opened with Laura (Alison Hartley) and her husband, Gus (Chris Fletcher) in an empty apartment, packed and ready to leave. The dialogue had pace and pathos as the optimistic and engaging Gus tried to help a saddened, and maybe slightly apprehensive Laura to look on the bright side.

Seemingly effortlessly these two talented performers draw us into their world and quickly establish the mood and timbre of their relationship. It is perhaps fitting that, following on from the advanced youth group, we see two experienced performers who started their theatrical journey by joining the group’s youth section.

It seemed to me that these were a couple in search of a therapist, the first for his paranoia and the second to, ‘find herself’. When Gus storms out, having fallen into the trap of believing her when she told him to go without her, the plot starts to become somewhat supernatural.

Entering the apartment, Jack (Chris Ward) seems somehow worrying and out of place. The feeling of insecurity created by Chris Ward establishes the contrast between the reality of the first section and the sudden ‘twilight zone’ that Laura finds herself inhabiting.

The smooth scene and lighting change provides a door into the past – the move back to what seemed to be the present, but wasn’t quite, brings with it a character somewhere between a fortune teller and a seaside landlady from foreign climes. (Judith Wood). The nature of this rather surprising character required a performance of subtlety combined with reality, pace and gusto. No apologies. We were not disappointed.

Altogether the emotions surrounding change, moving on, reminiscences and loss were portrayed with believability and commitment. A triumph for Ben Telford’s first outing as a director.

Distinctive and convincing southern American accents set the scene for the final play.

In contrast to the appropriately simplistic settings of the first two plays, American Beauty opens with a tattered, bold American flag centre stage; the back drop for the tattered apartment representing the metaphorically tattered American Dream.

Mommy (Joanne day) and Daddy (Steve Goddard) quickly help the audience into this world of one-up-man-ship, of snobbery, of shallow personalities and superficial emotions. Elegantly crossing her legs with style and precision, Mommy puts me in mind of the typical Dallas/Dynasty powerful woman of the American 1980s. The juxtaposition of Mommy with the downtrodden, compliant and long suffering Daddy is delightfully played by these two actors.

Enter the old American Grandma! Played with excellent comic timing and a slip that keeps on slipping, Carol Ward extracted every ounce of possibilities from this character. She put me in mind of the Grandma from Beverly Hillbillies (I think I’m showing my age!).

The arrival of Mrs Barker (Sue Saville) adds a whole new dimension to the play. She’s offered a smoke a drink or the option of taking off her dress. She decides on the latter! It takes real skill to play this type of bizarre character, being realistically portrayed while acting unrealistically. A well-judged performance.

When the young man who considers himself to be The American Dream arrives, played with confidence and heart by Phil Rushworth, his superficiality and self-love is quite sick making.

The story winds its way through social comment on parenthood, marriage, care of the elderly, social services, adoption and the inexplicable closeness of twins. In parts hilarious, in parts angering and sometimes moving this play is summed up at the end by Grandma who announces that the play is at an end because everyone has what they want, ‘or what they think they want!’ Maria Bailey’s direction successfully maintained clarity to ensure that the audience could follow the rather strange twists and turns of this unusual play.

And so yes, it really was An enthralling Evening of Plays at Artspace.