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This season’s Severn Hill play can be accurately summarised as a game of two halves. Tom Stoppard was the game – that once risqué playwright in the hands of two student directors. Debutants both, I understand, Rob Cross and Seb Constantine were tasked with keeping a good crowd of Salopians entertained for two hours, which they accomplished admirably.
The first half, ‘The Real Inspector Hound’, is an old chestnut of a play-within-a-play, viewed through the eyes of two critics who then become immersed in it. Sharply observed by a superb Ali Webb as Birdboot – “all panache, élan and éclair” I wrote – and his more thoughtful colleague Dan Edwards as Moon, this play cracked along at a great pace. Amy Stockdale as Mrs Drudge was accurate, Harry Bullock as Simon Gascoyne slightly flighty, both projected really well. Vicky Horbach played Felicity Cunningham as nicely naïve, could have been a little more waspish, before Ed Holroyd arrived in drag to pour energy, verve and a good dose of lipstick credibility into Cynthia Muldoon. House plays are great for indulging in a bit of cross-dressing, but it was nice to see that Ed had shaved too: the director’s attention to detail to be commended. More gravitas, and fine comic timing was supplied by Matt Waterworth’s Major Muldoon, borrowing from Blackadder’s General Melchett perhaps, before another pastiche, this time distinctly Fawltian, burst onto the scene with Mark Huang as ‘The Hound’ – positively barking. Made one consider how many classic comedies are being enjoyed during Top Schools…A resounding A* for Mr Cross – and I never saw the Body (Ed Mallett) twitch once.
Following up we were treated to the delightfully bonkers ‘After Magritte’. Apparently Charlie Farquhar, huge in this play and gaining in stature each time I see him, suffered a concussion the previous day on the rugby pitch. I was concerned to see a bucket on the stage (chundering a nasty side effect of concussion, and I was pleased to sit next to Matron for the performance), but fortunately this was simply a prop. Charlie, as Harris, carried the scene with good support from Daisy McConnel as Thelma. This is a difficult piece of theatre, tricky for Daisy to pull off as the sniping is pretty surreal between the two leads and needs to click, but they both did well. More gender bending for Jack Nelson as Mother who needed to get more into character and hold the stage a little more, although that will come with age and confidence. No lack of confidence however from Lisle Gannon as a convincing Inspector Foot, good delivery and comedic timing that improved throughout the performance, while his sidekick Holmes was played by Ed Plaut with all the enthusiam of an Andrex puppy. I felt overall the flow was not quite as slick as ‘Hound’, but the players gave a worthy performance and Mr Constantine deserves an 'A' for some capable direction of a difficult subject.
The telly is rubbish in the evening. That was ostensibly my last viewing of a Severn Hill play, certainly where I have a connection with the cast and crew, but it made me reflect on what cracking entertainment is available, week in week out in the Ashton Theatre and what fools we are to disregard it.