And Then There Were None – review (Old Buckenham Players, 20th May 2022)
Now in the course of producing this podcast, I’m aiming to review as many shows as possible. I’m unlikely to see a show every week or however frequently I put out these podcasts, but taking in as much theatre as I do, the shows will always be of varying quality. However, I’m not looking to needlessly stick the boot in on shows I didn’t enjoy for whatever reason. Of course, I will endeavour to be as honest as possible, but I’d prefer to use this platform as a means of celebrating the good and highlighting the positives if I can.
Why am I saying this? Well, I watched a play last week in a little Norfolk village called Old Buckenham. It was Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and it was produced by the Old Buckenham Players. Now, I’ve been part of groups very similar to them in the past, and so I’m well aware of the limitations that they operate under. For instance, I was part of a (now defunct) group called Jubilee Players, who had some of the same issues that Old Buckenham Players appear to have. For example, the size of the cast in the play meant there was a couple of older actors portraying characters that should have been cast much younger. Also, being based out in the sticks as it were, they look as though they’re struggling to attract new members. The problem with this is, with no real competition for parts, actors in groups such as this can take it for granted that they’ll be cast, whether they’re right for the role or not. Even if they are good actors, this can still affect the quality, as they are not pushed to improve.
I appreciate this is quite a long intro to the review when I haven’t yet told you about the performance. I was just keen to ensure you know a bit about my background with groups similar to Old Buckenham Players, so that my review isn’t seen as patronising in any way. I’m not looking to make enemies, and I’m keen to celebrate what’s good about the things I’ve seen, but I will be critical sometimes too when I feel it’s justified. So, let’s get into it, shall we.
Overall, the quality of acting was good, but it was marred somewhat by a couple of hammy performances. It was frustrating as this could have been easily resolved by the Director pulling them aside and letting them know that this was a murder mystery they were performing, not a farce or a panto, and that they didn’t need to play up to the audience to try and score needless laughs. It sort of cheapened it and lost some of the tension that the script was trying to build. Speaking of tension being lost, there was also some unnecessarily long gaps between scenes, and there’s a reason I haven’t called them scene changes, because the setting was the same throughout. I genuinely could not understand why there was such long gaps between scenes when there almost nothing in the way of costume changes either. This combined with the fact that there were two intervals only served to drain any of the tension and emotion that had been building. And I’m afraid after the second interval, you couldn’t help watching the clock.
That said, there was some genuinely good performances. Now, I make no apologies for any spoilers here, as this isn’t The Mousetrap. Tom Key as Philip Lombard excellently maintained his character throughout and took the show by the scruff of the neck to heighten the drama in the third act as the walls closed in on those left standing. Paul Woodhouse as Justice Wargrave offered a really commanding presence particularly in the early stages, and then switched with ease to a more menacing stance in the latter stages. And Jennie Reavey’s experience on stage shone through in her performance as Mrs Brent. She played a truly deplorable character, and it was to Jenny’s credit that she made it look effortless.
The set was excellent, really well designed, and they’d clearly worked hard on making sure things such as doors being blown open by the wind were perfectly in sync with sound effects. It was also admirable that they weren’t afraid to play around with the lighting, I know some directors would have shied away from having a quite so dimly lit stage, but actually, they managed really well to create a feeling of claustrophobia.
I hope the group can attract some fresh blood, because they appear to have an excellent set-up, with a good team of people behind them. This is the kind of group that adds real value to its community, by bringing a decent portion of the village together to put on shows in a venue of the kind that is largely ignored by smaller touring companies, which is a shame, because how full the village hall was shows that there is a real appetite for it.