Sunday, 16 June 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Taking Steps - Heald Green Theatre, Cheadle. Greater Manchester.


Alan Ayckbourn is renowned for writing laugh-out-loud farces. He is the master playwright of situation comedy. With Taking Steps, it's just one hilarious, escalating problem after another and miraculously the play just about comes to a close. Overall, this amateur production by Heald Green Theatre Company did the play justice.

Tristram, a solicitor who fails to string a sentence together, was sent along to overlook the sale of a grand but deteriorating house. It possessed a scandalous past as it used to be a former brothel - said to be haunted by female ghosts. Roland Crabbe, who knew everything there was to know about buckets, and cunning builder, Leslie Bainbridge, were high-maintenance clients. Unfortunately for Roland, his wife Elizabeth was one step away from leaving him with the assistance of her brother Mark and his deeply unhappy fiancé, Kitty. This play was a mirthful muddle of misapprehensions, misinterpretations, and misunderstandings.

Rani Jackson played the expressive Elizabeth. As her character was a dancer she was appropriately the most over-the-top performer in the ensemble. This made her constant reminders of her job role all the more rib-tickling. Sanjiv Joshi's Mark worked intermittently, but not on the whole. Yes, the character of Mark was meant to be boring and send anyone to sleep (even if what he had to say was actually interesting) but he underplayed it rather than over-performed it. My guess is Joshi interpreted the stage directions too literally - because this was a farce you have to over-do the dullness. During the performance, Joshi broke the golden rule by breaking character to ask the prompt what his line was. It goes without saying you wait for the prompt to prompt you. At least he recovered well.

The clumsy, hopeless, babbling, easily-scared, non-sensical but loveable, Tristram was adeptly portrayed by Charles De Santis. His comic timing and gormless face was great. Think of his Tristram (looks and personality) as a less sophisticated Q from Skyfall. Lee Tipton gave a notable performance as the rather starry-eyed and obtuse builder, Leslie. Paul Reid owned the role of Roland, who was comically full of himself and, similar to Mark, could also send you off to dreamland wittering on about buckets. That's if his high consumption of whisky didn't send him to sleep first. Amy Pullar played the beautiful, broken-hearted Kitty, she brought out the mystery surrounding who she was and her story.

Directed by Dave Carney, he ensured the comedic confusions and entanglements were highlighted to full effect. While the direction and characterisation was similar to what had been done professionally before, the cast and creatives still made the play their own. The walking up and down the stairs idea was whimsical all the way through, although the number of stairs travelled wasn't clear. Giving further constructive criticism, I personally liked how the performance gently lured us into the world of the play at the start, before it became faster in pace. However, the pacing, entrances and exits could have been sharper and faster at times.

Onstage was a realistic set comprised of two bedrooms and one living room, as designed by Carney. It resembled the design of the 2017 production of Taking Steps by Stephen Joseph's Theatre Company. Except tonight's production was not in the round, the staging was end on. The furniture and props were spaced out nicely. While the action within scenes happened in insolation, there were moments where what was said cleverly connected with what was happening in another room. We learnt that while each character lived there separate lives, they were all very much connected. Actions had consequences, which affected everyone.

The Heald Green Theatre is a small and local venue which hosts plays, musicals, and pantomimes annually, as performed by the in-house amateur theatre company. It's a tight-knit creative community of young and old people alike who share a love of theatre and performing. I'll certainly be back to watch future productions and I recommend you visit them too. Thank you to Martin who was on front of house for making me feel welcome. All things considered, Heald Green Theatre Company are making a move in the right direction with Taking Steps: entertaining and funny.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 15/6/19

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