Bath Unity Players, The Rondo Theatre, Bath Thursday 12th May 2011. Directed by Les Goodwin



Graeme Savage reports :


The Farndale series of plays have received something of a cult following amongst amateur dramatic societies, and it is easy to understand why, as the audience is given a glimpse behind-the-scenes at the true battles facing the performers in getting a production from ‘page to stage’.


Using the conceit of a performance for Townswomen Guild Drama Festival Area Finals, Bath Unity Players threw themselves enthusiastically into their intentionally shambolic production of Macbeth, with last minute changes of cast, witches in wheelchairs, missing props, sometimes too many props and much more crammed into a surprisingly short running time.


The key to making a success of productions such as this, like the better known Noises Off, is strong stage management and precise lighting cues, and here the stage crew, led by Paul Derrick, excelled as the stage became littered with superfluous props, costumes and lights and sound effects made their appearance (or non-appearance) at the most intentionally inappropriate of moments!


Lynda Tucker as Thelma, who takes the lead role of the Scottish King, and Philip Thorpe, as the stage manager co-erced into donning a dress to play Lady Macbeth, both excelled and led the rest of the cast with confidence. Their delivery of the Shakespearean dialogue was also very confident, and ensured that the audience could follow whatever remained of Shakespeare’s original. Dan Hinchliff Walz’s rapid-fire delivery of the events of the final act was brilliantly executed, and a real highlight.


Unfortunately, I feel that comedy has to be rooted in reality to really work, and for me, too much of what happens to the Farndale Ladies’ production is too far-fetched and just too silly to really work as a production. This also seemed to affect the other performers, as the rest of the cast become lost in a flurry of costume changes, abortive entrances, muddled lines and cut scenes (from Shakespeare’s original). Whereas Noises Off takes a lot of time to set-up the characters off-stage personas and reasons why a show can degenerate into a shambles, this production seemed to be in too much of a rush to get to the next gag or set-up, and I didn’t feel that we could relate to their situations. Instead, it felt that we were laughing at the Unity Players performers themselves, rather than the ladies of the Townswomen’s Guild. Likewise, some of the running gags – the continual forgetting of Mr. Peach’s name, the repeated early entrance of Kate’s Hecate and the performers acting on the wrong side of the set, just because it was set the wrong way around – felt too contrived and delivered too heavy-handedly. Mr. Peach’s continual ‘making-up’ at the side of the stage also seemed somewhat distracting.


It is difficult to judge the direction of a play like this, which is intentionally supposed to fall apart, but I would suggest that, ironically for a farce, the pace could actually have slowed a little to allow the characters to develop a little more, for example, the lines from Mrs. Reece explaining the reasons behind the cast changes, and why Henry was so familiar with Lady M’s dialogue were unfortunately thrown away at the beginning. I have seen and enjoyed the Farndale Mikado, so it’s not that I don’t ‘get’ the material, but whereas other plays with similar situations feel like a show genuinely falling apart before your eyes, this Macbeth felt more like a sketch show, jumping from one gag to the next, with a couple of recurring catch phrases.


Overall, I will admit that I didn’t particularly enjoy the production – the script not really allowing a talented company to really show us what they can do. However, the cast were clearly working hard, and enjoying the opportunity to do something ‘different’, and the opening night audience enjoyed the over-the-top characters and situations, which were just a little too removed from ‘real-life’ for me to do this company justice.