NODA review of Farndale Avenue’s Macbeth

by Richard Fitt

at a performance on 13th March 2018

Apart from being a contender for the longest play title in theatre history, this is one of a series of farces about how NOT to put on a production. This was written by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin as part of a series known as the Farndale Avenue series, ten in total they include a tilt at Shakespeare, Dickens, Gilbert and Sullivan and even Murder Mystery. They are also incredibly difficult to review as everything that does go wrong was probably meant to. On that basis I will proceed.

We were greeted at the theatre entrance by the wonderfully formidable Mrs Reece, perfectly pitched by Johanna Beech, handbag always at the ready (even carrying it later as Lady McDuff), who, once we are seated struggles to explain the production we are going to see, only of course to find nothing is quite ready or works properly.

When the curtain finally opens we discover, Minnie (Vicki Roberts) playing Banquo has lost her voice, the actress playing Lady Macbeth has gone off to the chemist and got on the wrong bus so won’t be back in time and the set of arches depicting Cawdor Castle have been erected the wrong way round, which nobody notices for the first 10 minutes. I have to say the ‘real crew’(The Monday Team) under the guidance of stage manager Gerry Stafford did an amazing job of turning it back around in a very short space of time. It was ironically almost incongruous to the plot it was so slick and the final version almost too perfect.

So into the breech (oops sorry, wrong play!) reluctantly steps backstage stalwart, Henry (Kevin French) to play Lady Macbeth because he ‘more or less’ knows the lines. This was very cleverly played as he started off totally self-conscious and then gains in confidence as ‘the play’ progresses with comic results until he finally gets stuck in a closed loop of repetition. Yep, we have all been there!!

Macbeth, played by Thelma (Emma Legg) struggles to remain concentrated whilst all around her disintegrates, her facial expressions of high intensity whilst others were losing it just highlighted the comedy. Particularly shown up where Banquo (Vicki Roberts – aka Minnie) was struggling to project with a non-existent voice. If anybody wants to know how clever that is try speaking in a horse voice for a whole play without damaging your vocal chords.

Our three witches, also playing many other parts between them, Felicity, Kate and Dawn (Julie Black, Jenny Tymon-Robins, Sue Walmsley) were certainly up for making a comic mockery of The Bard, with those brilliant fancy dress shop noses, left on whilst playing other parts, Dawn losing her glasses resulting in doing the murder scene blind was another stand out piece of comedy.
And then there was the exasperated stage manager Mr Plummer (Steve Spring) trying to keep things together and determined to get the play to the Welwyn Garden City Finals against all the odds. Particularly well done with the speed reading of the script to keep the play within time limits for the competition.

And looking on all this mayhem was our cross-dressing adjudicator Mr Peach (Steff Keightley), whose name went through a metamorphosis of a fruit salad in the hands of Mrs Reece. After putting on his makeup and wig whilst watching the play he finally gives his wonderful, off the wall bizarre adjudication in full drag. Brilliant!

Talking of drag, Virginia Pope and Susan Moore did their usual splendid job with the costumes and wigs, adding fake beards to their already extensive repertoire of wonderful medieval attire.

The ‘amateur’ props department (in reality – Sue Lander) never failed to get a laugh with: falling moons, dangling dolls and snow, daggers on fishing rods and that absolutely fantastic trolley with the ‘head of Banquo,’ the rest of the actor’s body being covered in a dust sheet like a pantomime horse. That had the audience in stitches. As could be said of the lighting (Sam Whatley & Sam Toner) and sound (Nathan Grovier) which provided blackouts in all the wrong places and comically inappropriate sound effects, the timing of the comic doorbell for example was a classic! Add to that some truly awful but very funny keyboard playing from Zandra Saxby and this play was complete, or should I say incomplete.

All in all Director Zandra Saxby did a great job with what is a very difficult play to pull off well. I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, and I’m afraid there is a small but, I’m not sure the audience knew what to make of it. There were times when they were belly laughing, interspersed with times of not quite knowing how to react and times where they were looking at each other wondering what to think. I know the play, so things like an empty stage where an ‘actor’ had failed to make an entrance I know to be deliberate, but if you were seeing it for the first time you could be left thinking in places what was that all about. A good example would be the final bow, taken in character by all the actors, so we clapped lamely at the disastrous production of Macbeth, as I presume we were meant to, curtain closes and we await a proper bow. Never happened, or as my partner succinctly said, the play didn’t so much end, it just stopped! The audience remained sitting in silence for almost a full minute before finally somebody led the way and left, somewhat bemused.

One thing you can’t fault at Sharnbrook is the hospitality, which was as usual extremely welcoming, and we were looked after royally, as always. Many thanks to Annette and Dave, Appreciated guys.