NODA review of Stop! The Play

Review by Richard Fitt

Performance on 25th May 2023

Director: Nicole Macdonald
Writer: David Spicer
Producer: Bridie Gibbs

Wow! What on earth have I just seen? As regards the plot I don’t think anybody knows, including the actors themselves. All I know is I have just seen one of the funniest and side splitting shows I’ve been to in years. In fact my ribs are still hurting as I write this! David Spicer’s script, in the tradition of ‘Noises Off’ or ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ follows the rehearsal schedule of a Play that is both under the direction of a totally out of his depth and inexperienced director and a script that is continually being rewritten.  Or as it says in the publicity blurb: Five neurotic actors, one stressed Stage Manager, a crazed director, an invisible playwright and an escaped monkey are desperately rehearsing the world’s worst play, which keeps being rewritten.  To quote the old cliché, what could possibly go wrong?

Well as far as the action is concerned, absolutely everything, as far as the production is concerned, absolutely nothing! In the hands of a lesser society this script is a disaster looking for somewhere to happen, and potentially the worst two hours of a play critics life; but in the hands of Director Nicole Macdonald with assistant Director/stage manager Condoleezza Hankins and these seven actors it turned out to be an absolutely side-splitting masterpiece! Comedy at its ultimate best, the pace of which was absolutely sublime!

For the first half, the set (by Kevin Beirne, Ian Poole, Gerry Stafford, Richard West) was the half built stage for The Play with bare unfinish panels, a rehearsal table, an old dresser and a couple of chairs. The second half was the ‘deliberately’ completely unrelated set for the eventual ‘Play’ they put on, finally called ‘Banksy Ain’t Gay.’  Which consisted of a blank wall stage left and a ‘Banksy’ style painting of a man spray painting a man spray painting a man spray painting a man spray painting…

Lighting (credited to Volunteers) was equally clever with ‘incorrect,’ hilarious funny cues and with sound (by Mark Luckin and Elaine Waterhouse) absolutely spot on music cues with such effects as a transistor radio broadcast that was completely authentically amplified.

Costumes (by Virginia Pope and The Pin up Girls) were modern casual clothes for the rehearsal and of course brilliantly ill thought ones out for the play itself. Combined with the change of hair colours and styles, some of which were so well done I was actually momentarily confused as to who the actresses were when they came back on in the second act!  Linda’s (Emma Legg) suit and hair as the reporter was an amazing transformation. Upstaging everything has to be the wigs; (by Susan Moore),  the sight of David Mander’s appearance in an ill-fitting ginger wig was a side-splitting moment in its own right.

I have no idea what was in the script and what the director added, but cleverly the action started long before the metaphorical curtain rose, with Hugh (David Mander) sitting in the galley above the stage going through his script and marking it, to eventually be joined on the stage below by Linda (Natalie Macphail). And, there were lots of clever such tricks peppered throughout the performance.

David Mander is fast becoming the go to comedy actor at the Mill, and with this performance, is likely to be so for some time to come yet! His facial expressions, his comic timing, his delivery and his range of characterisation is second to none! Absolutely faultless performance!

Natalie Macphail is no comic slouch either with the delivery of wonderfully timed cutting comments and a total mastery of the sarcasm within the script. Emma Legg, with equally brilliant comic timing, was a great foil for Natalie, as the reporter interviewing her about the Banksy. Whilst Gemma Marie played a frustrated stage manager to just the right pitch coping with an incompetent director and an escaped masturbating monkey! Sublimely done ladies!

Tom Carter as the Director, Evelyn, took being out of your depth to a whole new level; The off the cuff expressions of panic when things went wrong, i.e most of the time and his ineptitude to correct them were comedy genius. Despite, as it says in the programme ‘having little experience of amateur theatre,’ he certainly held his own in this company!

Ethan Leigh, whom I have not seen before, nailed the camp character of Kriston taking it to just the right comedic level using every pose in the book and, like the rest of the cast with a perfect sense of timing.

Almost my favourite character, probably because my age relates so well, has to be Jon Coop as the old lothario, Walter. His anecdotes, such as, ‘I took my kit off once, I was only the usher but it got me noticed,’ were absolutely hilarious delivered lines as he bumbled his way through, his memory failing him and thinking he was losing it, when in fact he was probably the most sane character in it. Loved it!

In doing my research I noticed it had very mixed reviews when it was first professionally staged back in 2015, One critic even said it was so bad it was unwatchable.  But as I said at the beginning, in the hands of a lesser crew this would have been impossible to pull off, brilliantly acting badly is not an easy gig, but thanks to Nicole Macdonald and this amazing talented cast, some of whom I note are fully professionally trained, I doubt very much if any West End theatre could do a better job of it than Sharnbrook Mill Theatre. If ever I wonder why I love my job, perfect evenings like this are quick to remind me.