‘Beyond a Joke’ is a 1980 mystery thriller, with a blend of farcical comedy; written by Bradford playwright and actor, Derek Benfield. Derek appeared for 8 years as Walter Greenhalgh in ‘Coronation Street’, then in ‘Hetty Wainwright’ and ‘First of the Summer Wine’.
This hilarious play of confusion and disasters is being presented by the longest continuous running, amateur theatre group in metropolitan WA, the ‘Garrick Theatre Club’.
This 2-hour show of chuckles can be seen every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8.00 pm at the Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street in Guildford, until Saturday 4th August. The Sunday matinées are at 2.00 pm on the 22nd and 29th July.
The scenario: A Friday evening at Jane and Andrew’s upmarket country house in central England.
The set: It is a split set, featuring both the lounge and walled garden. Considering the diminutive size of the stage, it is an impressive construction. Fred Petersen’s set design was constructed and decorated by Morgan Hyde, Roy Phillips and Miguel Alarco, with a particularly impressive patio area.
The lighting and sound design, along with their operation, was thanks to Edina Boross and Carlisle Kearney. The techs were faced with two VERY different sets on the same stage, and with limited lighting. Some of the lamps are still the old incandescent type, and so in the sitting room there were a few areas with cast shadows and patchy, dim lighting. You both did very well in the circumstances. I liked the chandelier; they are a lot of bother to install, but worth the effort. The new sound system is crisp and clear, perhaps try and get a Lotto grant towards a few more LED lamps.
Smoothly stage managed by Guy Jackson and his assistant Marion West. The man of the house had a couple of tricky entrances and exits, but all went well.
Retired bank manager, Andrew (Peter Neaves) on entering his enclosed garden patio, finds his classy wife, Jane (Taneal Thompson) trying to clean the windows. Unfortunately, their regular window cleaner fell off his ladder and died. The problem is that their home seems to be cursed, as five other tradesmen have also died in most regrettable accidents whilst working there.
Later, as they are having a drink, Jane tells her husband that their daughter Sally (Virginia Moore-Price) and her drip of a boyfriend, Geoff (Chris Kennedy) will be arriving any minute. The conversation then swung around to the new vicar (Alan Shaw), who has asked if he could come around and introduce himself. As the couple are deciding whether it may be preferable not to tell Geoffrey and the vicar about the deaths in the house, just in case the family are misjudged, Geoffrey arrives. He overhears their conversation, misinterprets the situation and is convinced that they intend to kill the vicar.
Andrew’s affectionate and alcoholic sister, Sarah (Sarah House) lands and finds Geoff in the sitting room listening at the window. She introduces herself and offers him a drink. Poor Geoff is now certain that everyone who arrives at the house is going to be murdered – each with a poisoned drink. Then, when the already suspicious boyfriend looks for a soda syphon in the lounge cupboard, and finds a dead body (Guy Jackson) he becomes petrified.
Later in the day the vicar arrives, but to Geoffrey’s horror, so do his parents Audrey (Vicky Williams) and Edgar (David Gribble). Is there any hope for their safety? Will he become an orphan? Have these incidents really been accidents?
Director Andrew Watson has an unusually fine eye for comedy, and recently had a sell-out season at Stirling for his production of ‘‘Allo, ‘Allo’. This is another first class comedy, with a well-chosen cast. Most of the actors have a great deal of stage experience, but Andrew has given a break to Chris Kennedy – a virgin – with his first full length play. With a magnificent comedic cast, great rapport and not a single weak link, Chris conquered his part perfectly.
The misunderstood dialogue called for facial expressions of confusion and despair, as the conversations unfold between the characters. With most convincing performances, the morbid situations seemed to become an everyday occurrence, and the characters became quite blasé about the rising mortality rate, with the circumstances being considered almost reasonable and authentic.
The script is a little ‘old’ but this is a play that calls for superb acting of the situations, rather than delivering simple one-liner jokes. The audience smiled the whole way through, with a few belly laughs thrown in. Guy Jackson did not exactly die on stage, but he did give a rather ‘wooden’ performance – thankfully!! – As he was the wonderful dead body that kept popping up.
With Merri Ford’s 80s style wardrobe – wow! Loved Taneal’s flowery top and matching flowery wellies – the outfits were well chosen.
The whole ‘unbelievable production’ was well rehearsed, and very polished in delivery. Fabulous pace. Superb cast. Great fun, we all need a good laugh now and again.