Photos Reviews

The Noble Spaniard

November 1997

by W Somerset Maugham, directed by Holly Shakespeare


Lady Proudfoot - Margaret Butt

Mr Justice Proudfoot (her husband) - Gordon Halliday

Marion Nairne (a young widow) - Bridget Deasy

Lucy (her sister) - Helen Turner

James, the Butler - Brian Bowker

Captain Chalford - Cass Thorne

Count de Moret (a Frenchman) - Peter King

Countess de Moret (his English Wife) - Shan Howes

The Duke of Hermanos (a Spaniard) - John Palmer

Production Team:

Director - Holly Shakespeare

Producer and Stage Manager - Eric Hume

Wardrobe - Isle Morgan

Set Design - Clare Girvan

Set Decoration - Sylvia Brace & Rose Gander

Set Construction - Barry Hook and team

Publicity - Maureen Whitt

Lighting - Stuart Yerrell, Margaret Yerrell & Peter Tapp

Music - Geoffrey Brace

Properties - Clare Girvan & Rose Gander

Prompt - Lynn Leger

Poster Design - Clare Girvan

Front of House - Ann McMenamin and team

Photographs - Nick Toyne, Graham Ward & Alex Leger


From Estuary News:

polished, witty and cunningly constructed ...

I suppose it is ungallant to admit that the excellence of this presentation came as a delightful surprise. In recent years I have reviewed 6 plays by the company and seen 6 others. They were all enjoyed to a varying degree by cast and audience but in my reviews I could not ignore some avoidable flaws and I confess I have been 'economical with the truth'. About this play I have no reservations. It is one of the best amateur productions I have seen for many years. The Players now have a very high standard to live up to. I think they can do it.

On two occasions the understanding and consequent enjoyment of the chosen plays were seriously impaired by unfortunate programmes. That for The Noble Spaniard was attractive, informative and clear. Our first experience was the sight of the stage set as we entered the hall. It was beautiful in colour and design and gave a guide to the atmosphere of the 1890s. The lighting was very effective and the music, in spite of the hall's bathroom acoustics, helped to set the appropriate mood. It was all so impressive that I re-read the programme. I found that there was a clear and effective division of authority. To enable Holly Shakespeare as 'Director' to concentrate on all that happened on stage, all the logistics were controlled by Eric Hume, known as 'Producer'. He has had distinguished experience of the professional stage and worked well with an able and reliable team. The results of this arrangement were admirable.

Now for the play! The first act opened with the traditional social grouping of the Maugham, Wilde and Coward school. (Agatha Christie prefers a library.) Several attractive ladies in decorative period clothes were having coffee and discussing the exciting news of the impending arrival of a distinguished nobleman. The use of a fan indicated the special importance to the plot of Bridget Deasy as Marion, a beautiful young widow.

The only male present was our old friend Gordon Halliday, playing the part of a 'curmudgeon'. During his recent service as a member of a prestigious quango, he had perfected the technique of uttering sardonic asides inaudible to the cast, but not the audience. (Both Shakespeares knew all about this practice!) He was here as Mr Justice Proudfoot, married to the long-suffering Margaret Butt who, undervalued by Gordon once more, preened herself in preparation for the substitute attentions of the exciting Spaniard. Her performance added much to the comedy.

(By this time it is appropriate to praise the costumes, male and female, and the stage furnishing. It is the best costumed play I have seen in the Matthews Hall.)

At last came the big moment. Enter like a fire-ball John Palmer as the Spanish Duke. (Bridget Deasy to her fan) 'It is he'. And it was. The Duke gave his all: movement, body language and purple patches of Spanglish - 'he went about as far as he could go' - or as the Director would allow. He concentrated his wit on the widow, while Cass Thorne, his antithesis, as a strong silent Englishman made a slow honourable approach to Helen Turner, Marion's attractive young sister. At this stage misunderstandings became the stuff of farce, with the traditional entrances and exits immaculately organised.

Throughout the action Shan Howes, as the English wife of the french Count de Moret, had been charmingly soothing and encouraging. Her husband, a french version of Peter King, came on stage to add to the confusion. The conversation between him and the Duke was wildly amusing.

As in The Cherry Orchard, I leave Brian Bowker to the end. He does not fit into the plot but is a palpable presence; the archetypal retainer. Agatha Christie likes butlers and sometimes allows one to do a little murder; Brian Bowker may sometime have his day, but this could involve learning words other than 'The Spanish gentleman is here again sir!'

At the end of the play all was suddenly made clear and the audience gave the actors rapturous and prolonged applause - very well deserved.

To sum it up; it was a polished, witty and cunningly constructed comedy with elements of farce. The stage craft was most successful in the meticulous movement of players (no easy task). Dialogue was notably effective; it took the form of flowing conversation rather than, as in much amateur drama, a series of separate speeches conscientiously learnt and previously recited to anyone willing to listen.

I am grateful for the privilege of reviewing The Noble Spaniard.

- Reviewed by: James Smeall


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