THE NOBLE SPANIARD
by W. Somerset Maughan
directed by Geoff Millard
Apeel Drama Group
I have watched the creation and growth of this relatively recent amateur theatre company over the last few years with a great deal of admiration and respect. When one considers just what is involved in such an achievement – the devotion, talent, organisation, spirit and dedication shown by such a group of people and their leader, that one’s praise is fulsome and what it means to the local community will, I am sure, become incalculable. Not only that, their recent decision to become a member of our A.C.T. family is welcomed wholeheartedly and with much pleasure.
Your choice of play was not only an interesting one, but a play of historical value which was written originally in 1909 by the still famous writer – W. Somerset Maughan. It has graced the West End stage and professional and amateur theatre companies world-wide, and it would be a fair guess to say, if you were to ask anyone involved in theatre at whatever level wherever, they would have seen it, or been in it, or worked on it, or seen the film, or at least, heard of it. Your version was directed and produced by the vastly experienced and talented Geoff Millard – a founder member of your company, who, in the programme, explains that the play is in the best traditions of farce, which allows people involved “spur of the moment reactions and misunderstandings to entertain”. He chose to set the play in the “traverse” style i.e. with audience on both sides of the action looking inwards, rather than having us all gazing the same way at a stage. This gives the actors ample room to rove – vital in this play where the females are dressed in crinolines, and there is a rumbustious sword fight between two male actors. It also enhanced the feeling that we, the audience, were actually in the room with them and a part of the story, especially when the Duke of Hermanos chatted to individuals throughout, asking them questions when he didn’t understand something, or drawing our attention to a remark, or just to let off steam and involve us. Actors also, from time to time, mask others whereas on stage they try not to turn their backs on others. However, Geoff’s production was more like real life.
The story is set in the living-room of Mr Justice Proudfoot and his wife, Lady Proudfoot. There was sufficient furniture – dining table for four, couch, easy chair, drawers, etc. The stage end of the room was hidden, and the area in front had been converted into a garden which was entered through splendid doors.
Acting is being rather than pretending. We all know that it is pretence but our job as actors is to convince our audience that real life is taking place, and we are all involved in it. I know you are going to say that it is not as easy as that, I’m over simplifying it. I agree, but basically it is true that as we go through life, we are all actors at some part of the day. This is certainly true of farce and the preposterous situations we find ourselves in, as in this play, but which are not funny to us as actors. We are in a situation and the way we cope with it. and get out of it. only to find ourselves deeper in the mire. is only funny to our audience and not to us. Enough of the lecture! I’m only explaining it because in plays like this it is fundamental and I believed every one of you on that stage. Geoff it was who guided you through it, and for you all to give your audience a memorable evening’ entertainment.
There are no individual stars in plays like this one. We all have to play as a team and have to feed off each other, play off, with and for each other. Facial expression is very important – blank faces rarely permitted – I didn’t see one all night. Playing farce is a skill, not a gift – timing is a gift, and reaction is another imperfect word. Rehearsals must have been fun under your all-seeing eye, Geoff. A far from easy play to put together, but Geoff and his cast made it real life for the audience who enjoyed watching these characters dealing with their problems. I felt I was actually there – virtually taking part.
John Essex and Ann Bermingham played our hosts, Mr Justice Proudfoot and his wife, Lady Proudfoot. They had to be all things to all characters, and they were. Such was their technical ability ad belief in the parts they were playing, they gave us a joyous evening. Marion Nairne was played by Helene Hine in her first production for the company. Her various discourses with Hernanos in his indefatigable attempts to unload her from whoever he thought was her husband, were full of humour emphasized by her innate sense of timing. Being in the unfortunate position of having to find a replacement for the character of Lucy within a week of opening night, the company were thrilled to find Gillian Roberts, who came to the rescue with a performance of grace and familiarity, It is far from easy to take on a part at such short notice with little rehearsal, so well done indeed. Michelle Brindley was the maid, Mary Jane, who set a very high standard in dignity and respectful demeanour. Had there been a vacancy at Downton, she would have been No 1 choice. Noel Davies played Captain Chalford opposite Lucy. He played his character with true military bearing, dependability and fortitude. They made a very believable couple. Norman Beaver played the Count de Moret and Emily Kay his wife, the countess; both made the most of what they had to do. In fact, I kept wondering when they were coming on again as I would have liked to see more of both of them. The problem was solved for me in the third act when Norman had this incredible duel with the Duke of Hermanos - their barbed dialogue positively sparkled. Emily played the dutiful, concerned wife to perfection.
Simon Darlington was the noble Spaniard himself and literally commanded that stage whenever he was on it, or whoever he was embroiled with, male or female. He used that room as if he were at home and strutted over every inch there was of it. His involved plans, deceptions and strategies never worked out as the rest of the cast found excuses to put him off and foil his intentions. Dramatically dressed in black and red, he never gave up and all worked out in the end. Tonight we were in the hands of nine actors who gave us an evening of sheer pleasure. They were essentially a team playing for all they were worth, bringing their skill and talents to bear. Geoff had chosen his cast so well and so suitably that I had no difficulty eventually believing I was there with them. The crinolines were a delight and the men’s suits plus Hermanos’ attire spot on. Well done to Mary Millard and all who contributed in any way to this quite memorable production, and, of course, to Geoff Millard for his A.C.T baptism.
Happy playmaking and never forget –“we are such stuff as dreams are made on”.