Havant Literary Festival - Saturday 3rd October 2009
South Downs Literary Festival - Friday 12th March 2010
All England Theatre Festival - Friday 18th March 2010
Directed by Jacquie Penrose
Alan, Jack and Lulu once starred together in a production of 'The Cherry Orchard'. Now, years later, they all meet again by chance after their lives have taken very different paths, with only Alan still clinging on in the "business" in small walk-on parts. They tell very different stories about their relationship all those years ago, and their reunion is not what any of them would have hoped.
The play initially takes the form of a number of monologues spoken by each character as they recall events both in the recent and distant past. Alan, Jack and Lulu recount their recent chance meetings at the local theatre. In doing so they also recall their time together many years ago when they were actors with a repertory theatre company and in particular when they all featured in a production of 'The Cherry Orchard', by Anton Chekhov. Both Jack and Lulu have now moved on to other professions, but Alan is still treading the boards in a series of bit parts.
Years later, the local theatre is again staging 'The Cherry Orchard' and Alan has a small part in the touring production. Jack, it appears, works as a front of house volunteer and, in passing, Lulu buys a ticket for the performance on impulse in homage to the character she played all those years ago. Having met by chance at the theatre, they agree to meet up again for a drink and a chat in the local pub after the show. The action moves briefly from monologues, to a scene where the audience see them interact with each other. The scene goes from pleasant recollection, to the out-pouring of bitter resentment and recriminations for grudges long-harboured. The conclusion of the piece takes an unexpected twist and without wanting to spoil the ending, it appears that what we think we have seen all along, may not necessarily have been the whole story. With a minimal set (a table and three chairs) and no specific lighting requirements, the company was able to tour the production with ease.
This play was initially taken on a brief tour of local colleges and educational establishments in September of 2009, a free educational event made possible by financial support from "Awards for All". It was then staged at The United Reform Church Hall, North Street, Havant (as part of the Havant Literary Festival 2009) to a sell-out audience. The reception for the play was outstanding and audience reaction was overwhelmingly congratulatory.
The production was reprieved the following year (March 2010) for the South Downs Literary Festival and, a week later for the opening round of the All England Theatre Festival at the Hangar Farm Arts Centre in Totton, where it almost swept the board winning multiple awards. David Penrose won "Best Actor" for his portrayal as Jack; both Ingrid Corrigan & Peter Corrigan were nominated for their performances. The play itself was overall runner-up and Writer/Director Jacquie Penrose claimed both "Best Director" and "Best Original Script" for her work. As runner-up, the play gained automatic entry to the next round of the competition in June 2010, but sadly the cast and director were unavailable for those dates.
The Totton performance, was also the final theatre performance of beloved member and Bench Theatre stalwart Peter Corrigan, who sadly died in May 2010. Writer/Director Jacquie Penrose was asked to contribute an article to the July 2010 edition of "Bench Press" recalling her experience at the festival and recounted fondly her experience in working with Peter for the last time. Her notes appear below.
|Set Design||Jacquie Penrose|
Those of us who have been involved in the Totton experience (the Totton round of the All England Amateur Theatre Festival) were asked to write something about it for this newsletter. Peter's sudden and much regretted death intervened. However, as his portrayal of Alan in 'The Party Guest' at Totton in March was in fact his final performance for The Bench, I thought it might be appropriate to say something about both.
Personally I feel proud - pleased? grateful? (words aren't easy to find in these circumstances) that I wrote the last role he played. The whole project was designed round Pete, Ingrid and David - something creative for the recently retired to do during the day. We'd all thoroughly enjoyed the college tour last autumn, and were talking tentatively about how we might repeat the experience. By the time we revived the play for the South Downs Literary Festival and Totton, Peter was already unwell, but you would not have known it from seeing him perform; as always he played the role with total conviction.
His character Alan is a washed-up actor reduced to playing walk-ons, and Pete played him with just the right mixture of comic, self-deluded arrogance, and touching poignancy, making him totally believable. We were all delighted to pick up a range of awards, and pleased that we had been put through to the next round - but not at all sorry when it turned out that none of us would be free to go. In the event, we would have had to withdraw. As for the Totton experience itself, it was a delight to have such a good cast to work with, and it is good to take our work to new venues and new audiences. From that point of view the experience is all good.
A particularly nice touch was the woman who bought a raffle ticket, won tickets for The Crucible, came to see it (first visit to The Bench), loved it, bought another raffle ticket and won two more tickets for Macbeth. Also, the venue at Hangar Farm Arts Centre is a lovely space to play. However, I do have reservations about the adjudication process. While it is always nice to hear compliments about one's work, it is undermined slightly by hearing similar compliments for work of wildly different standards, or hearing criticism of good work for not being what it never set out to be. The Bench's production of Grimm Tales was memorably criticised for not being enough like Wicked. Well no.
So I am pleased we were there this year, and that the play that gave Peter his final role did well. In The Party Guest Peter's character laments, having failed to get the part he wanted - "I could have done something with that. Brought some insight". You did, Peter, as always. Thank you.