What They Thought!
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OUR ACTORS achieved an unsurpassed pinnacle of individual and ensemble perfection in their gloriously rich June performance of Noël Coward's Relative Values, as Frederick Crestwell the loquacious butler in the comedy might have said.
Paul Cockburn as Crestwell made it a truly memorable farewell performance displaying all his comic talents in a mastery of Coward's elegant humour with a character of classic farce, the imperious and wise butler who lords it over the confused aristocrats for whom he buttles in their stately mansion in deepest Kent. Of course, he had the blessed gift of delivering many of the best one-liners Coward ever wrote. Since Coward created the butler's dialogue in something of a verbal blizzard getting the delivery just right was something of a triumph. But for Paul the laughs came in all the right places.
He set the humour right from the start in an opening scene with his own daughter Hannah Cockburn as a starry-eyed housemaid whom he sternly lectures about the virtues of domestic service and her station in life in the pecking order of the English class system.
We can but hope that despite Paul's imminent departure, like many actors this is not his final farewell. How many of them can we recall making repeated 'final' tours? Dare we hope that Paul might return one day for a MAD production?
This was a very ambitious production directed by Carolyn Licence with a beautifully chosen cast of ten who created a splendid mixture of class-conscious snobs and down-to-earth realists grappling with the new social order after the Second World War in 1951 when having defeated the Nazi tyrants nobody was ready to go back to the bad old days when the English Upper Classes looked down on the Middle Classes to the depths of the Lower Classes. The very talented team behind the scenes transformed a dusty stage into a real posh drawing room which looked to the manor born.
The upper classes are given symbolic presence by a harrumphing Admiral and his snooty wife who throughout the play punctuate the proceedings by looking down their long noses at anything and everything which they consider beneath them, (a great double-act by Malcolm Dodds and Pat Woodison). Observing the proceedings is a family relative, Peter, (played by Jon Cox) who stirs the pot when he gets the chance.
A crisis is created when the Countess of Marshwood learns that her feckless son and heir, Nigel (played by Glenn Crane) is returning to the stately home with a Hollywood actress called Miranda Frayle whom he proposes to marry. It turns out that the long-time lady's maid, Moxie, is the estranged sister of the star actress. Moxie despises Miranda as a 'painted hussy' who ran away to America 20 years earlier leaving her alone to care for their dying mother. She hands in her notice which makes the Countess realise that after 20 years of service the maid has become a lifelong friend and she cannot bear to see her go. Prompted by Crestwell, the maid is promoted to guest in the stately home sharing cocktails, dining with her unsuspecting sister and demolishing the Class barrier at a stroke. The most demanding and yet rewarding role was magnificently dominated by Jan Luff as Felicity, the Dowager Countess who hardly leaves the stage as she outmanoeuvres the intruder from Hollywood encouraged, of course, by Crestwell and Moxie. The Coward dialogue weaves a plot of intense complexity and gleeful mischief as the Hollywood star graphically describes her early life of poverty in the London slums. Alas, her older sister took to the bottle and expired some years earlier, says Miranda, little realising that her sister, Moxie, is sitting beside her very much alive and squirming. I swear you could almost see wisps of fury rising from Pauline Friend in the role of Moxie. Another sustained and convincing performance.
Alice Phillips was equally steamy as Miranda in the role of the beautiful Hollywood star who has soaked up studio publicity for so long that she has virtually begun to believe the tripe written about her in the fan magazines. She spreads deep dismay when she starts telling her future mother-in-law, Felicity, how she is going to re-organise everything when she becomes lady of the manor. So Miranda seals her own fate. She has to go.
She is delivered into the hands of the conspirators by the arrival of her screen co-star Hollywood heartthrob Don Lucas (played by Tony Weller) who has come to reclaim her and save her from the English aristocracy. The farce escalates into chaos when Nigel is confronted with his fiance's true nature and Moxie reveals she is her shttp://www.mrdf.org.uk/pages/harvest_service.phpister. Far from being dragged up in the London slums, she declares, Miranda was actually born at a perfectly respectable address at 3, Station Road, Sidcup. (Let us all rush to Sidcup to check that out!)
Of course, the fantastic coincidence of the sisters being thrown together in such circumstances after 20 years and six thousand miles apart stretches credulity to breaking point. The skilled actors take full credit for making the audience accept it as if it occurred every other day. Fantastic coincidence is at the heart of the very best farce.
In the end Miranda departs with Don back to Hollywood, Felicity is restored as lady of the manor and Moxie resumes her proper role in life as ladies maid.
So Mr. Coward is telling us in 1951 that the breakdown of the social order is not imminent and the old order will resist the post-war revolution. Crestwell raises a glass of sherry and toasts "the inglorious disintegration of the most unlikely dream that ever troubled the foolish heart of man - Social Equality."
Some will say that Noël Coward got that badly wrong. But look around. Social equality may not have disintegrated. But it still looks a bit ragged round the edges.
This was a sparkling performance by an enthusiastic cast and it was well received by the large audience. Hopefully MAD will increase support from all the churches in the circuit and get a longer run for future productions.
FOOTNOTE : For those who admired the stamina of Jan Luff, a check shows that she had 915 lines to learn. Is this a record worthy of the Guinness Book of Records? James Murray
We were MADly impressed with Relative Values. Well done to all involved. Elizabeth G
Very Good M'Lady - as indeed were all the rest of the cast and backstage crew. Derek
Crestwell and the Countess could solve any crisis! Well done to them and to all the cast and backstage crew for another excellent MAD production. The only negative was that Relative Values [probably] saw Paul and Hannah take their final MAD curtain calls - they certainly went out on a high. Ruth
The cast responded in wonderful fashion under Carolyn’s expert direction, and congratulations also go to the backstage crew, set builders, lighting, sound, props, costumes - in fact, everyone involved in this highly successful production. Adrian
Really enjoyed my first experience of a "MAD" evening. The characterisation was very good, and I was most impressed with the set. Well done to the director, the cast, and everyone involved. Laraine
Relative Values - expertly directed by Carolyn. The cast was fantastic - they all deserved an Oscar, especially Felicity, played by Jan - 915 lines - what a memory! In my opinion the set was good enough to grace the London stage. Well done all of you. Marnie
On Friday evening I went to see Relative Values with a friend. We knew very little about the play and did not know what to expect but had high expectations having previously enjoyed other MAD productions. We were not disappointed. The set was absolutely stunning; the costumes terrific and the acting superb. Supported by a very strong cast, The Countess of Marshwood stole the show and we both thought that she should be acting in the West End! I think you could have had a full house for weeks. We both complimented the Director after the show who should take a huge bow. A thoroughly enjoyable evening and we are already looking forward to the next play. Helen
We had a very enjoyable evening watching "Relative Values" made all the more memorable by the excellent staging. Everyone who took part should be congratulated, and all the roles were well acted throughout. The Countess of Marshwood (Jan Luff) stayed in character the whole time and is to be commended for taking on such a large part. Crestwell (Paul Cockburn) and Moxie (Pauline Friend) played their parts with subtle timing giving many moments of humour. A joy to watch and we look forward to the next production. Hilary & Tony
Another wonderful production by "MAD". The set in particular was quite stunning and it was easy to believe you were back in 1950s England, with excellent characters well portrayed by all the cast from the star-struck maid played by Hannah, to Jan's very convincing portrayal of Felicity, the mistress of the house (with so many lines to learn!) Everyone involved with the play must be congratulated on such a polished production, and a very enjoyable evening. I look forward to the next! Wendy
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