Review: Fish & Chips by Marde Hen, Belper

Without theatre companies like Marde Hen Productions many new playwrights may never get the chance to see their work on the stage.

The enthusiastic team have set themselves up with the sole aim of producing new plays and promoting new writing.

This week the Belper-based group are staging Fish & Chips, by Stephen Lee Rees  –  a comedy with a dramatic dark twist – which was originally written nine years ago.

Stephen was at university then, but plans to stage it were cancelled and it was forgotten – until he revived it and worked on the plot again when he joined  Marde Hen.

It tells the story of Jean and Norman who own a run-down fish and chip shop and are struggling so much they can’t really afford another member of staff. Norman, who is dreaming of expansion and a chip van, works all hours to make ends meet but meanwhile Jean has just about given up on the shop and craves passion and adventure.

They have also suffered a terrible family trauma that is not talked about in the first half of the play but which bursts on to the stage in a torrent of emotion in the second.

The arrival of Norman’s fun-loving half-brother Grayson, who was Jean’s teenage love, adds to the turmoil in their lives.

This is a play which has great characters, with some hilarious one-liners and a plot which is both funny and moving.

If the script was tightened up and some of the more risque gags censored it would be even better.

For me there were definitely some cringe-worthy moments that could be edited and a few places where the dialogue could have been stronger.

Norman, played by Mik Horvath and Jean played by Jane Wilton were both very convincing behind the counter of the chip shop and were especially strong during their emotional outpouring at the end.

However it was the two chip shop regulars Sally played by Vanessa McAuley and the creepy loner Kenneth (Pip Price) who has the best lines.

Vanessa is proving herself to be quite a versatile actor and was brilliant as the horrifying but somehow lovable Vicky Pollard-esque character.

The fish and chip shop set was impressive and well-designed to cope with the restrictions imposed by the main hall at the Strutts Centre in Belper.

Instead of scenery changes sound was cleverly used to signify outside the chip shop (bar room babble for the pub and bird song for the memorial gardens) but a few extra props, such as a change of cloth for the chip shop table wouldn’t have gone amiss.

The rest of the cast were Paul Davies as Grayson and Ann Taylor and Andrew Barlow as customers. The play was directed by Stephen Lee Rees; assitant director was Marie Stone; stage manager Jeannie Jordan; set designer Stephen Lee Rees; sound and lighting designer Richard Platt; and props and costumes were organised by Ann Taylor.

Fish & Chips can be seen at the Strutts Centre in Belper tonight and tomorrow night at 7.30pm and tomorrow (Saturday) at 2.30pm. For tickets telephone 07875648562 or 07886017913. There is a warning about the strong language.

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