Review: Belper Players Double Bill

I cannot imagine that many young people spend their gap year after A Levels writing a new play but that is exactly what 19-year-old Sophie Mander (pictured) decided to do and the results of her labours were premiered at Belper’s Strutts Centre last night.

The play – My Kingdom For A What? – was performed by the Belper Players as part of a double bill of new work for the Belper Arts Festival and proved that Sophie is a name to watch in the future.

Sophie, who also directed her debut production, says she was fascinated and inspired by King Richard III after spending a year researching him for her history A Level. It therefore seemed quite logical to her to choose him as her subject for the play. Especially since so much attention has been given to the monarch following the discovery of his remains under a Leicester car park a few years ago.

Her new storyline has a once successful actor Lionel Maddox MBE returning to a small theatre in Leicester to revive his flagging career by once again playing the part for which he was most famous – Richard III. What he doesn’t expect is to come face-to-face with the ghost of King Richard in his dressing room.

Sophie says that her play seeks to discover what Richard himself would think of what is said about him now in the 21st century.

The piece was brilliantly funny with plenty of great one-liners and comic misunderstandings, as well as a more serious underlying message, and the audience loved it.

Sophie may be one of the youngest members of Belper Players but she called upon some experienced actors to take on the three roles she had created and she seemed really quite thrilled with how they portrayed her characters.

Jane Wilton was absolutely marvellous as the Leicester theatre’s dotty, star-struck director and the stage lit up every time she stepped on to it. The part was absolutely perfect for her.

Mik Horvath was hilarious as the alcoholic washed-up Lionel Maddox and he delivered his somewhat sardonic lines effortlessly.

Josh Sly obviously relished the role of the swashbuckling Richard III who doesn’t realise he is dead, and carried it off with great enthusiasm.

Well done Sophie on a superb debut play hopefully there will be more to follow.

The other play performed for the double bill, Another Chalk Circle, was written and directed by a drama stalwart in Belper, Jeff Moule.

He has taken the classic by Brecht – The Caucasian Chalk Circle – and brought it bang up-to-date. The storyline was changed little so we had the parable about a peasant girl who rescues a baby and becomes a better mother than its wealthy natural parents but is eventually forced to fight with the natural mother for the right to keep the child.

The judge draws a chalk circle and places the child in the middle telling the women to pull the child from either side. In a Solomon-like judgement the Judge gives the child to the peasant girl as she cannot face harming the child by pulling him apart and lets her rival win.

Jeff, has changed the play by making very obvious references to recent political events (pick your own war zone, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan) and giving it an unexpected ending which makes it relevant to the migrant crisis.

The playwright says his aim was to quite literally challenge the audience to have an opinion on whether or not we should accept migrants into the UK at the end of the production. It was a brave move to tackle such a difficult subject.

The fast-paced play has a large cast squeezed on to a small stage and as director Jeff did well to share out the roles and keep the necessary props simple yet effective.

As always the experienced actors from the Belper Players held it together and there were extremely good  performances from Sheila Kay Sly as Natell Abaschivili, the wealthy mother; Paul Davies as the evil dictator Governor Georgi Abaschvili and Nick Mothershaw as the Captain of the Guard.

The heroine of the play Grusha the peasant girl was played with confidence by Morgan Richter, a relative newcomer to the Belper team.

The rest of the cast were Al Grant, Alyson Koe, Roger Whiting, Rob Chambers, Jeremy Crane, Helen Barley, Ben Turner, Ann Taylor, Terry Stevenson and Arun Hayes.

Musical accompaniment was by Susan Stevenson, the set was designed by Barry Brown, costumes and props were by Ann Taylor, lighting and sound Jamie Vella and Andy Boles, front of house Sarah McMullen and publicity Alyson Koe.

Both plays can be seen tonight and tomorrow night at 7pm at The Strutts Centre, Belper. For ticket details go to http://www.belperplayers.com

by Amanda Penman

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