Review: Hamp, Strutts Centre, Belper

“The Larry Waller factor.” It is an indefinable something, akin to stardust, that Larry Waller sprinkles on everything he directs.

Fifteen months of commitment, vision and rehearsal has resulted in a piece of community theatre that would grace any professional theatre in the country. This isn’t just about excellent performances – and there are plenty. It’s about the whole… the set, the lighting, the sound, the attention to detail and, yes, “the Larry Waller factor”.

‘Hamp’ was written by John Wilson and first performed in 1963. The premise is simple. Set during the Battle of Passcheandeale, Private Arthur Hamp staggers from a shell hole and finds himself accused of desertion.

From that simplicity emerges a story that takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster as questions and doubts begin to appear as, with historical hindsight, modern sensibilities are jarred by the events unfolding in front of us.

Pivotal to the story is the relationship between the ‘gormless’ Hamp (Josh Sly) and Leiutenant Hargreaves (Paul Davies), the officer designated to defend Hamp. Josh Sly delivers a stunning performance. He IS Arthur Hamp. For such a young actor it is mature and finely honed . Paul Davies gets under the skin of Hargreaves and Jeff  Foster is outstanding as Lt. Webb, the foil to Hargreaves.  Michael Fletcher (Padre), Eddie Bennett (Court President), Nick Mothershaw (M.O.) and Terry Stevenson (as the weasily prosecutor Midgley) have clearly investigated their characters and spent hours learning and understanding them. Luke Barrett’s knowing Corporal is well worth looking out for. The truth is that every single performance, including the many minor roles, are substantive.

This production of ‘Hamp’ is a real team effort. The set, designed by Andy Mayers, is inspired and it is complimented by Jamie Vella’s imaginative and exciting Lighting Design. Sound technician Andy Boles ensures that most difficult of things – ensuring that the audience can hear during this ‘in the round’ presentation.

At two and half hours ‘Hamp’ is lengthy and wordy but the first night audience did not seem deterred. ‘Hamp’ was greeted with lengthy applause and cheers, the like of which I have not heard for a long time.

This production deserves a wider audience. Then others will experience the “Larry Waller factor”.

‘Hamp’ is being staged at Strutt’s Centre, Derby Road, Belper tonight May 20 at 7:30pm.

A few tickets are still available from Oxfam Books and Music, King Street, Belper or phone 07847 478251 to reserve.

by George Gunby