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Date                       Production
April 2024            Careless Murder
January 2024      The Three Musketeers
October 2023      The Last Quiz Night on Earth
April 2023            Gaslight
January 2023       Dead Ringer
October 2022      Don't You Want Me?
April 2022            Blackadder Goes Forth
October 2021       Time of my Life

Careless Murder

DATE:   26th April 2024

SOCIETY:    The Hall Players

VENUE:   Preston Playhouse


DIRECTOR:     Steve Dobson

WRITTEN BY:    Andy Bennison


Author: Nate Benson

Many thanks to the Hall Players for inviting me to see Friday 26th April 2024’s performance of the freshly inked comedy whodunnit ‘Careless Murder.’ This expertly written play by local playwrite, Andy Bennison, tells a witty tale of varying characters in a care home. As the plot unravels, we begin to learn of sudden deaths within the care home. Upon further deliberation and witty antics, we find the manager stabbed in the heart in his office. One of the staff members and a new resident of the care home, decide to press the lockdown button and tackle the case themselves. 

Directed by Steve Dobson, this narrative was very well constructed in space, using a lovely contrast of physical humour, caricature, exaggerated physical humour, remarkable story telling and integration of visual and sound effects to animate it. Added to the this, the piece was delivered at a fast pace, with differing acting techniques integrated, which allowed for all moments of comedy interject, which left the audience in rapturous laughter.  

The set, as usual for a Hall Players' production, received its own applause upon curtain up.  Upon opening, the full stage was boxed in, very much resembling a very well decorated, business-driven care home setting. What was particularly impressive was construction of the set enabled revolving hidden flats, which enabled dramatic scene changes with finesse and style. With having such a construction of slick grandeur, I felt that the scene changes could have been as slick as the function. There were a few crew members short of what would have aided the momentum during scene change, and did wonder if the cast could have assisted, or the scene changes be undertaken more stylised to help reduce the negative space. The inter-scene music was a nice touch and were well thought through to ensure they were poignant to the narrative. 

Overall, the cast were well drilled, well versed, and looked at ease upon the stage. There were some strong performances within the cast, and the comradery between all members was second to none. What's more, to see the audience, almost packed to the brim, with the cast at all moments, laughing and commenting how good the product is, is a testament to all involved. 

Duncan, the Retirement Home Manager, was played by James Clow. This character had 2 sides played within the role, firstly a quite softly spoken, caring chap who was kind and doting on the residents' needs. The other side showed this as a visage, through having a wild raunchy scene and being quite flippant with business driven when not amongst guests. 

Maisie, the conscientious care worker was played by Bridget Sanderson who provided a great detailed characterisation which inspiring use of physicality and eye gestures to comedically, but without insult, suggest a neurodivergence to the part. This was polished with impeccable focus and comedic timing, adding rhythm to the dialogue to heighten the portrayal. 

Jenny, the jobsworth activity coach who is eager to climb the ladder, was played by Abbie Clegg who provided an impressive performance. Similarly to Duncan, binary dimensions to the character were portrayed. When around guests and staff, she nicely added an idiosyncratic vocal inflection after most phrases, which was coupled with almost choreographed physicality and gestures to portray her professionalism and ambition within such. When out of this part, the urgency was lifted, and a darker more abrupt nature was displayed, adding to the suspicion of this character as the culprit. 

Dr Blunt, who had a charm with the ladies within residence, was played charismatically by James Miley. Again, the almost uncomfortable flirtatious nature of the Doctor made this character high up in the list of suspects. 

Barbara and Beryl, a double act of cleaners within the care home, were played by Angela Ross and Jill Thompson. These were both played as salt of the earth, with thick accents, exaggerated characterisations with over acted reactions, which added an element of pantomime/ slapstick humour to the piece. 

Henry, the eccentric retire actor and new resident at the home, was played by John Ellis. John played this part fabulously, often breaking the fourth wall whilst acting as the actor playing the actor. He used great storytelling and added nice subtext to the dialogue, which drew out additional styles of humour and wit. 

Rosemary, Pauline, and Evelyn, 3 lady residents at the home, were played by Maureen Nickson, Gill Kerry, and Carol Buckley. This triple act rounded the piece having fabulous synchronisation. At times they slowed the pace of the piece down, which was refreshing and enabled moments of calm within the chaos. There was some nice deep thematic messaging brought out through these characters towards the end, which their personable performances were well matched to highlighting these points without them being force fed. 

Thanks again for a wonderful evening of entertainment & I wish the Hall Players all the absolute best successes for the future. 


The Three Musketeers

a Comedy Adventure

DATE   26th January 2024

SOCIETY   The Hall Players

VENUE      Preston Playhouse


DIRECTOR   Carol Buckley



WRITTEN BY  John Nicholson and Le Navet Bete


Author: Chris Hill

One could accurately record that this play is faithful to the storyline of the original swashbuckling French novel by Alexandre Dumas “Les Trois Mousquetaires”. The 1973 film version starring Michael York as d'Artagnan is often on television and familiar to many and it too sticks to the original tale whilst successfully injecting it with humour. There though the similarity ends: this play, being in the style of Le Navet Bete was very much about Physical Theatre with strong elements of Slapstick, Fool-ing, and repeated breaking of the fourth wall with audience participation throughout.  

I have seen some excellent touring companies perform other plays in a similar physical theatre comedic style to this – all professional – and this was an extremely ambitious production for an amateur company to take on. With 4 actors playing 40 parts and a dizzying array of costume changes (the programme claiming there to be 100!) this was heavily demanding of cast and crew. But the Hall Players delight in providing something different and they certainly pulled this off with an absolutely excellent production which had no weak areas.

The Production Team

The set needed to be as fast moving and as malleable as the actors and it rose up to that challenge admirably with clever use of a constructed upper level, and balcony. Downstage left was used as a bar in various Inn scenes, the quick addition or change over of props by stagehands in black stage right and a shielded area and a clothes rack upstage where quick changes were performed – all to the delight of the audience. It was essential that the back stage crew were on their game from the start and they certainly were, but so involved are they in this type of production they are often knowingly on the stage too and very much part of the show. 

When you have 35 scenes you have clearly set stage designers and stage manager a mammoth task – take Scene 24 for example being listed in the programme as “A clearing transitioning to Milady De Winter's Chateau transitioning to an inn and back again!” So take a bow Stage Manager Chris Kerry and fellow set constructors Mark Gee, Paul Armitt, Ian Kennedy, Pete Dewdney, Les Green, Clive Nixon, Junio Tomazini and Ian Buckley!

Very true to the style of this production, wigs and moustaches almost had a life of their own, deliberately adding to the comedy as we ploughed through parts of the story necessitating changing characters, costumes, and roles at breakneck speed. So much so that there was a dedicated Head of Wigs in Jane Robertson whilst Costumes were by Onstage Costume Hire and seamstress Jan Winder with Dressers Pat Brand and Lisa Swarbrick all doing a sterling job.

Lighting by Les Green and Sound by Pete Dewdney and Bob Cuthbertson ably complemented the production. On the book was Laura Forshawalthough her work had been completed in rehearsal judging by the night I went. Gill Kerry, Maureen Nickson and Vicki Cuthbertson for Props Clive Nixon for Photography and Andy Bennison Publicity completed the ensemble. Everyone pulling their weight was essential for this production to succeed so great job everyone!

The Cast

The cast worked excellently as a team, sometimes in pairs sometimes in solos with the breaking of the fourth wall and audience involvement never far from the surface. It was difficult at times to remember we were watching an amateur rather than professional production, and that was especially reflected in the pace which never dropped from the off. 

We started the evening as we meant to go on with the fourth wall entirely removed rather than punctured as each member of our cast of 4 played themselves, interacting with the audience and here the cast were in their element fixing the feel of the show from the start. 

The opening and closing scenes placed the cast as children in the Musketeers Den and in between, despite the mayhem, the cast delivered the familiar story:

A country boy called d'Artagnan, good with a sword, goes to Paris to find his fortune and hopefully join the Musketeers. His rather impetuous and inexperienced nature gets him into 3 separate arguments within the day with Athos, Porthos and Artemis and he finds himself about to take on our Three Musketeers in duels. The nefarious Cardinal Richelieu's swordsmen arrive and all 4 unite and bond as they fight them off, our hero winning their respect. Love is in the air too as our hero romances the daughter of his Inn's landlord who happens to be dressmaker to the Queen. Various adventures follow, there is a plot to blacken the Queen's name, a trip by boat to England, her English aristocrat ex-lover, the treachery of Richelieu and the mysterious allure of Milady de Winter, scenes in jails, palaces, boats, on castle battlements, a convent and a confessional and a grand ball! Of course it all ends well with d'Artagnan a Musketeer and those famous 4 swords raised together. 

A real danger was that all these elements could end up running into each other, and the mayhem could get out of hand leading to a confused audience but in our Director Carol Buckley we had an experienced hand on the tiller and it showed, with excellent interleaving of scenes and some thoughtful decisions. For example, the frequent swordplay was dashingly choreographed (if that's the right word) by a dedicated Fight Director in Adam Cryne and those scenes clearly benefited. Our 4 cast members played several characters each of differing social classes, sexes and ages but they skilfully delineated between them enabling the narrative to be clearly and consistently established as the necessary framework for the comedy. The cast were having a ball and they brought the audience with them, the playing from all four being consistently of the very highest standard.

Our hero d'Artagnan was played by Tom Armitt and rarely has a buckle been so confidently and enthusiastically swashed! Great visual gags abounded throughout the production but his playing of both sides in a swordfight will live long in the memory. A performance of tremendous energy and a real talent for comedy and audience interaction, he fitted the part and this play like a glove.

Athos was Nigel Parsons who is from a slightly older generation than the rest of the cast, but rather than this be an issue Nigel's experience turned this into a real bonus for the team – I thought this brought a lovely balance to the team, his deadpan delivery often anchoring scenes and he brought the house down as suitably bewigged he played Kitty and Sister Mary. 

Porthos came from Bridget Sanderson who also gave a poised Queen Anne and such a beguiling, mysterious Milady. She looked disturbingly at ease with a sword in hand and her timing and interplay with others was of the highest quality.

Our Aramis was Kym Ratcliffe and again Kym seemed totally in her element, working props and impossibly quick costume changes to her comedic advantage, playing with real intensity at times, yet fearlessly at home with an outrageous moustache and delighting in an ad-lib. By my count she won the hotly contested most-characters-played prize, with the programme listing 15 including the menacing Cardinal Richelieu and the wonderfully-named dog Droolius Caesar. 

In Conclusion

“All for one and one for all” and indeed this famous motto ran through cast and crew – this required a real ensemble effort from cast & crew working in harmony to pull off such a tricky production so well. I make no apologies for waxing lyrical about this production because I am a great fan of different approaches to engaging with an audience and really enjoy Physical Theatre and this was a gleaming gem of a production. I note too that the three younger cast members above are son and daughters of core contributors to the historical success of Hall Players and this is wonderful to see. Hall Players long term future was threatened when they sadly lost their beloved Hall venue on Broadway (Broadway, Fulwood that is !) but it now looks assured indeed. This is a thriving company at the top of their game, long may they continue to take risks with plays as challenging as this production. 

I would like to thank Hall Players for their warm welcome to Preston Playhouse and wish them every success in the future.


Chris Hill


Last Quiz Night on Earth

NODA Report 

DATE:            19th October 2023

SOCIETY:     The Hall Players

VENUE:         Preston Playhouse


DIRECTOR:    Dominic Swarbrick

WRITTEN BY:    Alison Carr


Author: Clare Higgins

Many thanks to The Hall Players for inviting me to see their latest production entitled 'The Last Quiz Night on Earth' at the Preston Playhouse on Thursday 19th October. This work by Alison Carr is an innovative comedy-drama featuring a fully interactive pub quiz for the audience to participate in, complete with real teams, real questions and real swapping each other's answers for marking. From the moment audience members entered the house to find their seats, clutching pads of quiz answer sheets provided on entry to the theatre, a repeating urgent announcement made us aware of the imminent end of the world due to an asteroid hurtling towards Earth. Where do British folk go to spend their last hours as they await their impending doom? To the pub of course, and as it happens to be quiz night at the appropriately named Four Horsemen, why not have a go at one last chance of pub quiz glory?! Landlady Kathy was on hand with a warm welcome for us all and I enjoyed the way the audience were included and spoken to throughout as if the house was an extension of the pub scene on stage.

I must first congratulate all involved in the set construction, dressing and props; this really was an outstanding set with great attention to detail and it grabbed my attention the moment I walked in. I appreciated director Dominic Swarbrick’s decision to have the audience walk in to see a lit stage, as this very much encouraged the feeling of the audience being in the pub themselves. Bob and Sam Cuthbertson on lighting and sound were on the ball all night, with the sound cues very well timed throughout. This play could potentially be quite stagnant for the audience visually but Dominic had directed the main cast of four to make effective use of the available space and vary their levels, which worked particularly well against the static quiz teams on stage who spent the evening enjoying a couple of drinks at their tables. The ensemble cast making up these teams did a sterling job of always remaining in character, interacting naturally without detracting from the main action and appeared authentic throughout the evening. I even at one point saw Ian Buckly and Nigel Parsons reacting to an audience members’ phone ringing; a subtle but brilliant moment.

There was plenty of laughter throughout the audience and a real buzz in the air, which is attributable to the way the cast set the scene and tone of the action which occurs in real time. The principal cast for this piece comprises only four characters – Kathy the landlady, Rav the pub quizmaster, Kathy’s brother Bobby and Rav’s ex- girlfriend Fran. All four were played in a convincing, naturalistic style and the actors created very distinct and solid characters which were entertaining and easy to watch.

Kathy, played by Anne-Marie Flood was the glue holding everything together with her warm-hearted punter interactions, always ready with a quick-witted reply or commiserating drink. Anne-Marie portrayed this character with an easy going, confident style reminiscent of Jane McDonald and was a pleasure to watch. We saw her demeanour change as her brother arrived later and witnessed an array of emotions. The love Kathy has for her pub and punters clearly came across. Anne- Marie had a way of drawing the audience into the action without coming across as fake or trying too hard – I really enjoyed this performance, nicely done. Patrick Kennedy was our charismatic, larger than life quizmaster Rav and I enjoyed his characterisation very much. Patrick’s character arc across the two halves of the production was well crafted as we gradually started to see beneath the surface of the bravado to the more sensitive soul underneath. Patrick worked hard throughout the evening to break the audience away from and then bring them back to the on stage story telling in between his interactive pub quiz rounds. He did so with a calm and confident air and seamlessly interacted with the punters (audience) as they called for questions to be repeated. This really was a performance to be proud of. Bobby is Kathy’s estranged brother, who on the surface is very troubled and full of anger, only turning up to settle old scores whilst he still can. However, we learn that underneath it all is pain and misunderstanding and a man who loves his sister. Steve Dobson played this role in a well-balanced manner and as his story progressed, enabled the audience to change their opinion of Bobby and empathise with him. Another well crafted character and arc, well done. Rav’s ex-girlfriend from their school days, Fran believes Rav to be the love of her life and wants one last shot at love before the world ends however, Rav doesn’t share her feelings and actually doesn’t even recognise or remember who she is initially. I felt Abbie Clegg had this characterisation spot on and delivered some fabulous comedic one-liners in a very natural manner. She had some lengthy, speedily garbled dialogue and Abbie absolutely nailed this with excellent diction so every word was heard. Everything from her posture and movement to her cadence and tone of voice was the perfect fit for the character Abbie created and her performance was a joy to watch.

This really was a thoroughly entertaining and well executed production and even though I only came joint second in the quiz (which I was proud of as a team of 1 across 5 rounds!) I came away from the theatre with a smile on my face and over the next few days told a number of people about what a great time I’d had. The whole team should be very proud of this offering and I look forward to the next production by The Hall Players.

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NODA Report April 2023

Author: Paul R. Mason, for Nathan Benson

“Gaslight” first came to the stage in the 30s. It was an immediate success enthralling audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. A staple of amateur productions it possesses an inherent power to befuddle audiences. In truth, since we now live in very different times with many psychological dramas available to us at the flick of a switch, our sensibilities expect a more refined level of shock than this play provides. The show’s director, Maureen Nickson, acknowledges the age of the play in her introduction. Moreover, I doubt that the majority of the audience would not have had some foreknowledge of the plot. 

As the curtain rose there was a spontaneous round of applause. The set faithfully recreating the living room of a late Victorian household,  was immaculate in every detail. The team of set constructors did a fine job. Likewise the costumes in the hands of Carol Buckley accurately spoke of 1890s London middle class comfort. There is a great deal of disbelief the audience has to accept to get the effect of “Gaslight” across. The trick is leave the audience guessing as to whether Mr. Manningham is as bad as we are asked to believe, or do we imagine that his wife has actually, as hinted by the author, inherited insane tendencies. Any doubts we may harbour on these points are smashed by the arrival of Rough, the ex Inspector of police. Following his revelations about Manningham's past the play offers us a different challenge. Will Manningham return and probably kill his wife, perhaps the inspector too, or will justice prevail?

James Miley as Mr. Manningham made a bold attempt at appearing to be a good guy legitimately concerned for the mental health of his wife. He delivered his lines well and moved with ease around the stage. Could he have been more sinister I wonder? Vincent Price made his name playing this part. James did not instill in us that innate sense of menace and threat so much a  feature of Mr. Prices’ work in horror films. The casting of Bridget Sanderson as Mrs. Manningham was a master stroke. She was the epitome of a hard done by yet beautiful loving wife anxious to do the right thing by her monster of a husband. It was a performance of great ability. As Rough, Steve Dobson gave us a commanding assured character. Elizabeth and Nancy the maids were beautifully realised. Congratulations to Maureen Nickson for understudying so magnificently. Sound and lighting in the hands of Les Green, Ian Buckley and Pete Dewdney were first class.

I enjoyed this play as I know many of the audience I spoke to did also. Yet I confess to not being quite as chilled as I was expecting. This was a well put together offering performed with passion complete with clear unfussy direction. Yet I do wonder whether plays of this ilk, written in 1938, can still fully cut the mustard 85 years later.



NODA January 2023


Dead Ringer

DATE27th January 2023

SOCIETYHall Players

VENUEPreston Playhouse



WRITTEN BYCharles Ross


Author: Nathan Benson

Many thanks to Hall Players for inviting me along to see their production of Dead Ringers written by Charles Ross on Friday 27th January 2023. They wouldn’t have known this, but the week before I had fallen into a deep depression and had to peel myself from my pillow and out of the black hole to attend this production, and I’m really glad that I did! Directed by John Ellis, this production tells the story of an incumbent Prime Minister and his cabinet three days before the next election. The Prime Minister suddenly drops dead by what we think is a heart attack. As a knee jerk reaction, to save their political party from defeat, members of his cabinet decide to employ a look like actor to play the Prime Minister until the election is over before making an announcement to the nation of the late Prime Minister’s death. Mishaps and mayhems unravel, as it would be quite dull to watch things go to plan, and we learn that the heart attack was actually poisoning and the play resolves with true murder mystery style until we learn who the killer was.

Although a lengthy and quite wordy production, John produced a well paced and dynamic production, with a good sense of urgency, which engaged the audience throughout. He used the text to reflect on the current political climate, with this brought some great moments of comedy. The staging was interesting with full use of depth and breadth of the stage, constantly moving  throughout the space and maintaining visual interest. A full set of believable characterisations were achieved and the cast gelled and worked as a unit throughout the production.

When the curtains open on the production, the set received a humongous applause, which it truly deserved. The set was a fully naturalistic office room at number 10 Downing St, which was diagonally boxed in and had intricate details, such as thrusted walls to house fireplaces, bookcases, full length curtains surrounding a double paned window, and plenty of decor on the walls, it was quite a spectacle and statement indeed. What I loved most was the diagonal structure allowed for 2 entrances to be provided, one upstage, and one downstage right, which were provided through doors of the office. The level of detail that went into this set extended beyond these doors to enrich the production, as additional flats were decorated behind these doors to give the impression of a hallway within the building. Props and costume were equally as detailed and naturalistic and were fitting to the context and character. Lighting and sound were of a good quality, quite simplistic, but embellished the production which did not need anything more than this.

As a general note, the whole cast were extremely skilled and created a complete set of rounded characters who were cohesive and worked as a unit throughout the dialogue and plot, to bring a wonderful piece of drama to the stage.

The Prime Minister, Randolph Bolton, and his understudy, Gerry Jackson, were performed by Paul Armitt.  There were great moments within this performance whereby Gerry’s character slipped through into the pretence of performing Randolph, just as using the wrong hand so write with, and the was a great physical contrast between the two characters greater, with Gerry being more eccentric, I felt this could have been explored further, for example, reembodying Gerry’s mannerisms when alone with those characters who knew he was an impersonator. The fact my creative juices have been allowed to get to this level of exploration of the performance is more a statement of how solid Paul’s work was.

Francis Cowdray was performed by Anne-Marie Flood and was very well played and consistently solid throughout. There was some great urgency and drama created within this role.

Clive Nixon played Dick Marr, who provided a great comedic role. He was very giving with his presence and character. He used nice use of internalisation through his eyes and was very explicit with his though processes.

Nigel Haywood, the Prime Minister’s Secretary, was charmingly played by Simon Bentham, who gave some nice subtleties to his flirtations with Randolph.

Ray Turnball was played by Dean Wallace who provided a great authorities character, almost militant, speaking in facts and unemotively. This really helped drive some of the dynamic shape of the production.

The Prime Minister’s wife, Eva Bolton was played by Carol Buckley who portrayed this character very glamorous. She had a fabulous energy and provided great insight into this character’s though expressive facial and eye work, along side holding her poker face, which added to the suspense.

Colonel Hardacre was played by Nigel Parson who provide great vocal idiosyncrasies of inflections and pauses and was a more calm an collected character, adding great contrast to the other characters and added an element of suspense to the production.

Thanks again to Hall Player, great work and I look forwards to seeing you soon.

NODA   October 2022
Don't You Want Me?


NODA Report

Author: Clare Higgins

I would like to thank The Hall Players for inviting me to a performance of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ at Preston Playhouse on Saturday 22nd October. This was the premiere of a new play by local playwright Andy Bennison, with whom The Hall Players have previously collaborated.  What a thoroughly entertaining evening this was, and everybody involved; front of house, production team, cast and crew are to be congratulated on what was an excellent production!

All the action takes place in the now run-down Craven Street Community Centre, which we learn is due for demolition, but which in the 1980s, was the venue for many a legendary disco. It is fitting then, that the final event to be held at the venue before the bulldozers roll in, is an 80s themed school reunion organised by Diana. Cue an evening full of 80s pop hits, booze, dancing around handbags, reminiscing and for some, the re-opening of old wounds.

My first impression was of how convincing the set was; it was very believable as a tired-looking, old community centre which had not benefitted from general maintenance or an update in decor for many years. Although it was a basic set up of tables and chairs, a bar and two working doors to the male/female toilets, it looked very authentic and really helped create the atmosphere of the piece - well done to Paul Armitt, Ian Kennedy, Chris Kerry and Clive Nixon. The play benefitted from very effective direction by Steve Dobson and seamlessly involved appropriate interaction with the audience to draw us into the action as onlookers to the unfolding story, as if we were also present at the reunion. I enjoyed this aspect of the production very much and it allowed for some impressive and entertaining character entrances and exits!

Costumes were very good and authentic as typical 80s outfits for those characters not in fancy dress. Those dressed as music icons were in very accurate costumes, hair and make-up. The quick change from downtrodden housewife Jane to Kate Bush was brilliant! Voice projection and diction were excellent throughout and character interactions were very natural and easy to watch, so I felt completely relaxed and able to enjoy the story, following the plot lines with ease. The cast as a whole are to be commended on their strong characterisations which never slipped, even when spending prolonged periods of time in the background of the action on stage. Particular congratulations go to Ty Aron Pitcher who was on stage from start to finish as bar tender Ryan. He remained engaged as his character throughout without drawing attention away from the prominent action when he wasn’t involved in it - not an easy task but well executed.

This brings me on to the sound, which I felt was very well controlled throughout in both timing and volume. Ryan, the bar tender character, was also the DJ for the party in that he was controlling the party music from his tablet. Either Ty was doing this for real on stage or the timing between him pressing his tablet screen and Pete Dewdney (assisted by Paul Armitt) operating the sound was impeccable! Also, some of the characters were attending the party in fancy dress such as Suggs, Adam Ant and Toni Basil and made their initial entrances to a blast of appropriate songs which were then levelled so as to be audible but sit perfectly under the ensuing dialogue - nicely done.

This really was a very strong ensemble performance with many notable moments. Carol Buckley’s impressive entrance as Karen really set the comedic tone for the evening and I loved her as a character. She interacted with the audience as if we were fellow party guests and did this so well, that one audience member could be heard asking another to whom Karen had directed some dialogue, if they knew her (they didn’t)! Her characterisation was so genuine it was easy to forget you were watching an actress at work and this was partly due to Carol letting the script do the work, delivering the dialogue in a very natural way without overplaying lines for laughs, which is often a very fine balance. A super performance Carol, which I enjoyed very much - bravo!

I felt Gill Kerry did a splendid job of initially convincing us that her character Amanda had been the annoyingly pretty, sporty, popular but still pleasant girl at school. She then gradually revealed her catty, judgemental nature as her history of being the school bully became apparent. Another character with a great arc was Mick played by Clive Nixon. When we first meet him, making his very bold entrance to a blast of House of Fun by Madness, it’s obvious he was very popular at school, probably the class clown and appears a very likeable chap but as the alcohol flows, we slowly become aware of less positive aspects of his character as his controlling, derogatory attitude towards his wife comes to the fore and he is violent towards Gary, who he has obviously been close mates with. It is testament to Clive’s performance that I really didn’t see this coming in advance of it playing out in front of me; well done Clive!

Paul Sylvester’s entrance to Prince Charming as Gary, dressed up as Adam Ant, was memorable indeed - he was fully committed to this humorous, likeable character throughout and played a harmlessly pleasant yet over confident drunk very well. The clever plot twist at the end involving Diana, played by Ruth Fraser, was made all the more believable thanks to Ruth’s portrayal of this highly strung woman who turns out not to be who we’re led to believe she is. She did a great job of subtly incorporating the pain and confidence-sapping trauma of having been mercilessly bullied at school into her performance, so that when we learn this about her, it obviously fits the character we’ve come to know.

Maureen Nickson’s performance as Jane was simply outstanding! She had significantly less dialogue than other characters which called for enhanced acting skill; she initially convinced me she was simply a socially awkward introvert who was a little embarrassed by her far more outgoing, ‘life and soul of the party’ husband Mick. As time went on, despite not being involved in a lot of the action, she gradually revealed through her facial expression, posture and reactions that the real Mick is of a more sinister nature, and she is likely a victim of domestic violence or at least the emotional and mental abuse of a controlling relationship. Again, it is this very gradual, skilful reveal that makes this revelation about Clive the shock that it is. Add to this her brilliant makeover as Kate Bush and rendition of Wuthering Heights towards the end of the party and this really was a standout performance of which Maureen should be very proud!

The aforementioned cast were very ably supported by two characters of a younger generation; Courtney and Maddison brilliantly played by Hayley Morris and Diana Jackson respectively. Courtney is the brash and promiscuous single mother daughter of Amanda, who would clearly rather be anywhere other than at a lame party with all her mother’s friends. Hayley had developed a very strong character and did a great job of delivering her blunt and often very funny dialogue. She actually joined the audience at one stage as Courtney stomped off to sit on the opposite side of the room from her mother, asking the audience “Is anyone sat here?” - a really nice touch. Madison is Courtney’s more down to earth, caring, less self-absorbed friend and voice of reason and I felt she was very sensitively played by Diana. The moments when she was a listening ear at the bar for Ryan and Gary were very genuine. Again, she had some humorous dialogue which was authentically delivered, very much in character, which made it even funnier. Diana created a really likeable, natural character - well done!

My guest and I enjoyed this production very much from the 80s tunes to the many belly laughs to the heart-breaking plot twists. I really look forward to the privilege of seeing more productions by The Hall Players in the future.

Blackadder Goes Forth

DATE  25th May 2022

SOCIETY   The Hall Players

VENUE   Preston Playhouse


DIRECTOR  Paul Armitt




WRITTEN BY  Richard Curtis, Ben Elton and John Lloyd.


Author: Paul R. Mason

Sometimes adaptations of popular tv comedies transfer well to the stage, sometimes they do not. The audience knows the jokes, they have lived with the characters, their foibles and the actors playing the parts for many years. Everyone will have their favourite scenes. The dilemma for directors is to decide in their own minds what fresh input can they bring to the tale or are they merely content to try to replicate the original as closely as possible. Paul Armitt made a creditable attempt. There was much to admire in this production. The attention to detail and genuine regard for the piece came across. Not the least in the stage settings which were meticulous Chris Kerry, Clive Nixon and Paul Armitt had created fitting backdrops to the action. The costumes too were of the period. Yet why was George wearing a uniform with no badges of rank and why was Field Marshal Haig content to wear a captain's uniform? Little things mean a lot.

There are so many amusing one-liners for Blackadder to utter. Yet they can become tedious after a while. This effect is magnified when 3 episodes are strung together. Dominic Swarbrick it must be said lacked the incisiveness and punch of Rowan Atkinson. Yet he had verve in abundance and produced a memorable interpretation. Steve Dobson as George Colthurst was engaging, successfully conveying the essential beguiling silliness of this upper class twit . Nigel Parson’s Baldrick was close to the original in delivery and movement. Paul Heyworth had chosen to try to create the tone and physical manner of Stephen Fry. His General Melchett was commanding, full of little touches that added to the original interpretation of this character, happy to command from the safe distance of 35 miles behind the lines. Harry Mcgaghey as Captain Darling impressed. His character has much to suffer at the hands of his superior and endure the indignities thrown at him by Blackadder. Paul Armitt as the Brigadier was amusing while Diana Jackon as the spy was confident in her portrayal. 

Yet I was expecting to leave silently at the end full of anger and confusion about the rationale humanity has concocted for inflicting death and terrible injuries on people they have never met. Indeed I was quite prepared for it by the message in the programme. The final seconds of the tv version are rightly revered as being amongst the most moving and heartbreaking in all of televisual history. That they emanated from a daft comedy makes this so much more remarkable. However this production’s conclusion, which should have ended the moment the actors started to go over the top, was prolonged. There was no need for all that followed which actually forced the audience to reluctantly offer polite applause when they did not really want to. I do acknowledge that it was done with the utmost respect. 

Maybe we are all so horrified at anything to do with war and the senseless slaughter of innocents that we are daily observing in Ukraine that the humour in this play is difficult to fully appreciate or convey. 



Time Of My Life

DATE   23rd October 2021

SOCIETY    The Hall Players

VENUE   Preston Playhouse


DIRECTOR   Maureen Nickson



PRODUCER   The Hall Players


Author: Paul R. Mason


This was our first visit to Preston Playhouse. Considering we live less than 10 miles away and have done so since moving to Blackburn over 34 years ago, it is an odd fact. We were immensely impressed by the theatre and shall definitely be returning frequently.Our debut was made all the more enjoyable as we had the pleasure of seeing a tremendously well honed performance of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s “Time Of My Life” staged by the Hall Players. The society has recently decamped from their former home, St. Martin’s Chapel in Fulwood, to the Playhouse.  This is also the first time we have seen one of their productions.

I always enjoy reading lists of former plays staged by societies over the years. It is like reading a catalogue of old friends as I have either seen, performed in or directed many of them. Writing in the introduction to the programme Chairman Paul Armitt says the Hall Players' avowed aim is to present entertainment and escapism by employing high standards. I am happy to confirm this aspiration was fully achieved on the night we were members of the audience. 

The welcome on our arrival was first class. Happy smiling faces with a nice line in banter go a long way to making audiences feel they are valued. Thank you especially to the charming lady who let me have 3 biscuits at the interval. (Shocking!)

Ayckbourn chooses in “Time Of My Life” to challenge us with a complex time frame. Set in an Italian restaurant over a period of two years the play moves backwards and forwards. Of course in our own lives we can never actually know if the time we are living in happens to be “the time of our lives”. It is only by looking back and making comparisons with what has occurred since that we can attempt such judgements. By then of course time has again moved on, as it always must and always will.

With the family sitting at a long table, reminiscent of the last supper, the play’s talking point  is concerned with exploration of the often unsatisfactory ways we communicate. As Laura, Carol Buckley showed us a woman used to getting her own way: argumentative, brandy-loving, uncompromising and hypocritical. Laura is arguably the most interesting role with more to analyse in her motivation than the others. Carol gave us a performance of unrelenting power. As her husband, Gerry, Paul Armitt was her equal: a businessman first and foremost with concerns for his family coming a poor second. 

Glyn is written as an unsympathetic character. He has suffered the slings and arrows thrown at him by his parents and yet we see him, in Tom Armitt’s creation, struggling valiantly to make his own personality shine through regardless. His brother Adam was, we are told, treated differently as a child, yet has managed to be just as confused about the course of his life as his older sibling. Simon Bentham was outstanding. Stephanie, his wife, is the most sympathetic of all the characters. Diana Jackson demonstrated a rounded personality worthy of support and close attention. Diana’s performance was well modulated and complex. Maureen, the hairdresser with a dazzling array of wigs and outfits, went with the flow: an outsider able to comment on the mad goings on and speak her mind without fear of reprisal. I warmed to Becca Paterson’s interpretation.  In truth Becca could have stolen the show had it not been for the antics of Dominic Swarbrick. It is remarkable what a few changes of hair styles and different shirts can do for a man! Ayckbourn has given the waiter character(s) the opportunity to add high comedy to the essentially tragic proceedings. We think of the porter in the Scottish play. Many  laughs came courtesy of Dominic’s mastery of the stage. The audience warmed to him. 

The director,  Maureen Nickson ,accentuated the messages the script offers to us as watchers. We were handed hints we could consider applying to our own lives. As a result the play was both disturbing and amusing. This was direction of the highest order. It belies a very firm hand on the tiller to have accomplished such a solid outcome. One small cavil however. I felt more could have been made of the two waitresses. They might have been given bits of business to do, typical dare I say, of the strange management ethic of the cafe.(?)

This was a wonderful production by a company clearly comfortable at playing near the top of the amdram Premier League.Thank you for creating such a high-class evening of quality entertainment.


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