Winners of the One Act Play Festival
(Last Festival held in 2015)
2006 Best Play What’s For Supper?
2007 Best Female Actor Kath Dobson for Late Entry
2010 Best Set Mark Gee & Laura Forshaw for Mantrap
2013 Best Director Paul Armitt for IED
2013 Adjudicator’s Award Tom Armitt for IED
2015 Best Director Nigel Parsons for This is a Play
Winners of NODA Awards
We have been fortunate enough to receive many nominations in addition to our winners below
2014 Best Director Lorraine Ratcliffe for Ladies Day
2014 Most Entertaining
Performance John Nickson for Dr Mallin in A Perfect Murder
2016 Best Supporting
Actor Dominic Swarbrick for Louie in Ladykillers
2017 Best Ensemble The History Boys
2017 Best Female Actor Carol Buckley for Queen Malevolent in Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs
2018 Best Female
Supporting Actor Carol Buckley for Antonia in Any Other Business
2019 Best Actor in a
Pantomime Tom Armitt for Jean Claude in Beauty & the Beast
2021 Best Leading Carol Buckley for Laura in Time of my Life
Lady in a Drama
2022 Best Supporting Paul Heyworth for Colonel Melchet in Blackadder Goes Forth
Actor in a Comedy
2022 Best Director Steve Dobson for Don't You Want Me?
2022 Best Overall Play Don't You Want Me? written by Andy Bennison
in the Drama
Last Quiz Night on Earth
DATE: 19th October 2023
SOCIETY: The Hall Players
VENUE: Preston Playhouse
TYPE OF PRODUCTION: Play
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.
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
DATE27th January 2023
TYPE OF PRODUCTIONPlay
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?
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.