Irene Rostron   GODA SASDA ADB

LUCILLA 39TH ONE-ACT DRAMA FESTIVAL - 15 May 2004
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DEPARTURE by Stephen Smith           LUCILLA DRAMATIC SOCIETY

Written in 1988, one wonders what additional ramifications Stephen Smith could have written into the plot in this fraught era of airport chaos and unpredictability!! He focuses in on two couples - mother and daughter, and husband and wife, who, having checked in, are now trying to kill time in a corner of a departure lounge during that seemingly endless limbo before the flight is called. But on this occasion the frenzy of activity, the baring of souls and psychoses, and the minor irritations which escalate into major ones, put departure lounges into a whole new light!! Although only a cast of four, the writer cleverly integrates the activity in the rest of the departure lounge. An entertaining comedy, but with the transforming of the least credible character (who anyone would avoid like the plague!) and a 'carbon copy' daughter into an apparently 'ordinary' mother and daughter, the Director creates an even funnier play, without altering a line of her dialogue! The four characters are well written, but when, as at Crosby, they were in the hands of four excellent actors, they moved this ordinary comedy on to an entirely different level.

SETTING / LIGHTING / SOUND : With a series of large indicator signs, advertisements, and a "Cleaning in Progress" notice (the cleaning equipment temporarily 'laid to rest' on stage while the cleaners take a 'break'), a semi-circle of chairs, and a cleverly co-ordinated series of airport announcements and sound effects (including planes taking off/landing, and the subdued chatter and noise from the rest of the D. lounge - skilfully rising and falling according to the dialogue and pauses, the staging gave us everything we needed to create a credible Departure Lounge.

COSTUME : Rosemary, obviously intended as somewhat O.T.T, is described as having 'dyed black hair, large glasses, over-bright clothes, a large bandage on her leg' and a daughter 20 years younger who is 'a carbon copy of her mother' (minus the bandage, of course!). By jettisoning the 'grotesqueries' and putting them both into quite tasteful summer holiday 'going-away' clothes (still the carbon copy of each other), the visual 'ordinariness' of Rosemary makes the effect she has on other people totally unexpected, highly credible, and even funnier. Dennis Tippitt and his wife, Sheila, on the other hand, are so 'ordinary' as to be downright staid, especially Dennis with his formal dark blue business suit, collar and tie, and briefcase, and with Sheila in her unfashionable, shapeless clothes, endlessly knitting, both were the perfect visual holiday antithesis to Rosemary and Mandy.

PRODUCTION :

The atmosphere of the D.Lounge was established in the B.O. before the tabs even opened on this temporarily 'empty' quiet corner - not for long! Rosemary and Mandy arrived from check-in, cheerful, optimistic - till Rosemary noted the unfinished state of the cleaning, and the 'obsessive' immediately raised its head - she set to with a fanatical zeal that put TV's Kim and Angie to shame - the latter even appear, 16 years on, to have 'nicked' chunks of Rosemary's dialogue!!! She delivered her virtually non-stop dissertation on the dirt, the airport, holidays, and so forth to single-syllabic Mandy, splendid malapropisms (a feature of her dialogue) and all, with terrific pace and attack, allied to excellent clarity and point (not least her comedy lines), cleverly synchronising the dialogue with the fanatical zeal with which she attacked the 'job' with the various cleaning implements to hand Yet she also retained a natural good-humour throughout, as if enjoying the opportunity! It was a lively opening scene, which immediately captured the audience. Poor, dominated Mandy, for whom Mother is earnestly seeking a husband, practised her 'smile' to order (but give the audience the benefit of it - played in profile to Mother, we didn't have the full effect).

Rosemary and Mandy moving elsewhere to practise the 'smile' to more promising use, Dennis arrived, his business-like manner of stressed irritation promising trouble for someone - his first few minutes, moving round, pacing, choosing a chair, all without a word of dialogue, was a comic gem, creating a splendidly three-dimensional character, and when, shortly afterwards, his younger wife, Sheila, arrived, her practised air of equanimity, knitting in hand, suggested long experience of Dennis's 'irritations' with life and society at large! His current objections include a prevalence of Nigerians on the concourse, and the manifold failings of Dan-Air from flight technicalities to check-in services, all bouncing off Sheila like the proverbial duck's back - how does he know so much about Dan-Air? "Well, I was in the RAF"! (Ground crew, it turns out) Beautifully-timed. Their repartee was extremely skilful in execution, creating at the same time the picture of an ill-matched couple, her attempts to reason with him falling on arid soil, and her summation of "narrow-minded, bigoted, sour" hitting the mark - it was a joy to watch these two playing together, and such was their conviction that they also subtly revealed the more serious deeper-seated problem in their marriage, giving another level of credibility to the characters without losing the more obvious comedy emphases.

When, on her return, rubbish-obsessed Rosemary saw the discarded NEWS OF THE WORLD on the floor beneath his seat, which Dennis earlier denied as his to Sheila, Rosemary's 'jossing' exposure and the 'ganging up' of the women in sending him up, resulting in a departure of 'hurt dignity, another scene of comic delight. There were many such instances - Dennis returning to find all the seats empty, but firmly belligerent about 'releasing' one of the 'engaged' seats to Rosemary, who immediately took the one beside him. His discomfort at her 'friendly' probing, which develops into a psychoanalysis of his childless marriage, again drives him out. (Mandy's graphic description about his subsequent contretemps with a group of children on the concourse needed stronger emphases to 'paint' the picture for us). Dennis, becoming stressed, positively exploded back on stage to decry the children and the refreshment charges, Sheila, increasingly belligerent herself, going off to SPEND on refreshments despite his protests, the cleverly-varied pace and attack continuing      

The final scenes continued the clever comic build-up - left alone, with Rosemary and Mandy seated either side, Dennis has no escape, as Rosemary starts relating a series of life- threatening examples of air travel, Dennis now visibly stressed. When Mandy departs, Rosemary's unrelenting interrogation of him (Dennis now almost beyond speech) reveals not only the underlying physical problems of his marriage, but his fear of flying! Dennis gradually disintegrating to a quivering wreck, Rosemary finally directing him to the Airport Doctor! This entire scene was a splendid example of comedy duo playing, much of it seated side-by-side - subtly handled, never forced; yet achieving the maximum comedy impact. On Sheila's return, seeking her husband, Rosemary's 'well-chosen' words reduced her to a state of anxiety, but offered a possible solution to their problem, as she rushes off to find him (the

scene following a natural progression with skilful duo playing). as Rosemary's flight call is

heard and she departs with Mandy, happy and well-satisfied with her 'services' as unofficial airport 'agony aunt' !

SUMMARY : An entertaining play given a highly-entertaining performance, the cast vividly creating the characters and giving us a genuine ensemble performance. They set a cracking pace at the start, and sustained this throughout, yet within that pace there was fine variation, point and emphasis, the comedy timing of dialogue and business excellent. Acting was very skilful indeed, creating deeper dimensions than the play implies, and subtlety played no small part in this, not least in the many moments when it was not words, but expressions, reactions which 'held' the stage - the director and cast of four didn't just set out to make their audience laugh, they 'involved' them, and the audience response was tremendous - the company 'didn't miss a laugh, yet the laughs also arose from a splendid spontaneity that never failed. Movement and grouping always well motivated, even with only a row of chairs, much of the time with the characters seated! Monotony and the repetitive never raised their weary heads .... A production/performance which was a very worthy winner of the 39th Festival. (But anyone who saw this performance will be looking over their shoulder next time they seek quiet corner in an Airport Departure Lounge!)

CAST:

ROSEMARY : A catalyst of chaos, "I'm in charge", always putting things to rights, and upsetting the 'applecart' and everyone in it. A splendid performance from a gifted comedy actress, playing with real panache, conviction and excellent comedy timing and technique. Never overplaying, always logical, good-natured, and that's what makes the character such a minefield to the unwary! Her several malapropisms were 'thrown away' in splendid style avoiding undue overemphasis, which would have forced the laughs.

MANDY : Winsome and willing (well, she has to be, hasn't she?!), she hasn't much to say (doesn't get much chance to with Rosemary as her mother!) but 'spoke' volumes through facial expression and body language, without ever 'guying' the character, remaining credible throughout.

DENNIS TIPPITT : An actor of rare gifts (as I have noted on earlier occasions), not the least of them being subtlety, and a remarkable facility for making his inner feelings visible through expression and body language, even without the use of dialogue. A beautifully created character, his highly skilled comedy technique here was never forced or obvious, yet he had the 'audience at his fingertips" A pleasure to watch a character created in such subtle detail. (He and Rosemary shared a very fine rapport).

SHEILA TIPPITT : Her apparent smiling nonchalance in the face of her arrogant, totally self-centred husband, also subtly revealed the inner hurt of years. She returned his insults with unruffled charm and smiles, but on those occasions when she responded in earnest, she did so with telling conviction. Her comedy timing and expression very good.

IRENE ROSTRON GODA

MARKS :                                                                                Originality,

Acting 38 out of 40. Prdctn 31 o.o35. Presntn 10 o.o.15   Endeavour &      Total 87

Attainment 8 o.o.10


 

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