Old Hands at Chapter Arts Centre

Old Hands

Hijinx Theatre, Chapter Arts Centre
Reviewer Michael Kelligan for Theatre in Wales Old Hands

Although some twenty years later the old hands in this production performing at the Skidbury-on-Sea Little Theatre brought back memories of my first professional engagement in the seafront Town Hall in Seaford in Sussex. Very similar pared down scenery sat on both stages. Clearly the clowning antics in the thirties of John ‘Jack’ Evans grandfather of playwright Glenys Evans and memories of the glamorous Dorothy Shackleton ensured the authenticity of the piece from the outset.

You could almost smell the canvas and the greasepaint. We seemed to have been allowed in too soon, the stage was not set and the furniture covered in dust cloths from the previous night. The lights went down and we all entered into a dream of Victorian music hall projected onto the dust cloths on the stage. Velvet suited dancing dwarfs and other grotesques dizzily pirouetted in front of us. We were in the land of popular variety theatre. After a bit of shuffling around the stage was set and a lively comedy duo of the time stood before us.

Sharp suited Adam Timms as Mr Gus Delamere looked every inch the seedy comic and cheating entrepreneur of the day. Beside him stood ukulele playing little Jimmy Pickles. Even in the comic banter between them Delamere showed his resentment for Mr Jimmy Pickles the musical director for his show. In his first appearance Gareth Wyn Griffiths showed us what a masterful character actor he is. The theatrical understanding he brings to this downtrodden musician totally captivated the audience as it did again and again with his every appearance.

Timms may not have brought quite the same degree of conviction to his role. But his seedy character clearly has no sympathy for anyone. Business at The Little Theatre is very poor so he decides to invite an old ‘friend’, fading former star Miss Florry Labelle to win back the falling audience. Like Griffiths Eloise Williams gave a performance of total conviction and was a joy to watch. She certainly had the voice for the part, whether delicately singing ‘The Way You Looked Tonight’ or jazzing up a dainty ‘Putting on the Ritz’ or belting out ‘Down At The Old Bull And Bush’. Always perfectly accompanied by Griffiths’ magic musicality she was the perfect faded star of the time.

There were two other very fine performances which made a major contribution in this production, Andrew Tadd as Mr. Ralph Topper Jr. dresser, stage manager and general dog’s body to the leering Delamere. Also Gareth Clark as ‘Baby’ Labelle, brother to Miss Florry. With their warmth and good humour these two lads with Down’s Syndrome were able to demonstrate what a great success Hijinx has made with its work with actors with special needs.

The two of them become good friends and settle down to bring the proceedings to its happy ending, as was common with all these old cheap fit-up shows, a minor disaster occurred but these two old hands coped with great aplomb and brought the show to a superb close.

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