Ashton Hayes Theatre Club: Playhouse Creatures.
“Playhouse Creatures’ written by April De Angelis, is the latest production from the Ashton Hayes Theatre club.
Performing in the Tavin community centre, we are transported back to 1663. Where King Charles II has recently re-opened the ‘Playhouses’ and for the first time, allowed women to perform ‘officially on stage. From the powerful opening scene, with dramatic red lighting and thumping music, I have to say, I was absolutely blown away.
Directed by Yvette Owen, ‘Playhouse Creatures’ is a humorous and yet tragic tale of 5 female characters, who all find themselves performing in what was once a former bear pit. We watch as their friendships and lives are transformed, and whilst for some it’s what they always wanted, the outcome isn’t always a happy one.
The characters are strong, and likeable and I found myself immersed in their stories from the start. I often find in some small cast productions, that there is a character, or an actor, who draws your attention more than the others. That certainly wasn’t the case here. Each character and performance, was strong in its own right. Fantastic performances from all the cast.
Each character is strong, and memorable, from the aging Mrs Betterton, wife of the theatre’s main actor and director Mr Betterton. She is ready to finally step from his shadows and play more challenging roles. Her acting classes with young Nell, showing how the emotions of an actress can be shown simply by moving her head to the hands on a clock, had the audience in fits of laughter. An energetic and comedic performance from Andrea Jones. Nell, is a young cockney oyster seller, who has always dreamed of being an actress, and as she says “When I think of things, they come true”. We watch Catrin Jones infectious, boundless energy as Nell, transform herself from a foul mouthed, awkward tomboy who jigs her way through her first performance, to a well-dressed, accomplished performer, with a house full of cushions and a park attached. Not without causing heartache for one of the fellow actresses however.
Ex-preacher’s daughter Mrs Farley, played by Kate Pare appears to be feisty and strong, but this hides a desperate need to be looked after. Performing in the Playhouse is her opportunity to claw her way from the gutter, and up the secret staircase; where petticoats and carriages await – though, sadly, not for long. Kates portrayal of a once strong, hardened woman, to someone so desperate she tries to sell her petticoat, and so broken she rocks the blanket that once held her baby, is incredible.
Mrs Marshall, played by director Yvette Owen is a young woman who has been tricked into a false marriage by her lover and scorned by society. The playhouse gives her the opportunity to be heard, not just on stage but in the salons at night. Where she drinks coffee, and has thoughts and ideas, and is listened to. So much so she earns them all rights to shares in the theatre. Yvette Owen plays the opinionated, funny but troubled Mrs Marshall with great comedic timing and passion.
Then there is Doll, poor old Doll, who shuffles around tending to the others, picking up their costumes and cleaning the ‘pisspot’, as well as performing alongside them on stage. She once lived here, in what was the bear pit with her Father, and whilst Doll might not have as much to say as the others, she might not yearn for change as much as them, possibly due to years of being beaten down. She can see what the others, particularly Nell can’t. Doll is played brilliantly by Frances Hamer. She had the audience laughing out loud with her awkward dancing and expressive facial features. It is Doll who points out to Nell that despite the playhouse changing those who performed there, and despite them getting paid and owning shares, that they will still being mocked , jeered, sworn at and used, just like the bears were.
“Playhouse creatures they called you, just like the animals”
The story and imagery of Doll describing the memory of what happened to the bear that finally lashed out, stayed with me long after I left the play.
Review by Rachel O Kelly