REVIEW: New play is worthy addition for Burgess Hill Theatre Club

Mums Jane (Jo Calderon, left)  and Beth (Nicki Plank) have heart to heart

Mums Jane (Jo Calderon, left) and Beth (Nicki Plank) have heart to heart

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Clare’s Wedding, Burgess Hill Theatre Club, Friday, April 24

It is always pleasing to see a newly-written play performed by a local theatre company, however high its standard of past productions.

So Clare’s Wedding was a welcome and entertaining addition to Burgess Hill Theatre Club’s 60-year repertoire in its successful four-day run at the little theatre in Church Walk.

Written by director Cherry Woodhouse, the story surrounds the gossip, lies, and insecurity of the leading figures as secretive Clare’s big day approaches with the shadow of a former lover looming over the proceedings.

Confident Nicki Plank gave the outstanding performance as Claire’s darkly devious mother Beth, dominating the stage and looking every inch like a severe case of Christianity with a bun hairdo while later revealing herself to be both highly vulnerable and manipulative. While she supposedly talked to God, the Royalty-loving mother of her intended son-in-law talked to her dead husband. Jo Calderon as lonely Jane captured her anxiety with a sharp focus.

Switching the basic but effective sets proved simple. Take down picture of Queen, replace with picture of Jesus and hang up words along lines of Repent Thy Sins. Replace picture of dead, but not forgotten, husband with smaller picture of Jesus.

The play opened strongly with worried bridegroom Charlie (Matt Mulvay) and his cocky best man Adam (Matt Swan) running breathless through the theatre entrance door as if they had come off Church Walk, a highly effective piece of direction. Both remained equally lively verbally throughout their performance, sharper lines in the second half giving them the best opportunities to stretch their abilities as things got tense. This disturbing turn of events also gave Kerri Cooper, who had been a relatively chilled Clare in the earlier scenes, to open up emotionally and vent her feelings impressively.

The irrepressible character Maggie and her daughter Suzi, more than match for mum in the ‘gobby’ stakes, were both played vividly by Lara Weller and Emma Hudson respectively, with Maggie showing a taste for tripping along in thigh-clenching leggings and red high heels while balancing glasses of comforting Chardonnay.

The first half, while never dull, could at times have done with a little more pace in the dialogue. There was certainly no fidgeting in a second half that simply flew by as Woodhouse’s writing went up a gear to dramatically reveal the tale of deceit. Indeed the first act after the interval was one of the sharpest and shortest the club has ever performed, I should guess. The atmosphere was warmed by some excellent one-line responses like “I couldn’t find God. “Maybe he was avoiding you.“

Fine acting throughout the cast ensured an old theme was given a thoroughly modern airing. Even the way the cast took its bow at the end had a touch of humour and class about it.