20 June 2019
The Summer Play Festival at the Manor Pavilion Theatre in Sidmouth is a phenomenon. 12 plays performed over 12 weeks. When one play ends, the set is taken down, a new one is built and the next play opens the following night. For 12 weeks. A company of actors, directors and technicians bring each production to the theatre forming the last standing professional summer season repertory company in the country.
Produced by the very well-respected Paul Taylor-Mills, the summer season is a unique and valuable asset to Sidmouth and the local community. For me, it is to be a very new experience as I will be seeing all 12 plays and charting the progress of the whole season.
Although the Summer Festival has been running many years, it has been under the guidance of Taylor-Mills since 2013 and the secret to success has been in the selection of plays and the employment of a reliable company – many of whom return year after year. The day to day running of the Festival is in the hands of Stuart Burrows and Jonny Clines who must virtually live at the theatre for months – it is a huge undertaking.
So, to the first play in the 2019 season.
Francis Durbridge was a staple of the thriller genre on Radio, TV and stage from the 1930’s onwards, with his character, Paul Temple, being his most famous creation. His plays, from the latter part of his life, are not often seen on the professional circuit these days but will occasionally crop up on the amateur stage. The stage thriller is no where near as popular as it once was and so it’s rather refreshing to see a revival of the genre.
To delve too deeply into the plot that Durbridge weaves is to give away the twists and turns therein. Suffice to say that ‘Suddenly At Home’ tells of the discontented husband, Glenn Howard, who plans to murder his wife and get away with it by fair means or foul. Never believe this writer for too long – he will offer surprise after surprise and every ring on the doorbell or the telephone could offer up another shock.
One look at the excellent set from Andrew Beckett and you are left in no doubt that this is the 1960’s; big bold wallpaper, abstract art, carefully chosen period furniture and bright orange doors. And if the set doesn’t take you back (though if you remember the 60’s you weren’t there!), then the clever use of songs from the decade may help – ‘The Look of Love’ by Dusty Springfield, ‘You’re My World’ by Cilla Black and a very pertinent snippet of ‘Suspicious Minds’ from Elvis. Quite rightly, there was no attempt to update the play – it just wouldn’t have worked; it feels right to keep it in period.
As the husband with murder in mind, Jeremy Todd shifts between cool and flustered with good stage presence, but a tad too shaky of delivery. Emily Outred is excellent as the ill-fated wife as is Rachel Fletcher-Hudson as her perplexed sister. Further well-judged performances come from James Campbell as the prime suspect Sam, Claire Louise Amias as the junkie actress Sheila, and Maisie Young as the au pair, Ruth. As the investigating officers, James Pellow is very much a by-the-book copper, whilst Toby Joyce is very much the opposite.
I am not sure one should analyse the plot too deeply to check for holes, but that is not the point and Director, Patric Kearns has ensured there is pace enough to keep the attention. This is a very good example of its type, even if it does lurch into melodrama. The demographic of the audience at Sidmouth is fairly specific and at the older end of the spectrum and they lapped it up.
‘Suddenly At Home’ is by no means a great play, but it is solid entertainment and the fact that this production has been put on stage in less than a week is a remarkable achievement.
A great way to kick off the Summer Play Festival – a unique and special theatrical event which deserves support and applause!
CAST & CREATIVES
MAGGIE HOWARD – EMILY OUTRED
HELEN TENBY – RACHEL FLETCHER-HUDSON
RUTH BECHLER – MAISIE YOUNG
SAM BLAINE – JAMES CAMPBELL
SHEILA WALLIS – CLAIRE LOUISE AMIAS
GLENN HOWARD – JEREMY TODD
APPLETON – JAMES PELLOW
REMICK – TOBY JOYCE
WRITER – FRANCIS DURBRIDGE
DIRECTOR – PATRIC KEARNS
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECHNICAL SERVICES LTD.
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
SEASON PRODUCERS – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS, STUART BURROWS, JONNY CLINES