Performed 23rd to 25th November 2006
REALITY BREAKS INTO A WEB OF FANTASY By HELEN COMPSON
Youv'e got to hand it to them.
They are confident, bold and always up for a challenge.
Fortunately the bravery of Riding Mill Drama Group is matched by the tremendous breadth of talent they have to draw on - allowing them to stage two very different productions in one night.
Playing to a full house on three successive nights last week, the first course they served up was The Allotment, written by Gillian Plowman and directed by Mike Smith.
Four women serving community punishment orders have woven their own web of fantasy while growing vegetables for a soup kitchen.
An oasis of relative peace and calm, the refuge offered by the allotment is threatened by the arrival of a new, eager beaver probation officer.
Played by Pauline Fisher, Daisy Barnes is determined to make them face up to reality - the last thing any of them wants to do.
Marcie last saw her husband of 47 years as he was caught like a rabbit in the car headlights, just before she put her foot down and ran him over.
In a touching performance by seasoned thespian Anne Lawrence, the 70-year-old copes by conjuring herself and her late abusive spouse into the pages of a Mills and Boon romance.
He's coming to the theatre with me tonight, she says.
There's no theatre either, because that has been burned down by lofty Lorna (played convincingly by Hazel Osmond), a failed professional actress who aspires to Shakespeare and Shaftesbury Avenue.
Belle (short for Belladonna), on the other hand, plumbed poisonous depths to become a blackmailer.
Helen Kinnaird brought a sense of self-justification to the role that made you sure you wouldn't want to cross the vindictive Belle.
And then there is serial shoplifter Norah (Eileen Davidson) who has to help support her young granddaughters, she says.
But when Norah and Daisy Barnes lay eyes on each other, the truth will out, unearthing a tragic secret that has bound them together for 30 years.
The boil is lanced, the pressure for change vented, and the women are allowed, once more, to drink in peace from the healing waters of the oasis.
The Riding Mill troupers changed up several gears for Black Comedy, the fast-paced farce written by Peter Shaffer, of Equus and Amadeus fame.
Directed by Mike Fry, the rumbustious romp through the conceit and deceit of polite society opened with the stage bathed in darkness.
Using a reverse lighting effect, when the stage lights come on, the characters are supposedly plunged into a blackout.
And hapless, impoverished sculptor Brindsley Miller is about to have the worst night of his life.
Shaun Fenwick - is there no end to that man's talent? - actually made you feel sorry for the two-timing, manipulative oik as Brindsley prepared to meet both his future father-in-law and a wealthy prospective patron (played by Graeme Hutton).
His fiancée, the spoiled “idiot debutante" Carol (Angela Routledge), wants him to impress her bombastic father, Colonel Melkett (Sandy Gardner), in the hope he will give their impending union his blessing.
Unfortunately, she hadn't counted on her beloved having another squeeze, the “tiresomely bohemian" Clea (Jean Buckley), tucked out of sight.
Vision and perception lie at the heart of Black Comedy, which descends into anarchy as all is revealed.
Restrained spinster Miss Furnival, in an excellent performance by Carole Smith, lets half a bottle of gin do some very straight talking.
Wearing his heart on his sleeve for Brindsley and, in case there's any doubt, a bright pink tie, Harold Gorringe was brought to life in a hilariously camp performance by Mike Smith.
To underline the fact that few of them are what they seem, Kris Andersen's character, Shuppanzigh from the ‘lecky' board, turns out to be an art-loving, philosophy graduate fallen on hard times.
A performance of two very different halves, yet there were the unifying themes of reality and deception throughout.
Oh, and entertainment, laughter and an appreciation of a job done well - yep, Riding Mill Drama Group did it again.