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The Arsonists

Performed November 24th to 26th 2016

The Arsonists
Did you get the message?

In early November a nice lady in a sweetie shop in Corbridge asked me whether I was going to the next production of the Drama Club. “Why is it good?” I asked, “Seems a bit strange to me.”  “Well, there’s a message” was the curious reply whilst sold a bag of sugar monkey nuts without knowing it.

Persuaded, I went along, watched without flinching, listened attentively except for a few good laughs by way of distraction and applied my mind. Easy – never let people you don’t know into your home with cans of petrol and provide them with matches. But surely it cannot be that simple not with a threatening Greek chorus masquerading as firemen, a home owner of good intentions with the unlikely name of Goodman, his long suffering wife, a  maidservant (Annie for goodness sake) and a couple of dodgy men, coupled with a transformation of the hall stage into something worthy of the Royal Court. Why go to all that fuss?

Then the Director’s programme note guided me into realms of thought I would never have believed possible. Equally, I have not heard at any previous production such animated discussion at the interval and as people found their way home into the dark night. I have to confess I loved it but can well understand how some folk did not. It wasn’t what one might have expected of a pre-Christmas show and the village discussion continues unabated.

It was a brave decision to take on such a challenge, but it was brilliantly staged and directed and, without exception, the cast were superb. We have come to expect so much of our Drama Club and for me they absolutely rose to the occasion yet again. And if you’re still struggling with the message consider this - “A man with convictions finds an answer for everything. Convictions are the best form of protection against the living truth”. Get it?

Peter McKendrick

Chris Heckels.JPG

Directed By

Chris Heckels

The Arsonists -  November 2016


A spirited message for the modern world

WITH Christmas just a few weeks away, it is an easy option for a village drama club to serve up some farcical romp to get an audience into the festive spirit.

But Riding Mill does not have any old drama club. It has a cast of players of professional standards and a hard-earned reputation to match.

So, it should come as no surprise that its latest production strayed far from the seasonal norm, and was probably one of the club’s most challenging ever.

The choice of Max Frisch’s The Arsonists was undoubtedly a big gamble.

A gamble for the actors to pull off such a complex plot; and a gamble for the audience to embrace its rather frightful message. Suffice it to say the gamble paid off in spades. The cast, to a man and woman, was superb.

And the audience, on the opening night at least, captured the mood of this theatrical occasion by watching and listening intently as this heavily political and philosophical plot unravelled.

It is to the enormous credit of the cast, the set designers, the technicians and especially director Chris Heckels that they managed to grip the audience’s attention over a 90-minute period which was free from any slapstick and action, but pitted with dark undertones.

The original play was written by Frisch in 1953, as a parable on the dangers of appeasement and the rise of fascism.

This particular English adaptation dates from 2007. In translation and modernisation, the play may have lost its overt references to Nazism, but it retains Frisch’s original scathing critique of extremism and the lack of individual and state will to confront it head-on.

Peter Woodman was masterful in the lead role of hair restoring tycoon Godfrey Goodman, whose initial stubborn resistance to abandon his morals and principles is stripped bare as he is driven helplessly to passive subservience.

Jean Buckley was word perfect in the fretful role of Goodman’s wife. And Susan Cook, as their maid, was equally impeccable.

Ian Lockey and Shaun Fenwick, as the arsonists, got the maximum value of what little comedy was in the script. Wonderfully, they mastered the difficult trick of switching in quick fire succession from lightheartedness to menace.

The chorus of fire-fighters offered an unusual, and frankly bizarre, dimension to the play.

They had the potential to distract, but thankfully did not. Rather, they provided the vehicle for Frisch’s overarching commentary that while the state has the willingness to fire-fight too late in the day, all too often it has a reluctance to intervene and root out extremism in its infancy.

Thanks to this courageous production, Riding Mill Drama Club managed to entertain and at the same time deliver a stark, thought-provoking message that has immense relevance in a modern world on the brink of being torn apart by a new wave of extremism.

Colin Tapping

Hexham Courant Link

Arsonists 1
Arsonists 2
Arsonists 4
Arsonists 3
Arsonists 5
The Arsonists Mat (15)
Set Build
New Metal Staging

Set Build

Designed By Matt Osmond

This was the first time we used the new metal module stage extension.

This proved to be a puzzle at first with hundreds of individual parts to be connected together.

This new way of quickly extending the stage has proven to be a welcome asset to the club and enabled several recent plays to perform on different levels and various stage sizes.

The old wooden stage extension was probably first used in 1968  There is a thank you in the program for the supply of the wood, for this purpose.

The new metal stage was mostly purchased by the Riding Mill Community Trust for use by groups that perform in the hall.

Arsonists set.jpg

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