The films depicted post-war New York as a city of zoot suits and snap-brim hats. Only in the theatre did you see the nether world of shipping clerks, longshoremen and salesmen. There people dreamed of big bucks and glory, ending their lives thinking that they could have been a contender. In Willie Loman, Arthur Miller’s play Death Of A Salesman (Open Space Theatre Company, Hoxne Village Hall) provides one of the meatiest roles in modern theatre. Paul Baker’s grand performance suggests a grizzly bear which has strayed, bewildered into the city and wants to get the hell out. He is surrounded by well-written characters, played at full throttle in David Green’s in-the-round production. As the sons, Mark Burridge and Peter Long show a truthful mixture of bounding optimism and cynicism. Yves Green, with her beseechingly saintly face, adds to her gallery of nobly suffering wives. Patrick Quorn brings a silvery eminence to Uncle Ben, visiting like the ghost of Colonel Sanders. Dawn Symonds pops her cork admirably as the peroxide other woman. Anyone wanting to bottle 1949 chic, should contact Emma Martin after her brief but striking appearance as Miss Forsyth.
The plight of the working class and political corruption are topical issues. They obviously were in the 1830s too, when John Walker and William Thomas Moncrief wrote their plays The Factory Lad and Reform. With just a day’s rehearsal, the Theatre Royal Bury actors, script in hand, gave the Guildhall audience a flavour of those times. Working men were unusual on the Georgian stage; but their replacement by steam looms in The Factory Lad created drama. The surprisingly fiery, radical sentiments probably account for the plays’ subsequent neglect. They were too dangerous by half. Reform was written just before the Great Reform Act and is a satirical cartoon, proving to be as much fun as a panto. To an audience awaiting the next round of cuts by a millionaire cabinet, the jokes were greatly appreciated. At the post-play discussion, one actor said that these plays, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1914) and Boys From The Blackstuff (1982) all said the same things.
Despite recognisable characters and situations, Ten Times Table (WARTS, Botesdale Village Hall) is not one of Alan Ayckbourn’s best plays. You have the deadliness of meetings which take forever; and the frustrations of trying to do anything by committee. You are reminded of people you know, in characters like the cheerful, elderly mother (Paddy Richards) and her nannyish middle-aged son (Richard Telford). But the play, which could almost be radio, lacks the theatrical legerdemain of classic Ayckbourn. His best work is grounded in reality. A Chorus of Disapproval was so true of amateur theatre. Here it is hard to believe that left and right wing factions in a pageant, which seems to have no script, would come to literal blows. However, there is much to enjoy in Emma Matthew’s production. Tim Hall’s Chairman always commands, even when trying to cope with a project that is falling apart. Derek Mitchell and Sue Johnson, as red and blue opponents, strike considerable sparks. Lynn Wilson veers charmingly to the red cause, while Keith Charman brings a touch of Tebbit to the blue leader. Leslie Dumbell amuses as a dipso committee member with a surreptitious hip flask and a tendency to nod off; and Alison Dumbell endears as the meek, almost inaudible Phillipa.