The Charlatan - by William Norfolk 
14th, 15th, 16th June 2012

Click here for more pictures of this play
 

Cast        Production Team
Anton Mesmer David Stelfox   Director Andrew Rogers
Maria-Theresa Paradies Sophie Robertson   Production Assistant Lynn Marsh
Professor Barth Roger Barker   Stage Manager Tom Donoghue
Doctor Stoerck Foster Barnett   Properties Roz Gerrie
Frau Schwartz Francis Dennis   Continuity Paul Caira & Lynn Marsh
Herr Paradies Howard Platt   Costume Christine Eckley
Drau Paradies Cathy Naylor   Set Design & Construction Stephen Radley
Frau Mesmer Karen Rogers   Lighting Design Terry Tew
      Sound Design Andrew Rogers
      Sound/Lighting Operation Martin Howarth
      Programme Design Howard Platt
      Production Photos Garry Cooper

Piano pieces performed by Rebecca Leung, Ben Yelverton, James Bluff and Roger Bluff from Bancrofts School

Click here for the NODA crit for this play
 

Review

This was an interesting choice of play and one rarely performed, if ever. Was there something wrong with it? Did it have difficult themes to understand? Was it badly written? Well none of those applied. I found it informative, entertaining and, most importantly well executed. I did some homework before I came to see it and looked up Anton Mesmer on Wikipedia. I hadn't realized till then that he was a real person. I had heard of the word mesmerize but didn't think what its origins were.

As usual you get a warm welcome when coming to Lopping Hall and the bar was run most efficiently with reasonably priced drinks - that always helps! You had plenty of front-of -house people too, to help with any enquiries your audience had. I loved it at the start of the play that you reminded your audience to switch of their damned mobiles! I also liked the fact that some rows of seats were elevated giving everyone a good view.

Direction
I thought that given the complexity of the play with all its many scenes - it was well staged. There are no surprises with this play as such - the explanation on the ticket flyer pretty well said it all - however it was how this all came about that was where the interest lay.

Lots of small scenes going from one fairly small location to another as you had to get three sets onto one stage. I'll talk about the set a little later. This was not an action play so not a lot of opportunity to move your actors around. In fact out of necessity it was fairly static, but when there was a chance to add animation you did very successfully and that came mostly from Mesmerís room.

I quite understand that with a wordy play, to keep the audienceís interest, you must have a story line which captures their imagination and actors who know how to deliver - so you got yourself a reliable and strong cast with meaty parts for all. I heard every word - diction was great and projection perfect, which was essential as a lot of information in each scene was given out. I think you got the best out of each of the characters making them quite distinct from one another and by making use of accents.

The play had very entertaining moments, particularly in the cafe with Frau Schwartz and some scenes between Herr and Frau Paradies, and these contrasted well with the more intense ones. Well done - you brought out the best in all your actors - experience will out!

Set
It worked very well on the three levels, which meant the audience could see everything, and it was clear where we were at any given time. The set was minimalist if not stark and though I could see that as little furnishing as possible was required, that that all worked well, I was not sure about having no dressing on the sets at all. You added a dado rail and picture rail - but no pictures all on any of the walls. This made me curious - did you think it was going to be a distraction and crowd the set with too much fussiness? Did you want the actors and their costumes to be the dressing? I can understand the use of few props as possible, but for me it left the set with a somewhat cold feeling.

The placing of the furniture must have been a bit tricky because you need the chairs to be where they were, and apart from in Mesmerís room when he moved one forward the others stayed where they were. No problem in the cafe scene, and in the Paradiesí room, I can see why the one that was upstage and backed onto the cafe set had to be where it was. It slightly obscured Foster; however the chair had an open back. Quite frankly it would have been a pain to have to move it every time so it was the best place for it in the end. I did notice a small modern addition to the door in the cafe. It had an automatic shutting thingy Ė fair enough, though most of the audience wouldn't have noticed it - but hawk-eye here did! Sorry.

Overall though it was an effective set and worked well.

Sound/Lighting and Technical stuff
Lighting was very good with each area covered well and not too much overspill which is inevitable on a small stage. It all seemed to work at the right time and with so many scenes went swimmingly. It highlighted particular pieces of furniture when necessary - and actors too when it was just Mesmer and Maria on stage during the prologue and epilogue - well executed and considering the two light backgrounds on stage it was not over bright.

Sound too was a challenge with several piano pieces as well as 'concerts' off. Was Maria operating the on\off for her pieces? I did wonder if you had two electronic pianos disguised as piano fortes. I did just see the wire on the one in Mesmerís room. If she was not operating herself then the time/co-ordination was very good. There were no moments where she was playing and the music stopped or the other way round.

Congratulations go to the four pianists from Bancroftís by the way - it sounded 'real' rather than taken from a commercial c.d.

Props and costumes
Minimal but effective in all three scenes - but the authenticity of a couple of items in Mesmerís house Ė i.e. the bowl and vase which looked to me rather modern - however getting hold of 18th century ceramics would probably cost a fortune just in the insurance. I did like the props in the cafe and the Herr Paradies letter looked very good. Was there real coffee in that pot? Very nice for the actors if that was the case, but I doubt it was real brandy!

With costumes Christine did a very good job - and whoever else helped. They really did dress the set as well the actors. I was so glad this play was a not a couple of weeks earlier when we had that mini-heatwave! I know how hot wigs get! The ladies had a couple of changes as did Mesmer and Paradies and I particularly loved the orange affair and hat of Frau Paradies, and the black and white outfit of Frau Mesmer - both striking in their own way. And that green cloak! Mesmer looked like a magician and was most effective. Loved the elasticated buckles too for the men, there was a lot of attention to details on the costume front. Well done.

Backstage crew and prompt
No scene changes to contend with, which is always a mercy! Smooth transitions from scene to scene and I saw no problems with props not being in place and just the occasional service of the prompt, so another good job there.

Players 

Anton Mesmer - David Stelfox
An interesting character to play and very well played he was too. Not a particularly warm person. He was conceited and aloof with a great sense of his own importance, however very committed to his idea of 'animal magnatism' the creator of the phrase we still use today, thought in a different context. You can also add insufferable to your list of not pleasant characteristics which is what you became after the girl could see - according to Dr. Stoerck that is. You looked good and your delivery was crystal clear. You softened his personality at times with Maria, but not with your poor wife - how she could stand you I don't know. You always seemed to know what to do with our hands as well. Often actors find it difficult to know what to do with them as part of a character and it all added to your convincing performance.

Maria-Theresa Paradies - Sophie Robertson
A lovely part for a lovely actress; I thought you gave a really smashing performance - a difficult part to play convincingly and most of the time making the piano playing seem real, though occasionally a little too much movement for the piece you were supposed to be playing, a minor point though. I felt rather sorry for this girl. You were able to portray her vunerability with great skill. You made me jump at least twice with your sudden screams, when she was having one of her 'turns', and I believed you really couldn't see - particularly when in one scene with Mesmer he touched you on the arm and you flinched most convincingly. She was a delicate flower that was being crushed under the weight of her parentís relationship, going blind seemingly for no organic reason. We might well call it today a psychosomatic illness or elected blindness - to shut out the world of her rowing parents and to retreat into music. I do believe that Mesmer might well have got you back your sight, but how much you really wanted that to happen is a moot point and very telling in your line about being 'home to the darkness I've always loved' - an excellent performance.

Professor Barth - Roger Barker
A sturdy hand on the tiller of this character and a tricky opening scene with the most props for you and Dr. Stoerck to juggle with coffee, brandy and card playing, plus of course interjections of what was happening in your card game as well as being interested in your companionís story. I liked the cafe scenes as they filled in the story line as the play progressed. Again heard every word, you looked very good in your costume and rather suited the wig I thought! You delivered your usual high standard of acting and gave flesh to your part.

Doctor Stoerck - Foster Barnett
Another stalwart of the LADS, bringing this part to life whilst telling the story of this unfolding scandal while also drinking coffee, sipping brandy and playing cards almost all at the same time. You and Roger make a perfect double act each complementing one another in your acting styles. Another chap who can wear 18th century garb and look good in it, and another actor familiar with making sure that our audience hears what you have to say and delivered with aplomb.

Frau Schwartz - Frances Dennis
What a lovely part, and beautifully realized. You had some of the best comic lines in the play and you delivered them very well. Was your accent natural? Is it possible that this very attractive cafe owner had a fat spotty daughter and a drunken son-in law? I loved your gossipy part and your various expressions to go with what you were saying - a most entertaining character and you came over really well.

Herr Paradies - Howard Platt
I liked the use of a northern accent to distinguish you and your wife from the other players. You were a fairly solid respectable couple with a very talented but blind daughter. You stood up well from your haranguing wife and the rows were very convincing. It was hardly surprising that the louder the row became the more upset was your poor daughter. This was a well rounded character, which you brought to life. Itís always re-assuring to see certain actors who you are familiar with doing a really good job on stage and that most certainly applies to you. You looked comfortable in your costume and there was great charisma between you and your wife and some light relief as well in some of your scenes together. A most enjoyable performance.

Frau Paradies - Cathy Naylor
Loved this woman - what a great part and very well executed too. I really believed in your relationship with your husband and your daughter. You used the limited space well and managed during your rows to be heard without shrieking, which can happen quite easily when you are in the throes of acting. I really liked the scene with the hats. It still happens today when you ask your husband about what you are wearing and you get either negative answers or grunts etc as they are obviously not interested at that point. A very nice scene between the pair of you, and between you and Frau Schwartz. I thought you look fab in that orange outfit and the hat was glorious. A sure and reliable delivery made watching you on stage a real pleasure.

Frau Mesmer - Karen Rogers
Quite understandable why you prefer giving soirees to being with your husband! Not exactly a marriage made in heaven and your somewhat prickly nature was well put over. You looked very good in your costume and your grey wig and glasses made you look about 10 years older than your husband so that worked well. I thought the scenes between you and Mesmer told their own story- a frosty relationship had developed over the years - yet there were a couple of tender moments to show how things used to be. A character well understood by you and another good performance.

Conclusion
This eight-hander worked really well and was a cohesive piece of theatre, with very good ensemble playing which comes from a lot of hard work to make this unknown play come to life. I do love it when things work and this most certainly did. It's always good to see less popular and less well known plays see the light of day. It's quite brave too to have the conviction that your audience will enjoy it as well.

So once again Ė a very well done to you all. I am delighted that the LADS go from strength to strength and continue putting on plays that entertain us and which are of a high standard.

Margaret Godfrey