Reprinted from Dorchester News, Septenber 2019
Loyal fans of Dorchester Amateur Dramatic Society (now in its 33rd year) knew they were in for something special. As soon as they entered the Village Hall they found their little local theatre had been breathtakingly transformed.
Instead of the usual conventional raised stage at one end of the hall, the whole auditorium had been turned 90 degrees. So the stage was set at ground level running almost the whole length of the hall with the audience arrayed along the opposite wall.
It was a bold move by director Mark Wilkin and it really paid off. Not only did the audience get a clear view of the show from wherever they were sitting, it meant no problem designing a set with plenty of space for eight separate entrances.
A play with a title “Sex Please We’re Sixty” was guaranteed to test the broadmindedness of the village audience. It is hard to imagine those villagers who attend regular classical music concerns in the Abbey making their way to the village hall for this show without some trepidation. Indeed I am told a coach load of members of Benson WI had to be bussed in on the opening night to help fill the seats.
Playwrights husband and wife team Michael and Susan Parker could be said to have invented the American farce: the adaptation of the finest tradition of fast moving trousers-round -the–ankles British farce for American audiences. Their other works include such inspirational titles as ‘The Sensuous Senator’ ‘The Amorous Ambassador’ and ‘Sex, Sin and the CIA.’
‘Sex Please We’re Sixty’ is what you might expect: it is bawdy, silly, and definitely not designed to appeal to a high brow audience. But even your reviewer, who considers himself to have a higher brow than average, found it funny. And that is really all that matters with a show like this.
What cannot be denied is the almost professional quality of the production. The cast performances were universally excellent, the set design cheerfully pink, the costumes both stylish and outrageous and a direction showing the right mix of disciplined timing and lightness of touch. The American accents coached by Caroline Hopkins were convincing.
The casting of the four women was particularly pleasing: each has their own distinctive and contrasting style.
The play’s ridiculous storyline concerns Henry (Ian Brace) a retired chemist. His love for the widowed Mrs Stancliffe (Sue Kitson) who runs a Bed & Breakfast establishment is entirely unrequited. He has proposed to her every afternoon for the last twenty years… without success!
But Henry has a cunning plan: he has invented a new pill –the female equivalent of Viagra – to stimulate her libido and make her succumb. He calls his new untested pill ‘Venusia.’
Of course she does accept him eventually in order to set up the required happy ending. But before that can happen there has to be the inevitable mix-up between Henry’s new pill ‘Venusia’ and a supply Viagra pills used by Bud Davis (Mark Williams)
Bud is the ageing Casanova who lives next door to Mrs Stancliffe and is known as Bud the Stud. She unwittingly supplies him with a steady stream of paramours via her B & B operation. It seems to attract more than its fair share of unattached ladies of an uncertain maturity who are easily charmed by Bud the Stud’s attentions.
Henry and Bud both mistakenly sample the ‘Venusia’ pill and end up displaying all the symptoms of the female menopause. This provides the central joke of the play. In performance Henry definitely outflushes Bud and on the night I saw it even aroused the sympathy as well as the laughter of the women in the audience.
Ian Brace’s performance as Henry was nicely low-key. He is the least experienced member of the cast yet he was entirely convincing in the role.
In many ways Mark Willliams as Bud the Stud had the most difficult part as the least sympathetic character. But he plays comedy villains well and was remarkably athletic on the sofa where much of the action took place.
Sue Kitson stole the show at the end with her remarkable transformation of Mrs Stancliffe from dowdy middle age to alluring glamour. She never looks like this on her allotment.
Rosemary Mills is a key member of the company and hit just the right pitch with her performance as Victoria Ambrose the steamy romantic novelist with writer’s block and Christine Hudson was in fine form as Hilary Hudson, a former colleague of Henry’s who agrees to help him test his Venusia pill. Her scene on the sofa with Bud the Stud when his extraordinary underpants – bright red with heart shaped white polka dots – are first revealed was a tour de force of thespian athleticism. She also had a very good American accent.
Rachel Winslet in her role as the quintessential Southern Belle Charmain Beauregard had an opportunity to overact the like of which she is unlikely to get again. She seized the opportunity in her warm enveloping Dixieland embrace. She first appeared have half way through the first act and immediately raised the tempo of the whole show. It never slackened from then on. He Southern Fried accent was spot on.
You could argue director Mark Wilkin took the experiment of re-positioning the stage along one wall a bit too far: both exits at extreme ends of the set could have been turned inwards while the central flat (wallpapered in red roses) could have been quite a bit narrower. But these are mere quibbles. The overall effect was brilliant, creating an intimate and uncluttered theatrical experience. DADs should use this arrangement whenever they can.
Reprinted from ODN Newsletter, August 2019
Dorchester Amateur Dramatic Society 19th – 22 June 2019
Sex Please, We’re Sixty by Michael & Susan Parker
Michael and Susan Parker have written many successful American farces.
The challenges that this play presents, were evident when the audience is greeted by a set which ran the whole length of the hall, with six doors and two other entrances. This brought the audience very close to the action, but this did not phase the competent cast.
This farce is set in Rose Cottage, Bed & Breakfast run by the strait-laced Mrs Stancliffe played very firmly and fiercely by Sue Kitson. Her next-door neighbour, Bud Davis, (“Bud the Stud“) awaits the arrival of three female guests which present the opportunity for seduction. Bud, played exhaustingly by Mark Williams had a brilliant collection of facial expressions and was very Robin Willaims-esque in his mannerisms. His portrayal of the ageing lothario was brilliant, including when things go wrong with a mix-up in his Viagra pills. Things take an unexpected turn when another neighbour, Henry Mitchell, a retired chemist shows him “Venusia”, an un-tested new pill, which he has developed to increase the libido of menopausal women. Henry, convincingly under-played by Ian Brace, has his sights on Buttercup Stancliffe and appears with a different bunch of flowers of increasing size on a daily basis, only to have his advances and proposals constantly spurned.
The three female guests: firstly, writer Victoria Ambrose is the first to succumb to Bud’s charms. Rosemary Mills was elegant and played the part strongly and was very believable suffering from ‘writer’s block’ and looking for romantic ideas to finish her latest novel. Secondly, Hilary Hudson, a former colleague of Henry’s, whom he has invited to road-test his new pills. Hilary was played confidently and bubbly by Christine Jones. The third female guest, a returning guest, Charmaine Beauregard, (Rachel Winslett-Morris) was brassy in appearance and gave a delightfully over-the-top performance in her seduction of Bud and was a good foil to the other two females
There were some hilarious moments when all three women discover that Bud is seducing the other two guests and all plot revenge. This involves swapping his Viagra for the new ‘Venusia’ pills, which both men end up taking. One of the side-effects of ‘Venusia’ is to mimic the symptoms of the menopause, which results in the two men sitting in the centre of this vast stage having a series of hot flushes, sobbing and mood-swings. The resultant effect is the curbing of Bud’s performance ability, much to the delight of the ladies, who exacerbate the situation by all trying to seduce the failing Bud. All is not lost, however, for Henry, as his coaching by Victoria, wins over Buttercup.
This farce was well received by the packed audience, although some of the American humour was lost in translation for a UK audience. The director, Mark Wilkin, is to be congratulated on his use of the wide span of the stage and all those doors. The pace was well maintained and left us all exhausted by the speed of the entrances, none of which were missed by a second. Accents were good and well maintained by all throughout, not easy.
Congratulations to all.
From the authors