Stage managing, building sets and becoming greyer!

Colin Watt plays William Humphries in 84 Charing Cross Road.

Since my last blog I have been involved with a number of shows with Saddleworth Players, helping Keith build sets, and even being allowed to build one myself, oh the pressure.

In 84 Charing Cross Road I play the part of William Humphries, and note that at one point my hair has to become greyer (that will need some doing), as well as stage managing and helping to build the set, which has been interesting.  Our director has requested things like a “Bay Window” and even a set of “Library Steps”, that has kept me occupied for a couple of days.

Recently, I have also played Joe Helliwell in the play “When We Are married” with Uppermill Stage society, and just finished “We’ll Meet Again” with my own charity group “Entertaining Friends” at Saddleworth Museum”.

Colin Watt

‘84 Charing Cross Road’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 23 – 30 November. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

Playing Helene – quirky, charming, a little eccentric and feisty!

Tracey Rontree plays Helene Hanff in 84 Charing Cross Road

Hi

I’m Tracey Rontree and I’m playing Helene Hanff, the author of the book 84 Charing Cross Road. Just a small part then … not!

This is my 3rd play with Saddleworth Players and it is a great honour to be invited back to play this mammoth part. Helene is a dream to play. She’s quirky, charming, endearing, a little eccentric and feisty. She falls in love with the bookshop, Marks & Company, address 84 Charing Cross Road and clearly has a soft spot for Frank Doel, an antiquarian bookseller working in the shop. She lives for the day when she can visit the shop in London and finally meet Frank, even though, in her own words … ‘She writes them the most outrageous letters from a safe 3000 miles away’.

Helene is also a challenging part. Not only is she a non-fictional character, meaning the actress has to be true to her, she’s also American, born in Philadelphia and living in New York … and there’s me with the broadest English northern accent you’ve ever heard … and we don’t have the luxury of a dialect coach in amateur theatre world. In fact, a liking for gin is the only common denominator that Helene and I have. However, I can promise you that I’m up for the challenge and I’m working very hard to bring you Helene Hanff as true to life as possible.

So, opening night is fast approaching and the nerves have started to kick in. I can already feel those butterflies hatching and crazily flying around in my stomach. It’s over a year since I last performed but I can vividly remember those feelings on opening night … stood in the wings waiting for that first entrance and the thought that enters my head: “Why do I do this? I’m petrified!” Then you enter, deliver your first speech and you’re there … all the time you’ve dedicated to bringing that character to life starts to pay off and you’re suddenly performing to an appreciative audience. Then, I remember why I do it … I love it … and if those nerves ever disappear, I know it will be time to hang up my theatre masks.

Why not kick start your Christmas celebrations with a pre-Christmas treat and come along to see how this transatlantic love affair develops and ends. I always get lots of support from family and friends but it would be great to see some new faces in that appreciative audience.

See you in the bar afterwards where I’ll be raising a glass of gin in honour of Helene Hanff.

Tracey Rontree

‘84 Charing Cross Road’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 23 – 30 November. Tickets available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

‘84 Charing Cross Road’, Director’s preview by Melvyn Bates

Melvyn Bates directs 84 Charing Cross Road at the Millgate Arts Centre

‘84 Charing Cross Road’ is an entertaining, evocative and moving collection of letters sent by the author Helene Hanff, from her home in New York, to the staff of Marks & Co, an antiquarian bookshop in London. Their correspondence spanned 20 years and resulted in a valued friendship. The play was adapted into a film in 1987 and starred Ann Bancroft and Antony Hopkins.

Our cast includes: Tracey Rontree as Helene Hanff, who was last seen at the Millgate Arts Centre in the production of ‘The Cracked Pot’. Playing the part of Frank Doel, the chief buyer for Marks & Co. is Simon Wood. Making up the rest of the cast are: Patricia Renshaw, Angela Bryan, Ruth Wild, Colin Watts and Sam Rowlands.

Do come along to the Millgate Arts Centre in November, when we turn our stage into a New York apartment and a second hand bookshop. I think that our team of set builders will have fun and hard work during November.

Thank you,

Melvyn Bates, Director of ‘84 Charing Cross Road’

‘84 Charing Cross Road’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 23 – 30 November. Tickets are available from the Millgate website (millgateartscentre.co.uk) or by telephoning the Box Office on 01457 874644, Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm.

WHY YOU NEED TO SEE THE SILENCE OF SNOW: THE LIFE OF PATRICK HAMILTON ON NOVEMBER 1ST

Mark Farrelly plays Patrick Hamilton in The Silence of Snow

When I performed my solo play Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope at Millgate Arts Centre last autumn, I immediately knew it was a venue I’d come back to. It’s a beautiful space, with an intimacy perfect for solo work. Tim and Michael are wonderfully supportive, and best of all the audience is engaged, enthusiastic and lively. My kind of place.

I’m returning on Friday 1st November with my solo play The Silence of Snow: The Life of Patrick Hamilton. By the age of 25, Hamilton (1904 – 1962) was an internationally famous playwright thanks to his gripping thriller Rope (filmed by Hitchcock), and a critical success with novels like The Midnight Bell, his deeply touching saga about lives of quiet desperation in Soho publand. He went on to write many other hits, including the play Gaslight, which gives us the term ‘gaslighting’, meaning to twist another person’s sense of reality.

But underneath his tailored veneer, Hamilton was lugging around more unprocessed baggage than Heathrow. His childhood (egomaniac father, smothering mother) had dealt him hugely conflicting messages about love, and like many humans he’d struggled into adulthood with no great affection for himself. This set the scene for a life of emotional chaos, with Hamilton time and again pursuing women who could not return his love, including a Soho prostitute, and two wives who ‘shared’ his life simultaneously.

Of course, it was always doomed because Hamilton did not love himself, and chose booze (“the neurotics’ microscope” he called it) to blot out this truth. Hamilton’s fiction (the riveting Hangover Square, he immensely moving Slaves of Solitude) is often veiled autobiography, and underneath the humour and dazzling verbal pyrotechnics, one senses a man desperately trying to understand himself before some final cataclysm strikes.

I’ve come to love Patrick. This performance will be the 77th, and to deliver such a torrent of great words (many of them Patrick’s own) is a joy for an actor. My director Linda Marlowe also helped me to create a restless, physically demanding piece of theatre. No sitting in a chair gently reminiscing about the past! This is a life acted out in the present tense.

Patrick’s talent blazed for only about fifteen years, but sometimes our minor literary figures have important things to teach us. This is what inspired me to have Patrick confide to the audience near the end of the play: “The great problem with life is that you can get from one end of it to the other without ever feeling that another human being ever truly knew you”.

Now here’s the clincher, and why I want you to be there on November 1st. Yes, it’s a vibrant piece of theatre with incredible reviews (**** from The Times, The Spectator, What’s On Stage and many, many others), but the play also raises money for MIND, the mental health charity. I’m sure you know someone who struggles with mental health, maybe you do yourself. I’ve lost three friends to suicide. The play is dedicated to one of them, Tim Welling. He took his life not long after kindly reading a first draft of my play. It was a tragedy that makes me burn with passionate determination to know myself, and everyone in my life, with every fathom of depth possible. The Silence of Snow encourages you to do exactly the same, by depicting the thrilling, funny, tragic story of a man who could not. I know Tim’s spirit will be somewhere in the beautiful Millgate Arts Centre on November 1st. I hope you will be too. Let’s share something together – and shine a light of hope for mental health.

Mark Farrelly

The Silence of Snow will be performed at the Millgate Arts Centre on Friday 1 November 2019. Tickets from Ticketsource.

Review: My Cousin Rachel

The cast of My Cousin Rachel

I’d been looking forward to the opening night of My Cousin Rachel for weeks. My mother Nancy was a founder member of Saddleworth Players and no one would have been prouder than Nancy to know the theatre she and her friends had put so much love, care and time into for decades was not only thriving but attracting audience members from far and wide.

And this was no ordinary opening night. Although the weather was foul, we’d come to see the much touted refurbishment of Delph’s Millgate Centre. 160 brand new red and purple seats bearing patrons’ names. Nibbles and champagne. A sold out performance. Tours of the theatre conducted by members who’d been working for months on the stylish new auditorium. The air bristled with expectation.

My Cousin Rachel is a Victorian Gothic melodrama, based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier. Ably directed by Carol Davies and set in Barton, Cornwall in the late 19th century, the play tells the story of the young, handsome and tempestuous Philip Ashley, (Sam Reid), who inherits a Cornish manor following the sudden and mysterious death in Italy of his cousin and guardian Ambrose, just months after Ambrose’s equally sudden marriage to Rachel (Verity Mann), a distant relative with a scandalous reputation and dubious motives.

But who is the real Rachel?  A grieving widow, a manipulative gold digger, a femme fatale or a kind, generous friend and employer?

After just one evening in Rachel’s company, the naïve and sexually inexperienced Philip loses his heart but Louise Kendall (Kerry Ely) a close childhood friend of Philip’s is not so easily fooled. Wildly jealous and suspicious of the attention Rachel receives from Philip and her father Nicholas (Peter Fitton), Louise turns from a fun loving, feisty young woman into a whirlwind of feminine fury, lighting up the stage and admonishing Rachel for her outrageous behaviour in a duel of barbed and perfectly timed one-liners.

Verity Mann, bedecked in tight black corsets and widow’s veil offers up a consummate and elegant performance as the flirtatious and beautiful older woman Rachel, while Sam Reid is convincing as lovesick Philip, alternating between wild elation, childish self-importance and testosterone-charged rage.

Mark Rosenthal is resplendent as Rainaldi, Rachel’s larger than life Italian lawyer friend, while  Seacombe the long suffering butler (Neil Bamford) acts as a subtle foil to the main characters,  manhandling luggage, organising transport and serving up a steady stream of brandy, champagne and herbal tea. Max Fletcher provides a breath of fresh air as Seacombe’s cheeky underling James.

Stella Woods

My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Seecombe, the long-devoted servant

Hello, I’m Neil and I’ve been asked to play Seecombe, the long-devoted servant to the Ashley Family.

“It seems only yesterday when all was well at Barton. Phillip Ashley was a mite not two years old when he first came to Barton, and this has been my privilege and my pleasure to see him come of age.

The news of Mr Ambrose Ashely’s sudden death in Florence, Italy, means that Mr Phillip is now our new master of Barton, and he will need some time to settle in.  He is guided by his guardian Uncle Nick (Mr Kendall), oldest friend of Ambrose Ashley.

Master Phillip meanwhile has gone off to Florence and has been gone sometime; we do expect him back any day now. It’s been such a time here at Barton, the news of Master Ambrose’s death left us all in such a shock.  Now I hear Mr Ambrose’s wife, is coming Here. Life at Barton is about to change forever.” Seecombe.

This is my second time here with Saddleworth players; I am enjoying the opportunity to be part of such a well-run company, a team of dedicated actors, a fantastic set, great lighting, excellent sound, some very dedicated props staff, and a very posh auditorium – all this under the ever watchful eye of Carol Davies, the director. Thank you.

My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Nick Kendall’s blog (by Peter Fitton, written in character!)

Peter Fitton plays Nick Kendall in My Cousin Rachel.

We were all knocked sideways by the death of my old friend Ambrose Ashley, hundreds of miles away in Italy. I’m guardian to Philip, the young heir to the Ashley estate and he went haring off to Florence when he received word of his cousin’s serious illness. Ambrose had only recently met his cousin Rachel out there, a great beauty, by all accounts, and married her in weeks. Naturally we were all agog to meet this mysterious creature, particularly since Ambrose was such a confirmed bachelor. But now all this! Philip is returned and my spirited young daughter Louise has been bending my ear to learn the full tragic story from the lad. What she doesn’t yet know is that Ambrose’s widow has contacted me by letter and we may, all three of us, be encountering the alluring Rachel sooner than we imagined. I, for one, find the prospect highly intriguing!

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Being naïve Philip Ashley

Samuel Reid plays Philip Ashley in My Cousin Rachel

Hi! I’m Sam and I’m playing the part of Philip in My Cousin Rachel, the first play of the new season here at Millgate. It’s my fifth play here with Saddleworth Players, the most recent of which was Incorruptible in June. I’m so excited to be treading the boards for the first play in front of the new seats in the auditorium!

One of the great aspects of this play is the “did she, didn’t she” question, which is true to the original Du Maurier novel. We in the cast have spent most of the rehearsal period speculating and arguing about it – I’m personally of the opinion that Du Maurier has deliberately made most of the evidence against Rachel circumstantial, rather than conclusively direct evidence. I suppose we must presume innocence until proven guilty!

Philip, on the other hand, is a much more transparent character. Philip’s motives and behaviour are quite easy to interpret but I’ve really enjoyed finding subtext and hidden meanings in the script with this particular play. I think he means well but he’s far too unworldly and naïve to be a match for Rachel. And yet again, I’m playing a young man seduced by an older woman! Maybe I’m becoming typecast . . .

I hope you enjoy the play as much as I’ve enjoyed being Philip. I think it’s a wonderful adaptation!

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Playing Louise, the excitable girl-next-door

Hi, my name is Kerry. This is my first play with The Saddleworth Players and what a play to jump in with! I’m really enjoying playing Louise, the excitable girl-next- door who is forgotten by Philip when the mature and exotic Mrs. Ashley comes to stay at Barton Manor. Louise is sweet and innocent to begin with, but her jealousy of Rachel Ashley brings out the worst in her character; she is taken in by gossip and believes the absolute worst about her.

The more I dissect the play the stronger my conviction is that Rachel Ashley is guilty…then I change my mind to not guilty. It’s so well written it will have audiences guessing about Mrs. Ashley’s actions for a long time after seeing it.

Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed playing at Droylsden Little Theatre, Hyde Festival Theatre, Oldham Lyceum, Upper Mill Society and in the Manchester Fringe Theatre scene. Most recently I’ve been filming for an episode of ‘Judge Rinder’s Court Room Drama’s’ for ITV.

I love theatre and acting. I’m really grateful for this opportunity to be performing with a lovely group so dedicated to putting on amazing shows. I’m already feeling nervous about opening night!

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.

Steam Punking up Cornish Victorian

Characters from ‘My Cousin Rachel’ in steampunk costume.

In looking back over our last Season, I realised that all the plays had been costume dramas, taking us from Medieval France, 17th Century London, the 1930s, to the 1950s. We are very fortunate in having a huge (and packed) costume store which provides most of what we need, with some hectic bouts of sewing to supplement it. When we first looked at My Cousin Rachel, we were unsure where to place it in time. It is written as a Victorian Gothic Thriller, but it could easily have been Edwardian, or 1920s / 30s. Not wanting to have to repeat the sweat shop conditions that churned out the many, many Playhouse Creature costumes, the temptation was to see what fitted, and set it in that era. Cheating I know, but with the costume store used as temporary housing for bits of boiler and lighting moved during the auditorium refurbishment there was no way to get to the clothing rails for the whole of the Summer.

Then, quite by chance, a friend mentioned going over to Hebden Bridge for a Steampunk festival. For those not in the know, Steampunk is a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery. Think modern day Jules Verne. From this has developed a whole fashion cult which combines Victoriana with anachronistic touches. The Victorian silhouette is turned into something altogether more daring and ‘punky’ with short skirts, corsets worn over clothing, and accessories that feature cogs, wheels, clocks, safety pins etc. etc. This is perfect for us, given that some of our dresses are a little worst for wear, and, invariably, tiny. We now don’t need to spend time adding panels and darning; we can simply deconstruct them and hold them back together with belts and safety pins!

As for the men – they get to accessorise their look with buckles, chains, watches and goggles. Much more fun than regular costumes, when all they get to do is fight over the diminishing store of matching cufflinks. Note to self – must make some Steampunk cufflinks.

We are hoping that the slightly unreal costumes add to the distorted reality of this psychological thriller. We’re not aiming to distract, and so are veering away from the more outlandish creations (and I did so want a lace ra-ra skirt!). But, let me tell you, we are having so much fun! What better way to fill a wet September morning than with a bag of keys and clock faces and a glue gun? Which reminds me, if you’re tempted to release your inner Steampunk creative, or possibly just like ironing – join the drop-in Costume Group on Wednesday mornings in the Green Room between 10am and 12.

‘My Cousin Rachel’ will be performed by the Saddleworth Players at the Millgate Arts Centre from 28 September to 5 October. Tickets are available online from our booking site or from the box office at Delph Library (Tuesdays 2pm–5pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm–7pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30am–1pm). The box office telephone number is 01457 874644.