Director’s preview – Le Grand Return

On the 5th June 2014, Bernard Jordan, a former naval officer, absconded from his care home in Hove to attend the 70th Anniversary of D-Day commemorations in France with fellow veterans.  His cross channel expedition in his 90th year drew world media attention and became the inspiration for Alan Stockdill’s Le Grand Return. Asked why he travelled to Normandy, Mr. Jordan said: “My thoughts were with my mates who had been killed.  I was going across to pay my respects.  I was a bit off course but I got there.” 

This spirit of warm hearted adventurism permeates the play and we follow Tommy Hardaker and his fellow ‘inmates’ Alf Hegginbottom and Edwin Cooper in their shuffling Great Escape from dreaming and planning through to saluting the fallen in Normandy.

Alan Stockdill has a gift for both comedy and poignancy and takes us on a journey from laughter to tears in a heartfelt look at the impact that WW2 had on a generation.  Rehearsals have been fun, with a fabulous cast that the piece could have been written for, but all of us approach the final scene with a lump in our throats.

We hope that you will take the opportunity to cheer the boys on with their Grand Return.  Playing dates 1st to 8th February 2020. 

Verity Mann, Director

Saddleworth Players will perform La Grand Return at the Millgate Arts Centre from 1 – 8 February. 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’ by Helene Hanff – opening night review by Martin Paul Roche

Tracey Rontree plays Helene Hanff and Simon Wood plays Frank Doel.

If I was to tell you that the current play from Saddleworth Players is about two people writing letters to each other, you might be inclined to be a tad uninspired at the prospect – but think again.

Definitely think again.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is so much more and it has taken the skill of Melvyn Bates as Director and his talented cast to bring this novel-turned-play-turned-film to life … and more besides.

The play begins in 1949 and then captures 20 years of correspondence between struggling New York playwright Helene Hanff (played by Tracey Rontree) and London antiquarian shop owner Frank Doel (Simon Wood). Her love and pursuit of books and desire to construct a collection which satisfies her appetite for all things literary, causes her to pursue a transatlantic association with her favourite bookstore. And the play explores how kindred spirits can be the basis for the most enduring of relationships; across the miles, their business relationship becomes far more complex, intricate and fascinating to observe unfolding. Mutual respect for their shared passions provides us with a window on two different worlds and lives which unfold before us in intimate and innocent detail. It is a charming piece which the company do justice to and more besides.

Melvyn Bates’ attention to minutia and understanding of the work ensures that the piece has good pace, entertains and constantly engages.

As ever, Saddleworth and their attention to physical details is faultless, from the set to the wardrobe, from the super staging to the mind-boggling volume of props’ – and not forgetting that fascinating play list of tracks which is interpolated throughout and contextualises the era we travel through. This is a piece which depends on detail and the company are clearly equal to the challenges it creates.

Tracey Rontree is the binding for this theatrical memoir, and she is faultless in her delivery. She adds interest and colour to all that she does and paints mental imagery for us to share in as she verbalises her letters to America: personal, intimate, heart-warming, she is the Queen of Detail who commands the role and the moment.

The supporting cast of Verity Mann, Laura Rothwell, Keith Begley, Colin Watt, Patricia Redshaw and Chloe Whatmough are used intelligently within the unfolding narrative and deftly provide much needed character, variety and interest to what could have been a very dry piece of theatre in the wrong hands, with the wrong cast.

But the last word must be for Simon Wood in the role of Frank Doel. Due to changes in cast beyond their control, he stepped in with three weeks to go and pulled this difficult and demanding role off from scratch. He commands (and demands) my utmost respect for all that he has achieved. A sensitive and considered performance under challenging circumstances, it was a big ask and he rose to the challenge.

Another memorable and quality production from Saddleworth Players, it plays until the 30th November and is well-worth the ticket.

Martin Paul Roche

www.martinpaulroche.com

23 November 2019

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.

Photographs courtesy of Stuart Coleman: www.ttfphotography.co.uk

Interview with Laura Rothwell, who plays Cecily Farr in 84 Charing Cross Road

Laura Rothwell plays Cecily Farr in 84 Charing Cross Road

Tell us about the character you play / your role in 84 Charing Cross Road?

I play Cecily Farr – one of the ladies working in the book store in London. She seems to be quite a shy timid character so I’m trying to bring a bit of flare to her personality.

What is your most memorable scene?

For me, I like the scene where Cecily plucks up the courage to write to Helene on her own, despite that in those days it wouldn’t be proper, and how she worries what her boss will think. It’s the start of a bit of independence for Cecily.

What’s involved in rehearsing / preparing for the play?

I have been talking to myself a lot to help learn my lines! I’ve done a lot of practicing of my movements in the living room at home, using furniture for my props…!

Is this your first cast / crew role at the Millgate?

This is my first performance at Millgate, yes.

What do you like about the Millgate Arts Centre?

What a hidden gem it is! You don’t expect it to be there at all above the library, and then when you arrive you don’t expect it to be the size or the standard that it is!

Laura Rothwell plays Cecily Farr in 84 Charing Cross Road 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.

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.