Our last production was The Safari Party by Tim Firth,
and was performed 16th–19th May 2018 in Eynsham Village Hall.
This is a fast-moving, hilarious comedy by the man who wrote Calendar Girls and who has worked with Willy Russell and Alan Ayckbourn. It features 3 households in Cheshire who hold a safari dinner party, with one course in each house. Young “farming” brothers Daniel and Adam are trying to get their lives on a sound footing after a traumatic past. Lol and Esther are brash and vulgar, but in search of the rural idyll, while their long-suffering daughter Bridget forges her own path. Inga is an antiques dealer, with a creative streak. They don’t get on and when the secrets of the table are revealed, it all kicks off.
The Telegraph called it “a cracking comedy – cunningly constructed, thematically rich and above all blissfully funny”.
The Guardian said it “becomes a brilliant expose of bourgeois self-deceit, brought to a pitch of squirming social embarrassment”.
Daniel – Joe O'Connor
Adam – Isaac Alcock
Lol – Gareth Hammond
Esther – Gillian Somerscales
Bridget – Eloise Sheffield
Inga – Lesley Robinson
Directed by Gareth Hammond
Safari Party Review: Paul Stammers
Anyone for buttyball? Ah, but not being from rural Cheshire,
you won't have heard of it, nor tasted Tollycurney.
Buttyball is a type of table golf played by rustics - at least in this broad satire on countryside fakery by Tim Firth, who penned the hit Calendar Girls. The table in question is a central character, taking various guises. Is it a 19th century games surface? Hewn from the wood used for grandpa's ferry? Or just furniture from a car boot sale? Lies abound, prompted by a range of motives.
This farce, about a roving dinner party where each course is hosted at a different home, had the audience on the opening night chortling loudly from the outset. The cast relished the opportunity to send up caricatures - in particular, Gareth Hammond was rip-roaringly xenophobic and garrulous as businessman Lol (an apt name, given its text-speak meaning) - and did a fine job, considering the added pressure of being the play's director (albeit assisted by Deborah Lisburne Diacon
and Denise Santilli).
Gillian Somerscales was a treat - caked in eyeliner and limping on high heels, she was convincingly pretentious and highly strung as Lol's snobbish wife Esther. Some of the strongest scenes were their confrontations with antiques dealer Inga (Lesley Robinson), whose preposterous garb and make-up belies a ruthless streak.
The younger cast members occupy more serious roles - Isaac Alcock made an impressive debut with the Players as Adam, a struggling farmer who tries to protect his younger brother Daniel from a nasty home truth. Joe O'Connor was compelling as the twitchy and traumatised sibling, haunted by the death of his abusive father.
Eloise Sheffield makes a welcome second appearance with the Players, having had a minor role previously in Relative Values; here she was sassy and intelligent as Lol and Esther's cringing daughter Bridget. Despite the Players' perennial appeal for 'new blood', the group clearly has no problem attracting new talent.
Unusually for the Players, the set is minimalist but adept use of sound and lighting helps set each scene. Don't be alarmed by a warning before the curtain rises about a shotgun - it's not actually very disturbing, although you may well jump when something falls from the ceiling.
The play isn't without flaws. It's difficult to place despite the alleged 1998 setting: the mentions of satellite TV, 'Ready Steady Cook' and rap vie with strains from Bert Kaempfert's 1962 'Swinging Safari' melody and in this production, Bridget's hairstyle seems on loan from the 1980s. Regional accents meander too, although all the cast's delivery is confident and clear. However, this is a production with impeccable credentials - something Lol and Esther would approve of.
Nigel James: Bartholomew Players 16th - 19th May 2018
The Safari Party by Tim Firth
It was a little disconcerting to see only a blank, black-curtained stage,
for a three act play, but the area was well used and adapted to portray the three locations required.
This production went along at a cracking pace, thanks to the director, Gareth Hammond, who also played the role of Lol. The two brothers, Adam (Isaac Alcock) and Daniel (Joe O'Connor) were well matched in their anger, panic and brotherly rivalry. Chosen to host the first course of the Safari Party, found themselves without the necessary ingredients for the event, namely the food or a table, which became central to the story. The first guests to arrive, which throws the brothers into a blind panic, are Lol, a bigoted golf fanatic, played with glorious pomposity by Gareth Hammond, his wife, Esther (Gillian Somerscales) who, as always plays her role with amazing comedic timing, was forceful and attempting to be stately even with the heel broken off her shoe. They are both desperately trying to fit in with the locals and had, it emerged bought the aforementioned table with a completely false provenance. Theirs was the setting for the main course. The brothers had first lied about the history of the table, which was embellished, to inflate the price, by the local second-hand dealer, Inga (Lesley Robinson) who played the role convincingly with all the insincerity of a second-hand dealer and who is found out in the end and was to be the location for the pudding course. The cast was completed with Lol and Esther's feisty daughter, Bridget, who was expertly played by (Eloise Sheffield), and had invented a Portuguese boyfriend, so she would avoid working in her father's golf shop. They had all lied at some stage and were revealed in the end.
The intentional awkward silences were very effective, as was the turning of the table. The dinner scene was excellent, with a good build up of tension and pathos.
An expert cast all of whom delivered a brilliant performance. The Cheshire accent is a notoriously difficult one and brave attempts were made to re-produce it.
Well done to everyone.