Wife After Death- Review

Hull’s Chameleon Players are back at the Northern Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) with another treat for theatre-goers with their take on the classic Wife After Death by Eric Chappell.

The production deals with the funeral of Dave Thursby, a lovable rogue actor who has a few skeletons in his cupboard which he managed to keep very well hidden until his untimely death.

Most of the action revolves around Dave’s two best friends Harvey (played with great distinction by Allister McNulty) and his wife Vi (played with great poise by Paula Branton) and the dialogue between these two is very dynamic and builds up the first impression of the recently deceased man with great composure.

Laura (played with great attitude by Kathy Smith) is the widow and she fits beautifully into the dialogue with her entrance which is a credit to her timing and the way her entrance is set up by Branton and McNulty. The ensuing conversation with her talking about her dead husband which causes a few heart flutters on stage.

The strong acting by Branton and McNulty expertly develops the other characters even before we see them and when we do they are exactly as you expect them to be.

Kevin (played with great elegance by Steve Willis) is the dead man’s long suffering agent and when he enters you know what to expect and the building-up to the point of him looking in the open coffin is superbly skilfully handled by Willis and McNulty.

Harvey is the writer who has written a lot of work for the dead man and the life and character of a writer are expertly delivered by McNulty in an outstanding performance with fantastic wit to go with it.

The character of Jane (played with wonderful presence by Joanne Gallagher) is very strong at first but is unraveled expertly on stage as the revelations which are a big part of the production keep coming.

The entrance of Kay (played with excellent conviction by Sharon Burton) changes the whole dynamic on stage with a fantastic development of Dave’s dim and distant past which nobody will see coming.

Despite all the tragedy about the death of the popular entertainer and the shocks in stall there is a wonderful sense of comedy timing about the whole thing.

Everything is beautifully ramped up just before and after the interval and you honestly wonder which way everything is going to go.

The background is changed in the 2nd half after Harvey has an idea of what he’s going to do in the near future but then comes the biggest shock of all which is a very hot brick which is superbly handled by the whole cast.

The final piece in the jigsaw also fits in extremely well with everything else that has happened and brings the whole production to a predictably unpredictable ending.

Wife After Death is on stage at NAPA on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 November as well with tickets available on the door, you would be very well advised to go and enjoy this treat of a production.

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Never Gonna Give You Up- Review

Never Gonna Give You Up is, as it says on the ticket, a bitter sweet roller coaster stroll back to the 80’s by The Three Amigo’s Theatre Company, and it is very memorable in many ways.

It is a high octane story of domestic discord, criminality, political bashing and a love story that is superbly disguised at first and revealed later on having been hinted at a few times.

From the moment someone from the Northern Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) came on to explain that one of the actors was having to use a crutch to support himself due to an unfortunate injury in his foot from the performance the night before you knew this would have to be a gutsy performance to get around this and make it look natural.

With an excellent soundtrack of 80’s classics, provided by the cast who had been in the recording studio, in the background the action began on a Saturday afternoon as Mark (played by director and co-writer and looking suspiciously like one of Harry Enfield’s three scousers despite living in Gipsyville) is watching his afternoon racing hoping that one of the horses he’s backed will finally win him some money.

Unfortunately for dock worker Mark his selfish, egotistical wife Sharon (played by Georgina ‘Sparkle’ Garton) has invited her best friend Lisa (played by the outstanding Paula Branton) who just happens to work in the bookies that Mark frequents, and her new man Dave (the excellent Stan Haywood) for drinks.

It soon becomes apparent that there is something about Dave that Mark clearly doesn’t like and it isn’t just the fact that he is insatiably flirting with Sharon, and it doesn’t take him long to mention something about prison, Sharon however thinks it’s just sour grapes because Dave has money to burn, a fast BMW car and a flat in Hessle of all places, because she’s blinded by his attentions.

In a superb performance by Paula Branton her character Lisa is seemingly floundering around in a daze, unaware of Dave’s outrageous flirting with her best friend but she also drops the odd very subtly disguised hint of a closeness that exists between her and Mark.

Stan Haywood makes a very convincing greasy criminal mastermind, despite the difficulties his injury had caused him, and the cast in general, particularly Branton and Garton, did make it all look and feel very natural.

With a well thought out bit of writing Lisa’s boss Douglas (the very likable Peter Bernard Shally) is introduced into the story to give Sharon a job interview over a burnt Sunday roast.

Before you know it Dave has arrived for the dinner late and he’s pulled a gun on them, he convinces Sharon to take the safe key that Douglas has handed over and empty it of its apparently £5000 takings, saying he’ll take her off to Spain with him to live the high life.

When she returns with the money she and Dave think they’re going to escape until the perfectly timed introduction of Tony Taxi (Steve Willis made-up to look like 80’s icon Adam Ant) and Eye Patch Mickey (Kevin Hickson) which changes the dynamic and increases the laughs on offer.

Then finally Dave reveals his dastardly plan, his wife and son are waiting in Spain for him and Sharon, having ditched her husband for him, isn’t invited to go with him, he’d been brilliantly stringing her along the whole time to get her to do the job on the bookies safe for him.

However there is a double kick in the guts waiting as Douglas has a heart attack, turning the drama up another notch, and then, in a desperate struggle between Mark and Dave, the gun goes off and Mark is shot.

After the inevitable delay caused by the crazed gunman not wanting any emergency services anywhere near, an ambulance is called for Douglas and Mark.

It all becomes a bit chaotic, understandably so, towards the end as first the ambulance crew Jim (NAPA stage manager Colin Thompson) and Sally (Sophie Burgess, working on behalf of “The Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts”) arrive to try and save Douglas and Mark.

While the Paramedics are trying to save the stricken pair Chief Inspector Vincent Julian Husband (Sean Smith) and Police Woman Sergeant (Kathy Stokoe) also turn up and Husband is seemingly “Looking for answers” which he reiterates several times.

There is genuine emotion as the very likable Douglas passes away, there is the obvious nightmare of recrimination from Sharon seeing her husband laid on the floor fighting for his life.

Finally Mark and Lisa express their love for each other, which has been wonderfully handled by the actors in question, before the compelling Sally announces that he too has tragically died.

The production was then given a rousing ending as the cast all reappeared on stage and encouraged the audience to get involved with a sing-a-long to Rick Astley’s 80’s classic tune of the same name of the production.

Speaking afterwards Paula Branton said she’s “Had a fantastic time with the production but it has been very tiring with all the rehearsals, the dancing and performing.

She then spoke about her highlights of the production:”Oh god there’s been so many, I think last minute nerves and the comedy at times it’s been really difficult to keep a straight face on stage.

Identifying with her character obviously came quite naturally to this gifted lady “When you learn your lines you get ideas about the character because she’s a bit simple and you sort of just develop the character just over time really.

I asked her if the injury to Stan Haywood had meant any changes for her and she replied: “I threw in a line early on saying that his football injury hadn’t taken away any of his charm.

“It was brilliant working with Stan, I’ve starred with him in a couple of other things like A Month of Sunday’s so yeah that was brilliant.

She also said: “It was a great experience recording the songs for the production.”

Stan Haywood confirmed some scenes were very awkward for him using a crutch “The dance scenes were murder only using one crutch but luckily with the way the scene is set we were able to make a couple of changes like moving the furniture.

“I think you could see it in the scenes when I was dancing with Gina she was more or less holding me up half the time.”

Talking further about the cast he echoed what Paula had said “The cast have been brilliant and so have the audiences as well.

“When you’ve got a cast that’s giving you all the support they can, and an audience who you can sense want it to go well for you that helps as well.”

A definite highlight for him was definitely working with Georgina ‘Sparkle’ Garton who he had never acted with before.

The injury which caused him so much pain is a problem with the tendon’s in his foot so, when he pushed off his right foot the night before something snapped in his heel so his preparation for this performance was three hours in Hull Royal Infirmary in the afternoon making his performance all the more remarkable.

Never Gonna Give You Up Napa