NODA Reviews and Awards

The Ladykillers

10th May 2018
Director Lesley Preedy

The Ladykillers, written by Graham Linehan (of “Father Ted” fame), and based on the 1955 Ealing Comedy of the same name, had its stage debut in Liverpool in 2011. It features a gang of thieves who pose as musicians and inveigle a sweet old lady into their plot to steal a large sum of money. They soon turn on each other, leaving the old lady with the proceeds of the crime. It’s a clever script which calls for a complex set, but with experienced director Lesley Preedy at the helm and the skills of the SADS backstage crew to call on, we are in safe hands.
The period atmosphere was conjured up from my arrival, with a warm welcome from the Front of House ladies, all beautifully attired in 1950s’ outfits and ushering us to our seats with torches. The box set on three levels was also stunning, depicting Mrs Wilberforce’s house, with an upstairs room and, separately, on the floor of the theatre, the roof of the house; a most effective way to fit this in. Every aspect of the set, the peeling wallpaper, the carpet, the tired furniture, the taps with running water and the smoking chimneys showed great attention to detail. My favourite was the two working semaphore signals that were cleverly used to show the passing of the trains. A huge “well done” to the set design and construction team and the people who sourced all the props! Costumes too all looked right for the period and the lighting cleverly highlighted the area of the house where the action was taking place; good sound effects completed the picture.

Jane Foster was an ideal Mrs Wilberforce, delightfully dotty, doting on her hideous parrot, but not so naïve that you couldn’t believe that she’d realise what was happening in the end. Mike Clay was a very credible Professor Marcus, nicely vague with Mrs Wilberforce but always on the ball with the members of the gang, keeping the plan moving. The running gag of Mrs Wilberforce standing on the Professor’s scarf was nicely handled, but I felt the tilting picture gag was used a little too often. Roy Phillips was every inch the retired army Colonel, upright and correct, while Mike Edwards made One Round easily led rather than exceedingly dim – a nice touch. Roger Minors looked and sounded the archetypal evil Romanian gangster (with a wonderful scar), until we discover he’s afraid of old ladies! Ben Pharoah was a nicely jittery, pill-popping Harry Robinson, with his constant need to clean things well maintained. The cast had great support from Richard Searle as Constable MacDonald and the gaggle of ladies who come for the concert – one of whom looked suspiciously masculine! Good use was made of the roof of the house, and the well-choreographed and executed fight scene (directed by Caroline Powell) also impressed me.

Along with the near-capacity first night audience, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. It is a very inspired and affectionate adaptation of the original classic Ealing comedy which ventures into farce, where timing is crucial and my only minor proviso was that I felt it could have done with a little more pace to bring out the best of the comedy. Knowing this group, I’m sure this will come as the run progresses.
Well done to everyone involved!

Mark Donalds

Mother Goose

30th November 2017
Director Carol Sealey
Musical Director Peter Fellows
Choreographer Caroline Powell

Arriving at Swanmore Village Hall and being greeted yet again by a packed house, it was obvious that SADS have hit on the right formula for their pantos. A sell-out first night is not unusual for this group and watching their latest production, “Mother Goose” (by Limelight Scripts), it is obvious why.  Director Carol Sealey has pulled together a strong cast with a very wide age range. Roger Minors as Simple Simon was really good at warming up the rather shy audience. His experience and likeability are essential for the comic character in getting the audience interacting and on his side against the baddies. Roy Phillips as Mother Goose made a great dame, pompous, vain and strutting, and I was amazed to hear that this was the first time he’d played dame. Liam Gray and Emilie Varcoe were well matched as Jack and Jill. Both had the right degree of innocence about them and good singing voices to-boot. Danny Jeffs made an excellent Demon Night. Great makeup and costume allied to very thoughtful characterisation – not taking the obvious snarling baddie route. In complete contrast was the beautiful, “goody two-shoes” Fairy Day, played by Shauna Rose helping the side of good with her sparkling wand and dialogue all in rhyme. Brokers men Biff (Jane Foster) and Bash (Matthew Dillon) had a good rapport and were an example of how this company’s policy of mixing young and not so young actors together works so well. Similarly, the children playing the orphans showed great confidence and had no problems projecting their voices to the back of the hall, where I was sitting.
I always prefer to hear live music rather than backing tracks and the three piece band (keyboard, bass and drums) under MD Peter Fellows, hidden behind their screens, provided just the right volume to accompany the singers. Choreographer Caroline Powell had worked out some very effective routines which were well executed by the cast. Praise must also go to the wardrobe team for the costumes which all looked highly colourful and effective.
As always with this company, the set was very well designed and constructed and the props were excellent. I was particularly impressed by the hot air balloon (which really appeared to take off), the beauty salon and the well. A lot of time and ingenuity had obviously been invested by the construction and props crews. Lighting too was most effective, especially the scenes in Deathly Hallows wood. Unfortunately a couple of rather protracted scene changes slowed the otherwise good pace of the show, but I’m sure this will improve as the run progresses.
So SADS can notch up another success that combined all the traditional panto ingredients with good direction, a stylish set, colourful costumes, and a talented cast. The end result obviously delighted the capacity audience.

Mark Donalds

Kelly’s Heroes
(or The Magnificent Seven)

8th April 2017
Director Nicki Cresswell

The Magnificent Seven or Kelly’s Heroes (the alternative title supplied by the authors, to avoid confusion with SADS’ recent pantomime) is set in the Sunnyside Nursing Home in 1994 as the 50th anniversary of D-Day approaches. The death of a resident leads to the discovery of a letter which prompts seven residents, all World War 2 veterans, to reflect on their lives, their value as human beings and how invisible and insignificant they have become. A newly appointed nurse who imposes a strict regime on them, makes them feel like prisoners of war and they begin to assert themselves again as they plot to break out and visit the Normandy Beaches for the anniversary. It was inspired by the real life story of courageous veteran, Bernard Jordan, who disappeared from his Hove care home in 2014, to make one last heroic visit to Normandy.
The play is a delightful mixture of happy and sad, with moments of laugh out loud comedy cleverly juxtaposed with desperately heart-breaking incidents. Thanks to Nicki Cresswell’s direction and the quality of acting from the entire cast, these moments were vividly brought to life and the play cracked along at a good pace, despite a number of prompts.
David Norster as Bill Kelly, the title character, was totally convincing as the veteran who’d lived his life feeling guilty that his absence from home had led to the death of his wife and son. It was a clever touch to use his daughter and grandson to portray them in his memories. Mike Clay as Reg Stryde, was the perfect cockney wide-boy, always the joker, bringing in the latest dreadful fashions and novelties (I particularly loved the slippers). Mike Rich and Richard Searle gave good portrayals of two completely different characters who shared a common past as prisoners of war in Colditz. Roger Minors, very adept at manoeuvring his wheelchair, was totally the modest hero, a former Spitfire pilot addicted to making model planes. Jane Foster gave a warm and touching depiction of the loving grandmother overlooked by her daughter, whose life was always too busy to stay long with her mother. Lesley Preedy as Flo Cooper showed she still had the razor sharp mind of the former Bletchley Park de-coder, but who was never able to reveal how clever she was to those that mattered because of the need for secrecy, and was now reduced to constant knitting and crosswords.
Danny Jeffs really brought to life the nervous manager of the home, always anxious and totally inept at dealing with people, and Gail Norris pulled at our heart-strings as the kindly Nurse Abaline whose husband is tragically killed in the Middle East. Brenda Lambert was every inch the stiff and starchy Nurse Brown, rather stereotypically German, but this was what was required for the plot to prompt the break out.
The same nicely simple set, depicting the lounge of the nursing home, was used for all but the last scene, which took us to Normandy, involving a complete change with furniture being removed and a backcloth introduced. This major change was carried out slickly by the cast and crew, giving minimal interruption to the action. Lighting and sound effects were also simple but effective and the costumes were all well-considered – where did Ron’s dreadful shell suits come from!!
All-together an interesting, at times heart-rending but also highly amusing look at what later life might hold for us and how to grab it by the neck and show that we still count. A big well-done to everyone involved in this emotional roller-coaster.

Mark Donalds


Snow White & the Magnificent Seven Dwarfs

Date 2nd December 2016
Director  Gail Norris
Musical Director – Peter Fellows
Choreographer – Caroline Powell
Moving the traditional Snow White story to a ranch and gold mine in the Wild West proved a good way to add a twist to a familiar story and a great excuse to introduce lots of corny cowboy and mining related gags and amusing character names. All the usual panto ingredients were still included and the packed audience on the second night were obviously having a ball – a great tribute to Gail Norris in her first foray into directing.

The show opened with lots of opportunities for audience participation (oh yes there were!), getting the children and adults alike wound up and joining in the fun. Leading the rabble-rousing were Danny Jeffs as Silly Billy the Kid (the comic) and Roger Minors as Nanny Oakley, the dame. Both have great talent and obviously know how to handle a live audience. They kept the jokes flowing and the show moving along at a good pace. Both were excellent, making the most of their characters and Jeffs’ accent particularly was spot on. More great characterisation came from Mike Clay as One-Eyed Slim (so called because there is only one “I” in Slim – love it!), sidekick to the evil baddy, Drusilla Blackheart (Brenda Lambert) – and what a wonderful cackle she has!

The love interest was ably provided by Annie Dillon as Snow White and Ben Pharoah as Sheriff Vince Charming (great name!) Both have superb voices, which they demonstrated well in their two duets – talents to watch for the future. The Sheriff modestly using his hat, to cover the kiss that wakes up Snow White, was a lovely touch. The Magnificent Seven dwarfs were also very good, each with his own character and appropriate name – I particularly liked Forgetful Fred’s (Richard Searle) forgetfulness, and Zak Norris delivered Punning Pete’s awful puns with great panache.

Huge congratulations must go to the set design and construction team, and to the wardrobe department. Everyone was kitted out with colourful and highly appropriate costumes which, together with an amazing set, clever props and good lighting made for a stunning picture on stage. Choreography by Caroline Powell complemented the overall effect, particularly in the Indian Dance and the very well-drilled final number – furnishing everyone with sunglasses was most effective. A surprisingly wide and authentic sounding variety of music was provided by just a two piece band (Peter Fellows on keyboard and David Powell on bass guitar). I particularly enjoyed the music that accompanied the Indian Dance – composed by M.D. Fellows – just a shame that the sequence wasn’t a little longer.

There were just a couple of little niggles. While the principals had head mics and could be heard easily when singing, I felt the chorus were a little timid and, despite their large number, were rather hard to hear from the back of the hall. I also felt that the gag of the horse farting would have been funnier if used less often.

It’s good to see a company with such a wide age-range amongst its members, and which offers them all an opportunity to shine on stage. The whole cast and backstage crew have obviously worked really hard together to bring us a great evening’s entertainment, which the audience clearly appreciated. Well done!

Mark Donalds