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Spread a 'Little' Happiness (2021)

Reviews of all Main House Leicester Drama Society shows can be found below by following the link to the relevant show. Reviews are carried out by an independent reviewer who is not an active member of the Leicester Drama Society. If you are interested in becoming a reviewer, then please contact the theatre office.

Private Lives (November 2021)

Reviewed by Andrew Thompson

Noel Coward’s three act comedy of manners Private Lives was written in 1930. It follows the fortunes of the well-heeled Elyot and Amanda, who had been married for three years and divorced for five, as they each honeymoon with their new spouses in France and find themselves by chance in the same hotel in adjacent rooms and sharing the same terrace. The comedy arises from the fact that they soon realise they have both made a mistake in marrying their new partners as they still have strong feelings for each other, but their old “can’t-live-with-you, can’t-live-without-you” relationship soon re-emerges as they alternate moods of happy-go-lucky gaiety or languid romance with bickering and sometimes violent falling out and fighting, before kissing and making up. We become aware that the couple are ideally suited to each other in their refusal to take themselves or anything else much very seriously, and any fleeting moments of sadness and regret are quickly banished by Coward’s sparkling comic repartee.

Caitlin Mottram (Amanda) and Jonathan Barnes (Elyot) portray all this very convincingly. Mottram’s Amanda is energetic, worldly-wise, suave and fun loving, yet also flighty, and a prey to her whims and the emotion of the moment.  Jonathan Barnes’ Elyot is the self-assured high-society type, witty with a fun-loving devil-may-care spirit, yet with moments of ironic self-pity and, beneath the confident exterior, we sense both frustration and fragility. Through their dancing and Elyot’s singing the actors successfully conjure up the spirit of the roaring twenties, and together they offer us an alluring comic portrait of a couple trapped in a love-hate relationship which they are unwilling and unable to end.

Tracey Holderness’ Sibyl is wholly believable as the loyal, clinging and jealous wife of her husband Elyot, a man she hardly knows, and Lawrence Jackson as Victor convinces as a rather stiff and pompous character confused by the situation and by trying to understand his mercurial wife Amanda. They persuade us that Sibyl and Victor are clearly more suited to each other than to the spouses who have abandoned them but, by the end of the play, they too are already bickering and fighting violently.

All four actors offer strong, energetic performances throughout, and lines are delivered clearly and at a pace suitable to Coward’s quick-fire dialogue and banter, yet nuanced enough to accommodate the moments of embarrassment and the awkward silences between the couples. Jane Durant as the rough-spoken servant Louise provides additional layers of comedy as the characters struggle to understand her French.

The play is well lit throughout, and the set is particularly impressive. A smart hotel with a terrace overlooking the sea in Act I opens out – with the help of a small army of efficient scenery movers – onto a sumptuous Parisian interior in Acts II and III, with beautifully designed art nouveau decorations and furnishings which, together with well-chosen costumes, give an authentic period feel. Coward’s play refuses to get serious, and this production offers us a thoroughly enjoyable evening of comic entertainment. As Elyot himself would say, “Splendid!” Do come and see it!

My Mother Said I Never Should (October 2021)

Reviewed by Lynette Watson

Charlotte Keatley’s play debuted in 1989 at The Royal Court theatre in London and since then has gained recognition as the most performed play ever written by a female writer. The play, set in Manchester, Oldham and London, hinges around and follows four generations of women in the same family over half a century highlighting the different compromises accessible to its female characters by delving into the complicated relationships of mothers and daughters.

Firstly for Doris, born at the turn of the century, marriage meant leaving her teaching job to dedicate her life to the family, her daughter Margaret, never really wanting children, found herself juggling work and motherhood and when her own daughter Jackie falls pregnant, she brings up the final member of the family granddaughter, Rosie as her own. The chronology of the play is nonlinear, and the cast had to switch between the timeframes as a static wasteground set provided the background throughout the play, with only the minimum of props and many believable costume changes to indicate the year of each scene, interspersed with the eerie chanting of ‘My mother said I never should play with the children in the wood’ – that was at times strangely quite frightening.

After the energetic opening when  the four members of the cast burst onto the stage as children singing, the pace became increasing slow and hesitant and there were moments when I wished I could have turned up the volume button as audibility was frequently lost. All the cast deftly swept through the decades and were reasonably convincing as lively children before morphing into careworn women, but each made a tentative start before settling into their individual characters, especially Rachel Kitching as Doris, veering from the emotionally obstinate 1940s mother to the more loving grand- and great-grandmother as she softened with age, showing poignancy at the end.

Equally delivering understated performances from expectations to self-control and frustration were Kate Peim and Karen Stevens as mother and daughter, Margaret and Jackie, whose best scenes were made believable when arguing about Rosie, who finally decided to go to live with her real mother. Particularly impressive was Rebecca Hughes as Rosie, played with enthusiasm and hopefulness for the future – she provided the youthful humour that was desperately missing particularly in the first half.

Unfortunately, during the interval, a few dreaded ‘gremlins’ invaded the lighting desk, resulting in the second half being lit by two white floodlights but, hey-ho, this is live theatre not TV, and the show must go on – which it did with the actors unfazed and seemingly forced to inject the much needed pace that was lacking in the first half and ensuring a smooth finish.

Even 30 years after its premiere, the issues raised in Keatley’s play still remain resonant today as women face decisions about careers and motherhood with possibly the best of intentions not always viable.

Blue Stockings (September 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart Rowland

Set in 1896, Blue Stockings depicts the struggle of young women with ambition to gain recognition from the University of Cambridge for their learning*. This was also the beginning of the “rights for women” movement, which included getting the right to vote. At the time, the male-dominated establishment deemed that a woman’s role was bearing children or keeping house.

However, things are slowly changing; at Girton College, Cambridge, Tess Moffatt and her fellow female students are determined to win the right to graduate, denied to them by the university authorities despite the fact that they took the same courses as the male students. The attitudes of the establishment towards women, demonstrated particularly by the Trinity professors, showed the depth of this prejudice. The fact that Mr Banks, a lecturer at Girton – played enthusiastically by John Bale – was expected to give up his Girton post in order to take a job at Trinity was a telling moment.

On stage, the prejudice women came up against was evident, made more so by the excellent character portrayals from the ‘Girton girls’, in particular Kat Lenthall as a defiant Tess. Despite the seemingly more progressive attitude at Girton, though, still one of the brightest students – sensitively played by Diani Gatenby Davies – was sent home to look after her family.

The group of male students played their parts well, patronising and dislikable as characters of their time. Coming as they did from upper class backgrounds, their contempt for the female students was crystal clear – “What man would want to be examined by a woman doctor?”

The staging of this production worked well for the play; the ‘red brick’ set was well designed, though a bit cumbersome at times, despite the speed and efficiency of cast and crew with changes. The lighting gave atmosphere where needed, and the costumes were excellent, as is usual for The Little. I was sitting fairly near the stage yet found some of the diction from the actors a little faint. Sound levels could have been a problem for those sitting further back.

Overall, this was a well produced and timely production, one that deserved a larger audience than it received on its opening night.


*At the end of the play it was a considerable surprise to find out that the Senate of the University of Cambridge did not grant degrees to women until 1948 – decades after women got the vote!

Chariots of Fire (July 2021)

Reviewed by Lynette Watson

The stage version of Chariots of Fire by Mike Bartlett is the latest production at Leicester’s Little Theatre, an apt choice for the society to herald this Olympic summer – the name itself brings to mind images of running along with the iconic stirring Vangelis Papathanassiou’s theme tune of the 80’s.

The plot weaves around the lives and chequered progress of two former British track aces, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, who both won major events at the 1924 Paris Olympics detailing their will and motives to win. The story is told in a succession of staccato scenes through several locations from Cambridge, Scotland and eventually to Paris for the Olympic finale. With the setting at The Little provided by Kevin Jenkins’ effective minimalistic block set, which includes running track lines and the inclusion of background projections such as the passenger liner from Dover, opera singers, distance and length times, all helping to enforce the expectation from the audience. The athletes warming up on stage and throughout the auditorium as the audience enters entices a palpable anticipation of what is to come… a clever ploy from director Mary Jones!

The ruthlessly determined Harold Abrahams, son of a Lithuanian Jew, hungry in his ambition to win, was played with superb conviction by Tim Stokes, equally matched by Sam White as Eric Liddell, son of a China-based missionary, in a beautifully understated performance powered by his faith. Both are totally believable in their selfless support of each other. Able support was given by a strong support cast, many of whom took on multiple roles. However, occasionally the accents  vanished into cyberspace, and there were times when the audibility dropped – especially for those at the back – but it picked up apace in the second act.

Apart from the two main trophies I will award my own gold, silver and bronze medals (in no particular order!) to: Pip Nixon, as the dignified Prince of Wales; Jonathan Barnes, as the affable and true friend of Eric; and Joe Middleton, for sustaining his upper crust character throughout. Going further than the finishing tape, Chariots of Fire should make us think of issues that are relevant today, including friendship, religion and, most of all, moral courage.

Class (June 2021)

Reviewed by Philippa Iliffe

It was a great joy to be back at The Little to watch Class – coincidentally the last show to have a full run before the theatre closed due to lockdown. I would like to acknowledge firstly the great lengths that all the team at the theatre have taken to ensure the safety of their staff, cast and audiences. The COVID-19 procedures were slick and caused little disruption to the running of the event or, indeed, the enjoyment of watching the show.

Winner of an Edinburgh Fringe Festival First Award in 2018, Class is written by Iseult Golden and David Horan and directed and staged for The Little Theatre by Simon J. Dickens (Leicester Drama Society). The story, which is set in a deprived area of Dublin, follows a myriad of narratives as it explores the emotions of new teacher Ray McCafferty (played by Robin McFarland) who is very much finding his feet and enduring the many challenges the classroom brings; Donna and Brian, the parents of Jayden (played by Tim Stokes and Nikki Cooper); and schoolchildren Jayden and Kaylie (also played by Stokes and Cooper).

Noticing that Jayden is falling behind academically, but is also having some behavioural issues, Mr McCafferty calls Donna and Brian in for a parent-teacher meeting. Mr McCafferty is desperate to do the right thing as a teacher, but is very much walking on eggshells after realising that Jayden’s parents are going through a separation. Brian is very matter of fact and wants answers after being out-of-the-loop in his son’s progress, and Donna usually avoids confrontation, but has been pushed to her limits as a mother and the main carer of their children.

The scenes between McCafferty, Donna and Brian are interspersed with time-warped scenes between Mr McCafferty, Jayden and Kaylie. The transition between the scene/character changes is seamless, helped by the clever use of a lighting and sound effect as well as subtle changes in posture and facial expressions from the cast.

Both Stokes and Cooper are chameleon actors and dip in and out of their dual characters with ease – Stokes particularly makes use of great facial expressions in his portrayal of young Jayden and Cooper is brilliant with her comedic timing. McFarland has the balance just right when it comes to levelling with Jayden and Kaylie in his class and navigating the tricky waters as the drama unfolds in the parent-teacher meeting. For the most part, the cast were able to maintain Irish accents, though there were times when they dropped off slightly during the performance.

The set is basic, functional and very fit for purpose. The stark classroom setting allows the audience to focus wholly on the narratives taking place, allowing for plenty of reflection and emotion. There is no need for more ‘frills’ to be added to this production. I believe that when this was performed last year in The Little Theatre’s studio, the setting and audience placement was slightly different and perhaps allowed a little more intimacy. However, this main house setting was fine.

Overall, this was a thought-provoking performance exploring the frailties of human relationships, prejudice, vulnerability and accepting consequences. I highly recommend it.

Spread a ‘Little’ Happiness (May 2021)

Reviewed by Lynette Watson

Echoing the theatre’s name in its title, ‘Spread a ‘Little’ Happiness’ was the opening production at Leicester’s Little Theatre and it certainly achieved that as the anticipation and expectancy of the delighted ‘socially distanced’ audience was palpable as they took their seats to attend a live show away from the television, Zoom and the screens of social media. The theatre has undergone a total refurbishment during the dark months of lockdown and having met all the government Covid guidelines including a clean air filter system has been given the prestigious ‘See It Safely’ mark awarded by the Society of West End Theatres.

Billed as ‘an evening of music lighten the heart on our return to the theatre’ the ten strong cast took the audience on a whistle stop tour of numbers from musicals and other popular songs with The 2 of Diamonds, an instrumental duo thrown into the mix, plus the guest appearance of the Sienna Acoustic guitar team who entertained throughout the interval. David Lovell was suave and genial as the host and his version of ‘I’ve got a (covid) List’ proved very apt, all the performers belted out the songs with confidence matching each other in the strength of their vocals, certainly an array of powerful performances.

A highlight of the second half was Tracy Holderness’s delivery of ‘I’ll Be Here’ from the musical Ordinary Days, sung with true poignancy, another being the personality and rapport with the audience from Stuart Bryan reminiscent of a young Alfie Boe!

The cast had rehearsed privately at home and with only two short rehearsals hit the boards with a slick and uplifting performance ending the show with ‘Always Look on the Bright Side’ from Monty Python and once again the message is in the title.