Monday 22 June 2015


Beautifully restrained yet emotionally charged piece about a decent family dealing with (or not dealing with) a crime and its punishment. Both the writing and the performances exemplify the dictum 'less is more'. Make time to see it.


Well done guys. Thoroughly enjoyed it.


Extremely professional cast, very clever set, and beautiful music! Very enjoyable and loved the shifts from laugh out loud funny to awkward and uncomfortable! Congratulations cast and crew!!!


Great play - very impressed with the youngest lady on the cast, but all were fab. Well done.


Review from Cassie Tillett - click here


A well-conceived symmetrical set focussed us from the beginning [from before the beginning!] on Alan as the nucleus of this drama, then unfolded and changed as his centrality began to shift, through the first half, to be revealed in the second rather as the epicentre of a domestic social earthquake. The play itself, like the set, is deceptively simple, and despite the undoubtedly skilful writing, I can imagine it being unjustifiably brought down to the level of social-realism dreariness that has become fashionable, if attempted by mediocre artists.

But certainly not here. Full personalities emerge from what could, in the wrong hands, be so-ordinary characters, and everyday difficulties that so many ordinary folk have to endure have their sharp depths shown to us, often profoundly. It's a short play, but doesn't feel like it, because it's real – I can't find a more suitable word - all the time. Jen Dewsbury has done sterling work in getting to the foundations of things, and her actors have responded with power and sensitivity.

Time and pace are used for a lot here. I'm not sure if the projections between scenes of dates and memorable current events are original to this production; they were interesting, and definitely helped those of us not in the first flower of youth to find an authentic flavour of setting; but I did want them to follow one another a bit faster. However, what no fault can be found with is the treatment of spaces in dialogue – even in the action, occasionally – reflecting the spaces between the people. As is well understood by any playwright, what on the stage affects us as real is actually pretty artificial. There's a huge danger in just copying what goes on in the real world; and one of these pitfalls is in the naturalness of pauses and silences. In this production the director has been very daring, pushing these spaces to the limit, not just those charged with passion, but also the awkwardnesses and embarrassments, the uncertainties and hesitations that could so easily bog down a staged dialogue with a plot to keep moving along. It could have gone wrong – some of these 'gaps' were right on the edge of acceptance; but, again, the company must have so well and intelligently explored this piece that every space came to us as entirely relevant, telling its own tale, pushing on the story.

Glenda Gardiner as the mother trying to be kind through the damaged shell of respectability was perhaps the best exponent of these 'filled spaces', showing the working of a shocked mind wanting distance or closure, and fearful of more discoveries; an admirable control of a role; while the husband Roger Gardiner provided the contrast of jerky frustration and repressed rage, inarticulate until at breaking point. Rebecca Wass's character had less strong, more diffused, emotions to deal with, but she proved the same mastery of silence over rich subtext; and Rachel Godfrey-Bennet showed us splendidly in her now assured and spirited stride the rapid life-changes and character development of the other sister. A great pleasure indeed to watch all these acting skills. The child of the piece [alongside which [along with animals], one should never act, as the old adage runs!] in this instance did not steal the show from the adults – they were too good for anything like that to be possible – but, my, how well she did. Connie Reid must have been acting, because she must have been aware of stage and audience etc, and her character was of a different age; yet one would never have guessed. The charm and humour of a small child's actions and mannerisms, all authentically there. And last of this small and intimate and so-mutually-responsive cast, Steve Dunn as the empty hole at the centre of the wheel of destruction that no-one was willing or able to help to fill with new good things, gave us great stage-presence and a perfectly-played understatement to display a sympathetic character, trying to learn through a hard field of many misdirections, a basically strong man whose faults could so easily be transformed by the encouragement of his finer qualities, if only... He achieves a lot, this actor, and I'm always impressed by how he can do it so economically. Certainly one of his best performances, strong and deep and touching.

Good work also by all the backroom people. The baby's cries were stereophonically too high up and to stage-right; and, did she rather strongly hiccup at one point? No, I expect that was just an extra bit of expertly-conceived and executed realism... :)

So, great work again by the Sewell Barn. Please go and see this, anyone who hasn't. Three more performances only! And, although they missed the opportunity of a raffle for the cake, you do get a free baking lesson included in the ticket price!

Cowardy Custard

Many, many thanks for the show last night, people. [We] really enjoyed the performances. Judging from the slickness of the singing, the dancing and movement, the rehearsals must have been lengthy but it was well worth it: everything came together. A well-known local actor, who happened to be sitting next to me, was singing along and commented that he hadn't realised 'so-and-so' was a singer and how beautiful was her voice. Congratulations. It's a show you could watch twice without tiring of the anecdotes, the songs or the performances.


Well done Dawn Brindle, Angela Rowe & all the cast for a thoroughly enjoyable show this evening. Hope you have a great run. x


What a lovely evening! Great performances! Have a wonderful run. xx


...I saw it on Saturday and thought it was delightful and superbly executed by all concerned. Highly recommended! Many congratulations Cassie Tillett, Ruth Bennett Selwyn Tillett and everyone.


Well done to all the cast and crew, a fantastic show, had a great evening. Enjoy the rest of the run  xx


Just back from the Sewell Barn Theatre and Cowardy Custard. What a lovely evening - thank you to Cassie Tillett, Selwyn Tillett, Dawn Brindle, Ruth Bennett, Huw Jones and all the rest of the cast. Well worth a visit if you get the chance.


Great show last night, my best wishes and congrats to all involved.


Just back from a joyous evening in the company of the talented cast of Cowardy Custard at the Sewell Barn. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show played with great energy and pizzaz! Do get along to see it if you can.


And a splendid and thorough review here, shown in its entirety:

Any of you out there thinking that this is merely a lot of old out-of-date songs, so we'll give it a miss this time: well, think again.

'Old', yes; but 'out-of-date', never. Most of the numbers are timeless, indeed some directly applicable to current times – tweaked or not – and all a celebration of the art of song-making at its very best. The phenomenally productive polymath Noël Coward was not called 'The Master' for nothing.

And my other descriptors? – 'a lot': yes, and gloriously so; but 'merely'? Not at all. Complementing the expressiveness of these fine singers, there are clever dramatizations, both funny and moving, of most of the songs, and dance sections of very effective choreography; and all of it is held together by interspersed narrations, some of them immaculately rendered, revealing salient points of Coward's path through his life and career.

For most of the time I was grinning at the fun – there was a great deal of that - or wiping my eyes for the beauty and the poignancy. My companion who hadn't really heard of Coward, and hadn't been prepared, took a few minutes to work out what was going on, and then she got it and was as entranced as I: so you don't need to be familiar with even this particular genre of music: sheer quality – from two strands - is the driving force in this production.

Having grown up hearing several of these songs on the radio, when, despite changing times and fashions, there was a bit of a revival of interest before Coward died in 1973, I think I had rather taken him for granted. His plays, very good and witty, and many still put on, of course; his so successful and remunerative London and New York productions; his theatre and film roles impeccably performed; etc etc; all these, despite the advanced views on sex and drugs that occasionally tried to surface, supported the idea of a mannered upper-middle-class ethos, definitely of the first half of the century, whose time of relevance, no matter how gloriously it had sparkled in its heyday, had now gone; and all of it projected through an undoubtedly clever but basically fortunate artist who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Some of which is, broadly, true; but my poet's hat must have been hanging on the peg when I formed this appraisal. For an additional delight for me was being reminded of just how extraordinary a lyricist he was. Half of the pleasure in these works comes from his joyously apt and often wickedly funny choice of words. Precision out of erudition, in the playful spirit of a kindly personality; exquisite is the only word for the result. His musical flair also is remarkable [especially considering his lack of training in formal theory], cradling his urbane and intellectual wizardry in the most lovely melodies and memorable rhythms. In an age of the commercial popular-song industry when its composers can succeed with knowledge of four or five chords, and its barely-literate writers with rhyming dictionaries of even fewer pages, an evening with these masterpieces is refreshing indeed.

The other strand of excellence, of course, comes from the performers. Here we had experience and talent a-plenty, in the gorgeous forms of Dawn Brindle, Fiona MacPherson, Ruth Bennett, Angela Rowe, and Gill Tichborne, and the manly presences of Rob Tiffen, Scott Brown, and Huw Jones, all costumed, and uniformed, delightfully by Anne Giles and her team of experts. Last, but certainly not least, was the gentleman who, in addition to acting, is expected to play the piano for about two and a half hours each evening. That's getting on for a hundred thousand notes – and if Selwyn “Red-Hot-Fingers” Tillett was cavalier with one or two of the particularly hard cases, then I for one certainly didn't notice. The same with the singing: any pitch or breathing uncertainties must have been so minor, so 'professionally rare', I would say, that no audience member, being so spellbound for so much of the time, felt them at all. Indeed some of the tone-production was striking, from both male and female voices. And remember that we're talking about something like sixty different songs, often - despite their classification as popular music - very compex in both words and music, bringing many technical difficulties. The sheer amount of work, and extension and development of abilities, in the ensemble and private practices, must have been tremendous. But whatever anxieties these fine performers went through, it was absolutely worth it, for, in no uncertain term, they succeeded!
[And here an aspect that other actors will appreciate: when having a 'moment' in a spoken play, one can fluff about, improvise, do something, until all comes smooth again, and usually the audience never notices. Not with this, though - singing, with others! But there was never a breath or suspicion of hesitation.]

The more mature of us remembered so many of these wonderful songs, and had a hard job holding back from joining in; but even if this genre or world is unfamiliar to the fresher sprigs reading this, just go and try it – you're guaranteed to love it, it's just so bloody good. I won't describe any of the scenes, I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but so many of these renditions, and the methods of interpretion chosen by the director and her artists, will stay forever in memory. Who could ever forget Nina from Argentina! Or the cool Alice! This is the original Mermaid Theatre version, from 1972, and includes such gems as the riotously-funny [and perfectly-cast...? wink emoticon ] 'I've Been to a Marvellous Party' and 'I Wonder What Happened to Him'; the excellent favourites 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' and 'Mrs Worthington'; the re-topicalized 'Let's Do It'; 'Mad About the Boy' transiting funnily and then very movingly through the range of interpreters; and - well, I could go on and on, so many deservedly-famous and well-known examples of satire, plaintive sentiment, or sheer comedy, all with a fresh creativity from the performers and director, who displays here so well her love and understanding of music, poetry, and drama, and their effective harmonisation. [Just put that last clause in hoping to get another kiss soon...]

So, people, if you're interested in quality, if you love art, if your brows are wide enough to include high and low and everything between when it's intelligent and clever, and if you just like to smile and laugh and feel good, get on down to Prelude Records and get a handful of amazing-value-for-money tickets, and honour this giant person and unique personality – no one will ever come close Noël Coward – by enjoying what I promise will be one of the best and most entertaining evenings of your life. Wednesday 20th through to Saturday, five great performances still to go!

Thank you all.