Reviews

Old Hands
Hijinx , Chapter , June 2, 2011  – Theatre in Wales website
Although some twenty years later the old hands in this production performing at the Skidbury-on-Sea Little Theatre brought back memories of my first professional engagement in the seafront Town Hall in Seaford in Sussex. Very similar pared down scenery sat on both stages. Clearly the clowning antics in the thirties of John ‘Jack’ Evans grandfather of playwright Glenys Evans and memories of the glamorous Dorothy Shackleton ensured the authenticity of the piece from the outset.

You could almost smell the canvas and the greasepaint. We seemed to have been allowed in too soon, the stage was not set and the furniture covered in dust cloths from the previous night. The lights went down and we all entered into a dream of Victorian music hall projected onto the dust cloths on the stage. Velvet suited dancing dwarfs and other grotesques dizzily pirouetted in front of us. We were in the land of popular variety theatre. After a bit of shuffling around the stage was set and a lively comedy duo of the time stood before us.

Sharp suited Adam Timms as Mr Gus Delamere looked every inch the seedy comic and cheating entrepreneur of the day. Beside him stood ukulele playing little Jimmy Pickles. Even in the comic banter between them Delamere showed his resentment for Mr Jimmy Pickles the musical director for his show. In his first appearance Gareth Wyn Griffiths showed us what a masterful character actor he is. The theatrical understanding he brings to this downtrodden musician totally captivated the audience as it did again and again with his every appearance.

Timms may not have brought quite the same degree of conviction to his role. But his seedy character clearly has no sympathy for anyone. Business at The Little Theatre is very poor so he decides to invite an old ‘friend’, fading former star Miss Florry Labelle to win back the falling audience. Like Griffiths Eloise Williams gave a performance of total conviction and was a joy to watch. She certainly had the voice for the part, whether delicately singing ‘The Way You Looked Tonight’ or jazzing up a dainty ‘Putting on the Ritz’ or belting out ‘Down At The Old Bull And Bush’. Always perfectly accompanied by Griffiths’ magic musicality she was the perfect faded star of the time.

There were two other very fine performances which made a major contribution in this production, Andrew Tadd as Mr. Ralph Topper Jr. dresser, stage manager and general dog’s body to the .leering Delamere. Also Gareth Clark as ‘Baby’ Labelle, brother to Miss Florry. With their warmth and good humour these two lads with Down’s Syndrome were able to demonstrate what a great success Hijinx has made with its work with actors with special needs.

The two of them become good friends and settle down to bring the proceedings to its happy ending, as was common with all these old cheap fit-up shows, a minor disaster occurred but these two old hands coped with great aplomb and brought the show to a superb close.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

 

Old Hands
Hijinx , Chapter , June 2, 2011  – The Stage
Despite Arts Council of Wales cuts that have forced several long-established companies to close, the slimmed-down Hijinx carries on in fine style, as evidenced by this latest presentation. Glenys Evans’ new play is set in a seaside town in the thirties where the concert party is battling to stay afloat in the face of competition from both cinemas and hippodrome star attractions.

Ruthless actor/manager Gus pins his box office hopes on the arrival of a fading variety songstress, Florry Labelle, but she has pressing problems of her own – alcohol and a dependant brother. Well, that’s show business.

Eloise Williams sings with winning charm as Florry, evoking nostalgic memories of music hall days. Gareth Wyn Griffiths as put-upon Jimmy Pickles has some painful I-say-I-say routines to mess up, while his efforts on ukulele and piano provide real highlights. Adam Timms as Gus is every bit the melodramatic villain, both on and off stage – his Jekyll and Hyde spot a cameo to savour.

Gareth Clark is touchingly effective as Florry’s Down’s syndrome brother Baby, well matched by Andrew Tadd as jack-of-all-trades stagehand Ralph. Though there is much to laugh at and enjoy, the social issues surrounding those with learning difficulties, both as performers and in society generally, are faced unflinchingly.

The musical director is James Williams, with set and costumes designed by Mary Drummond. Old Hands tours to more than 30 venues across Wales and England.

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Reviewed by: Jon Holliday

 

Old Hands
Hijinx , Chapter , June 2, 2011  – remotegoat.com
As one of Europe’s fastest growing cities Cardiff attracts visitors for its history and beauty as well as its major sporting and concert stadiums. Sadly, home-grown theatre companies are not generally recognised by the locals, let alone tourists.

 

This is a shame as groups like Hijinx Theatre deserve a wider following, especially as the Arts council will no longer support their community tour. A lot of companies are suffering similar cutbacks but what seperates Hijinx from other companies is their inclusion of actors with learning disabilities.

 

This summer’s production ” Old Hands” revolves around the failing Skidbury-on- Sea little theatre. Set in 1935 they are struggling to keep afloat against more popular rival venues and manager Gus Delamere hires former star Miss Florrie Labelle. The drama of the piece comes from the revelation that she has smuggled in her brother who he describes as ” a mong”, an acceptable term in that era.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed their safe Christmas show ” Silent Night” but the decision to face this still sensitive issue head on was both brave and impressive. It was also enlightening to see how this issue was dealt with historically. If we feel that anyone “different” is treated harshly nowadays this opened out eyes to how far society has travelled in the right direction since then. As the villain of the piece Gus pointed out “Baby” should have been locked away in Bedlam especially as his discovery would have destroyed Florrie’s career.

 

This is an unexpected plot but as usual it needs good actors to make it interesting and believable. Here, the company was well served bu all members of the cast. Adam Timms beautifully encapsulated the sleazy aspect of some 1930’s comic turns, Gareth Wyn Griffiths showed combined acting and musical talents to perfectly portray the sympathetic accompanist, but for me the star of the night was Eloise Williams. Not only did she brilliantly capture a woman lovingly trying to protect her brother from a cruel world but she delivered her songs and comic material in the true style of a top class 1930’s act, an impressive feat.

 

Credit must also go to Andrew Tadd and Gareth Clark who both played their parts well and showed excellent chemistry together. They also provided the comic highspot of the evening by reacting brilliantly to the unexpected sight of the set collapsing around them at the end of the play.

 

Again, Hijinx have produced a bold and highly enjoyable piece which deserves a wider audience.

Reviewed by: David Cox
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