Duets by Peter Quilter

October 2015. Directed by Bob Jones
Reviewed by Richard Fitt, NODA Representative

Anyone who still thinks that amateur theatre is in any way second rate these days really should try my job for a while. The evening I have just spent at Leighton Buzzards Library Theatre was pure top quality entertainment from beginning to end.

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First of all whilst the audience were taking their seats and again during the interval we were treated to lively Duet piano pieces played by Barbara Springthorpe and Theresa Short. Warmly received by the audience who gave these lovely ladies a very loud ovation. Great fun and a perfect warm up act.

Peter Quilter’s play is a quartet of separate short, half hour, beautifully written, comedic plays exploring the various stages of some slightly bizarre relationships. Originally written to be performed by just two actors, director Bob Jones chose to have them performed by four different pairs of actors, which although I’ve never seen it done either way it seemed to suit better this way, giving a completely fresh perspective to each individual play.

The set by Mike Ward was cleverly simple, comprising a sofa, two chairs, a bar, a table and a moveably truck with a door and window all of which were repositioned to represent a flat, a room in a wealthy house, a hotel room and an anti-room at a wedding venue. The lighting by Dave Miles was suitably appropriate and professionally managed and the sound by Tom Davies was crystal clear, and all sound and lighting cues faultless. You can ask no more.

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The first play, Blind Date was an excellent opener. Jonathan, played by Tony White, pretending to be much younger than he is, has put a lonely hearts ad in the paper which is answered by Wendy, played by Ann Kempster who has also misrepresented herself in the ad. It quickly becomes obvious that this is not the first time either of them have sought romance this way and that neither of them have actually managed to master the art of the chat up or the awkward pause. Their sense of embarrassment and desperate hope had you squirming on the edge of your seat whilst trying to hold back the tears of laughter. Acting of the highest order! I suspect that each and every one of us can identify in some way with at least one of the awkward situations often found on first dates; for that reason, I found myself really warming to them; as they themselves became confident enough to reveal their own personal insecurities. I don’t think I was alone feeling this way as at the end of the play when Jonathan asks Wendy to join him for dinner it was greeted with rapturous applause.

The second play, Secretarial Skills took on the unusual relationship between a very successful and therefore very rich gay man, Barrie played by Colin Delamore, and his secretary of, as we discover exactly 5000 days; Janet, played by Jan Delamore! A relationship that I am sure could be successful in the real world but for one thing – Janet is clearly in love with Barrie. Janet has

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been in charge of both Barrie’s business and social diary for so long he can no longer do without her; so much so she has to all intents and purposes become his nagging wife. She has just organised a birthday party for him at three hours’ notice, even if the only cake available was a wedding cake. The witty one liners from Colin Delamore were delivered in an overtly camp style a fantastic foil for Jan Delamore’s more desperate left on the shelf spinster. She has now reached the stage where she wants to formalise the arrangement in marriage albeit on a platonic basis and we end up with them booking a cruise together.

The Holiday, play number three gives us a couple, Bobby and Shelley played by Nick Priest and Emma Stone, who are on the verge of a break-up but having already pre booked a holiday in the sun decide to go on it anyway, creating all sorts of confused angst, as they find themselves divided on whether or not they really do want to split up. She is completely plastered and continually flirting with the local Spaniards, cleverly portrayed by the appearances of an arm exchanging drinks. As we join the action in their hotel room he is fed up with her drunken behaviour and starts to pack his bag for an early exit, but can’t quite bring himself to actually leave and after a string of heart to hearts, trips down memory lane and various arguments the two of them eventually deciding on an ‘early night.’ Some lovely understated comedy about dividing up the spoils, interspersed with some wonderful blazing rows.

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The best however was left until last. The Bride-To-Be sees a brother, Toby played by Carl Russell and sister, Angela played by Caroline Page relationship unfold on the occasion of her third wedding. The lines were cutting delivered with comedic perfection, as the chemistry between these two very fine actors positively sizzled. It was side-splitting stuff. She is in a large ‘parachute’ wedding dress which she later disastrously covers in coffee and he has to hastily clean, while he comes out with one brilliant quip after another about her previous failed marriages. I could have watched these two all night, but I’m not sure my ribs would have lasted!

A touch of genius by director Bob Jones which worked so well, was to follow all four plays with various relevant songs such as ‘Beyond the Sea’, ‘Somethin’ Stupid’ and ‘Things’ with super arrangements by Paul Daggett. Suitably attired mostly in elegant evening dress and beautifully sung by Lorna Daggett, Nick Priest, Jo Taylor and Tony White. Wonderful entertainment during set changes – other directors please note, a trick well worth copying.

Helped enormously but having Peter Quilter’s masterly crafted script LBDG took this wonderful series of plays and gave us the best possible result. The acting was top notch, the direction spot on, the singing interludes an inspiration and as a result amateur theatre is very much alive and living in Leighton Buzzard.

I look forward to their next production with great relish!

Finally thank you very much to Lauren Waters and the Front of House team for making us so very welcome.