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by Hugh Whitemore
Barbara Jackson : Penny Pearson
Director : Phyllis Spencer
ON entering the beautiful Tivoli Theatre, the audience were greeted with a charming set, the interior of the Jacksons’ house. This looked lovingly decorated and homely from the good attention to detail, designed by Colin Pile. For me this is always a good start; when the set provides a comfortable space for the actors to ‘live’ in, everything usually falls in to place with greater ease.
The ease in which the actors worked together was apparent throughout. The Jacksons created a convincing family bond and their neighbourly affections appeared to be a genuine friendship. Most notable performances came from Mr Stewart, played by Richard Neal and Barbara Jackson, played by Penny Pearson, who lead much of the action and built moments of anticipation effectively.
They were well supported by all other actors, Bob Jackson, by Colin Pile; Julie Jackson, by Elinor Fitchett; the Krogers, by Chrissie Neal and Graham Hawkins; and ‘Stewart’s Girls’, by Steph Katz and Louise Tegerdine.
Above all the relationship between Bob and Barbara Jackson was most successful; a touching sentiment between a long standing husband and wife team, which came across well throughout the performance. Chrissie Neal’s affectionate but funny character of Helen Kroger was very entertaining, successfully uplifting the sometimes heavy mood of the play.
Being a costume enthusiast myself, my one complaint of the production was the lack of 1960’s feel the costumes had about them - the programme being my only clue of the period. Whilst the characters’ monologues served to thicken the plot, they also led to some confusion as to when the play was actually set. It was not apparently obvious that this was set in the early 1960’s, and perhaps having a stronger 60’s vision from the set and costumes would have helped. Although perfectly functional, a few tweaks would have made all the difference; changing the overall design from good to excellent.
The play itself was an interesting story line, especially in the first half where the actors held a good sense of pace and suspense. The characters kept us guessing with snippets of ‘top secret’ information being exchanged. There was certainly a sense of excitement in the auditorium, proven through the interval chatter around me wondering ‘whodunit’, or rather, what was it that had been done?
This tension did begin to trail off a little towards the end of the second half; once the plot had thickened there was little action and everything remained rather too calm between the characters despite what had been revealed to them. However the Jacksons were clearly reasonable people, and perhaps a few moments of sobbing was all this middle class family would have allowed themselves.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this performance which had many strengths. The audience response was of high praise around me and I am sure the rest of the performances will be met with as much warmth and enjoyment.
Kate McStraw - Scene One
"IT is just one of those little things that arouse suspicion."
Oddities like an office worker's lavish behaviour being spotted by detectives more than 50 years ago, which uncovered the Portland Spy Ring.
Whitemore's dramatisation of the London-end of this intriguing scandal, which sees neighbours pitted against neighbours, was brought to nervy life on the Tivoli stage by a fantastic eight-strong Wimborne Drama cast.
Through solid performances and monologues to the audience, they showed how even something as technical as NATO underwater detectors, coveted by Russia, can have highly emotional consequences.
Richard Neal was marvellous as the guarded Mr Stewart who likens his vocation uncovering Soviet espionage to keen bird watching and swoops into sleepy suburbia to disrupt the lives of two friendly couples, the Jacksons and the Krogers.
The contrast between the uptight Jacksons and the often flamboyant Krogers was wonderfully portrayed as friendships are called into question, loyalties are stretched and personalities begin to unravel.
There's even room for a bit of well-timed humour.
"I am afraid you will have the press poking around for a week or so," Stewart remarks as the neighbourhood's significance is revealed. "I can't say I blame them, it's a damn good story."
And very well acted too.
Harriet Marsh - Bournemouth Echo