The Promise and Murdering at the Vicarage

by H Connolly

14th to 17th November 2018

See the reviews below.

The Promise

A few hours after Stacey Nash’s funeral, her estranged father sits menacingly and uninvited on the sofa in her front room. He is full of cocaine, whisky, remorse, anger and self-pity, but most of all he’s there because he made a promise.
This play contains strong language.

Murdering at the Vicarage

Godfrey Appleby, or God to his friends, has penned a play for his local amateur drama society. It is a tribute to Agatha Christie and the Players are busy rehearsing it to enter into the local Drama Festival. It is set in the 1920’s. As the group battle against the odds to make sense of the play the result is an unintentional hilarious farce.

 

The Promise was our entry for the Abingdon (ODN) and Wallingford festivals of one-act plays on 5th June 2018 at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon and 14th June at Wallingford Corn Exchange.

This is a new play by H Connolly, our resident playwright, and it had its first performances at the festivals before it became part of our Autumn production at Compton.

Murdering at the Vicarage was our entry for the Wallingford Drama Festival in 1991 where it had its first performance and won the “Punters’ Prize” as  best play, voted for by the audience. The play has since been published and performed by other groups; we are delighted to have given it its second performance by Compton Players (including one of the original cast!).

The Cast
The Promise

Eddie Price: Christopher Kendrick
Stacey Nash: Naomi Read
Adam Nash: Andrew Alexander
June: Ann Griffiths

Directed by H Connolly

Murdering at the Vicarage

Alison who plays Jane Delaney: Ann Griffiths
Brian who plays Howard Delaney: George Buckland
Clive who plays The Vicar: Nick Roberts
Suzy the Tea Lady and Prompt: Brenda Prior
Godfrey who plays Colonel Hornblower: Paul Shave
Brenda the Stage manager: Mary Warrington
Fred the Stagehand: Ian Hickling

Directed by Eric Saxton

 

ODN review

These plays were written for Compton Players and the first was also directed by the author.

The Promise
A simple, but effective set portrayed the bungalow which was the Prices’ former home and latterly of his daughter Stacey and Adam Nash.

The tone of the play was set with the opening revealing the father, Eddie Price (Christopher Kendrick) snorting cocaine from the coffee table. His mood and manic behaviour was well portrayed with effective staccato mannerisms. He is visited by the ghostly appearance of his late daughter, Stacey Nash (Naomi Read), soon after her funeral. She came back to rebuke him for his cocaine use and for not making peace with Adam, her estranged husband. This was sensitively played by Naomi Read whose ghost-like presence effectively appeared through the walls.

Eddie’s unsurprising failed attempts at social climbing are laid bare in the ensuing row with Adam, (Andrew Alexander) his ex-son-in-law, whom he accuses of having an affair and causing the break-up of his and Stacey’s marriage. A similar accusation is then thrown back at Eddie when his ex-wife, June (Ann Griffiths) appears. The bickering and name-calling between the two men was well handled. Adam could have been a little harder, he was far too nice when being pushed to the limits by Eddie. The fight and rough and tumble were very effective. There was an overload of expletives, not all of which were entirely necessary and it appeared merely thrown in for effect.

June, the calm voice of reason, expertly played by Ann Griffiths, manages to stop Eddie shooting Adam and himself. When the police are called it is June who manages to conceal the weapon, thus thwarting Eddie’s promise to Stacey that he would kill Adam then kill himself to join her in death.

Murdering at the Vicarage
This play depicts the pitfalls of a drama group performing an Agatha Christie-esque murder play. It was great to see Ann Griffiths in contrasting roles in these two plays. This play within a play was slightly confusing, as cast members were in and out of their characters like fury. In the ‘play’, Ann is Jane Delaney, the ‘flapper girl’. She had good comedic timing and held the play together. Brian, (George Buckland) played Howard, the corpse, discovered on the floor with a menacing bread knife sticking out of his back. George had good timing, or as good as a corpse could have. His talent was evident later when it appeared that his part in the murder play had been expanded and rewritten and he was no longer killed off in scene two. Howard is revealed as the gay lover of Godfrey’s character, Hornblower, in the announced re-write of the final act. The author of the murder play, Godfrey, was played with quiet conviction by Paul Shave. The re-write threw Clive, (Nick Roberts), whose character was the scatty vicar, into complete confusion. Suzy (Brenda Prior) the long-suffering tea lady and prompt was convincing in her pottering about but is cajoled into standing in and reading a part which finds her gagged and taped to a chair! All this chaos is witnessed by Brenda, the bossy stage manager played authoritatively by Mary Warrington, who desperately tries to maintain order in the chaos and rebellion, which ensued against the author’s re-write. The hilarious and clever moment was the model in furs, created by Dave Hawkins, operated with some skill by stage hand Ian Hickling.

Both plays were well performed and enjoyed by the enthusiastic first night audience. Congratulations to all.

NIGEL JAMES

Newbury Weekly News review

Home-grown double bill

For their autumn production, the players chose two short one-act plays by one of their own members, H Connolly, often seen treading the boards with them.

The Promise was an unusual little piece about an errant father trying to come to terms with his past bad behaviour and not doing a very good job of it. Christopher Kendrick did very well in presenting Eddie, a taut, wound-up character, full of nervous energy – not surprising, considering he was being given an accusing lecture by the ghost of his dead daughter Stacey, Naomi Read conveying the pain of a woman deserted. Andrew Alexander, as Stacey’s ex-husband played a provocative, angry young man and Ann Griffiths was calm and controlled as June, Eddie’s deserted wife. Well-structured, the play was both serious but with comedy elements surfacing occasionally.

Connolly directed the first play, leaving the second, Murdering at The Vicarage, to friend and colleague Eric Saxton, who provided some neat comic touches, particularly the broomstick puppet figure of Missing Marbles, the spoof detective.

Ann Griffiths, George Buckland and Nick Roberts all had great fun hamming it up as amateur performers in a play-within-a-play situation. You have to be careful with that though – when you stop performing as inept actors and revert to straight performance, you must not repeat any of the ‘hello here she comes in her car’ as the offstage sound- track plays a horse running or run stage left to greet an actor entering right – but it was no problem for Compton Players.

Paul Shave was believable as the writer/director, well-supported by Mary Warrington and Ian Hickling. The play was sort of Agatha Christie meets Alan Ayckbourn, with the latter providing the main inspiration. It made a very funny, well-performed second feature.

DEREK ANSELL

NODA review

THE PROMISE and MURDERING AT THE VICARAGE are two very different short plays, both written by H Connolly a member of the Compton Players. The Promise is a serious piece (with moments of light relief in its black comedy) when Stacey’s father and husband clash after her death. And Murdering at the Vicarage is a very funny example of coarse acting along the lines of Noises Off as an am dram group face a series of mishaps in their rehearsal. It was an excellent combination for the evening’s entertainment.

FRONT OF HOUSE: The hall was laid out theatre style and was very well organised. Patrons were warmly welcomed and looked after with refreshments available before and during the interval.

THE PROGRAMME was a simple A5 (2 x A4 folded), clearly laid out and easy to read, with information detailing the cast, crew, the play and details of other upcoming local productions.

SET: Both sets were excellent and they made good use of the black back-drop and minimal furniture and props. The dummy used in Murdering at the Vicarage deserves special mention as does Mary Warrington (and other unseen Players) for its operation. Its ridiculousness was hilarious.

COSTUMES: The costumes were ideal with each character being well defined by their outfit.
Naomi’s “ghost” dress as Stacey was excellent.

THE PRODUCTION: The characters were well cast and there were some good, solid, performances notably from Ann Griffiths who appeared in both plays. All the characters were well developed and the acting was even and well rehearsed. There was much to enjoy. There was strong direction from H Connolly and Eric Saxton and both plays were of the highest standard. Compton Players should be proud to add this evening to their list of successes.

CHRIS HORTON

Compilations review

Our Compton Players are a joy!

Mid-November saw our Players deliver a double bill of joy. “Oh what a night” in the words of the Four Seasons. And indeed it was.

Their two plays contrasted hugely but utterly complemented each other. They were both written by local playwright H Connolly… nearly thirty years ago!!! (They debuted at the Wallingford Drama Festival in 1991)* Both plays were equally well received then… as indeed they were with their latest outing. In fact they received commendations… Not surprisingly.

The evening opened with The Promise. A black but gripping play where the villain is also, paradoxically, the victim… or rather a victim. In fact the whole cast of characters are victims! Eddie, the principal character, is a dissolute, driven, wealthy but tormented businessman haunted by the ghost of his daughter. His ex-wife is teased rather than tormented by the ghost. Their daughter’s widower is tormented by nothing, except the constant threat of Eddie. After threatened gun violence on the stage and frying pan violence off the stage Eddie marches off into the arms of the Law to find peace at last. Christopher Kendrick as Eddie filled the stage with his gangling frame and dour, menacing presence.
(Poor Didcot came under fire more than once from H’s pen… which had us in fits of laughter.)

It was of course an evening of two halves. At the end of the interval Director Eric Saxton commented “And now for something completely different!” And it was. It wasn’t Monty Python but it was just as crazy and ludicrously funny. Outrageously insane in fact.

Murdering at the Vicarage had us hooting, tittering, guffawing and gripped. It was surreal; bonkers. The story opens in the vicarage in question where we find the local residents locked in a mad world where the phone rings to inform them there is a caller at the door… and door knocking heralds a phone call. Oh yes, there is a dead body in the middle of the living room floor. Of course there is. This scene of mayhem is actually the local Players rehearsing a ‘would be’ Agatha Christie play. But Miss Marple has had her name cunningly changed – well, mangled really – to avoid a law suit and emptying of the Players’ entire fortune of £57.25. The crazy, tangled plot of the play hardly mattered. Whatever the storyline it would be swamped by the leading lady’s performance. In the absence of their principal actress the Players’ stage manager, Brenda (delightful Mary Warrington), knocked up a substitute actor from a standard lamp and a fox fur. Oh yes, and yards of string!!

The dummy Miss Marple crossed the stage in an impossibly realistic way. She moved from one character’s side to another, turning her lamp shade head to whoever was speaking to her. Absurdly she was utterly convincing and yet not!! The story ended when the light went out due to a power cut and the cast trickled away to the local pub. But they left their Prompt and Tea Lady extraordinaire and indeed Miss Marple’s voice tied up in the middle of the room (Brenda Prior at her best). And there she was as the curtain dropped.

They are real team players and a joy. Clive the vicar was played by Nick Roberts with delightful timing and facial expressions that almost did away with words.

Well done Players and thank you yet again.

But where was the ubiquitous Mrs Saxton? Liz was Prompt for both plays, although I didn’t hear her services being used even once.

What a bold and creative band you are Compton Players… And a joy. Thank you all.

ANONYMOUS

* Only Murdering at the Vicarage dates from 1991. The Promise is H’s most recent play.