Tuesday, December 5

The House Amongst the Willows – Formby Little Theatre

Fletcher (Peter Harris) is taking his fiancée Sadie (Hannah Johnson) away for a week, but they will be staying with the parents, Paul (Michael Leathley) and Erin (Vicky Birrell), of his previous wife, Laura (Donna M Day). Although engaged, they haven’t been together that long and Sadie is about to discover more than she had bargained for when his friend Josh (Simon James), a former policeman, reveals some hidden truths about Fletcher’s previous relationship, and when his Parisian ex, Kelly (Samantha Jones), turns up, things are about to get really complicated. If that’s not enough to get you started, then director Day’s unravelling of the subtext of the story definitely will as all is most certainly not what it seems in this tranquil part of middle England.

Without giving too much away, the premise of this dark play is a good one albeit the writing, certainly in the opening half, is too telling and I would have preferred Day and cast to have had the opportunity to show more aspects of the story rather than be left to recount it.

The split stage between lounge and kitchen/diner was well considered, designed and presented, and supported the necessary synchronicity of action on effectively a dual-stage with the cast moving seamlessly between both spaces – which is no mean task in itself if you’ve ever stepped backstage – and avoiding too many pregnant pauses, although the reduced spaces did present a challenge to the blocking and too often characters were facing away from the audience.

The frequent scene adaptions/changes felt too long with the variable lighting adjustments not helping matters, all of which could have been avoided perhaps if both spaces had been fully set from the beginning with the cast bringing any additional props on and off stage with them. Unfortunately, the result was an elongated stutter each time that detracted from the intended tension of the piece whereas a more fluid segue heightened by complete darkness and shorter bursts of music would have maintained the emotional intensity better.

Cast performances were composed – perhaps too much – and with an obvious lack of chemistry in the key relationships it sometimes felt, particularly in the opening half, that what should have been warm, embracing, and engaging dialogue was somewhat clipped, which is a shame because I would have expected that to have been overcome in this the second week of a run, although to the casts’ credit, performances were more confident in the second half with Harris’ opening monologue well delivered whilst Johnson’s closing monologue ironically brought her character to life. James caught the joviality of Josh consistently and believably, whilst Jones gave an accomplished performance throughout in a demanding role.

The best judge of any performance is of course the audience and there was much debate during the interval and post-show to confirm that the intended food for thought had been achieved.

Formby Little Theatre’s first production was in 1947 with the venue today friendly and welcoming with its own bar providing refreshments and an intimate performance space seating almost sixty people. Upcoming productions include Dick Barton – Special Agent in January 2024; Ladies Unleashed in April 2024; and The Father in June 2024. Further details www.formbylittletheatre.co.uk

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 26th October 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.