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Kindly Leave the Stage

by on 28 April 2019

The Thespian Frame of Mind

Kindly Leave the Stage

by John Chapman

Richmond Shakespeare Society at the Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham until 4th May

A Review by Celia Bard

A cleverly crafted and light-hearted satirical mise en abyme, John Chapman’s Kindly Leave the Stage is amusingly brought to life by members of the Richmond Shakespeare Society in their friendly, intimate theatre, The Mary Wallace, situated on the banks of the River Thames in Twickenham. The outer story, the framing device, tells the story of Rupert and Sarah whose marriage has broken down. Their friends, Charles, and Madge, both loosely connected with the law, agree to handle the threatened divorce.

KINDLY.... two

The opening scene of the play, set in the well-furnished, living and dining room of a well-appointed garden flat, lulls the audience into a false sense of security albeit a lively one with Charles and Madge sitting uneasily at the dining table listening to sounds from the kitchen of crockery being smashed. Any comfortable illusion the audience may have about the development of the plot soon vanishes when Rupert suddenly stutters and repeats his words. This is followed by an awkward silence until the prompt feeds him a line. Here, the audience may be forgiven if they inwardly groan thinking the actor is not secure in his lines. Rupert’s forgetfulness, however, is the beginning of the play’s inner story in which our leading man is having to act with the full knowledge that Madge, his real wife, is having an affair with Charles. Rupert’s anger, jealousy, and rage spill over into the framing story, confusing the audience who watch bemused as Rupert picks up a knife and threatens to kill Charles who takes refuge in a trunk whilst the rest of the cast try to continue with the play. Confusion further mounts when a nurse suddenly appears from the back of the theatre, breaking the fourth wall, exclaiming that she is responding to an appeal for a doctor in the house to treat somebody who is injured on stage. Again, the audience must be forgiven if they begin to think that like King Lear, they have entered the realm of madness when the character Edward, playing the muddled, elderly father of Madge, enters and confused by events on stage, lapses into Shakespearean verse whenever the opportunity arises: dans une confusion totale.

The overall play within a play structure used by the playwright provides him with an opportunity to explore a double plot, one in which he is able to highlight the egotism, jealousy and vanity of the acting profession as well as being able to exploit his knowledge of different acting, genre and theatrical styles. The framing narrative of Kindly Leave the Stage is modern. Lines though witty are naturalistic as seen in the dialogue between the two couples and Mrs Cullen, Madge’s mother. In contrast the inners story lapses into pure farce, characters chasing each other across the stage, in and out of doors and although there isn’t a cupboard for a character to hide in, there is a large wooden trunk. Opportunities abound in this play for actors to exploit their knowledge and acting skills within the different genres provided by the playwright.

KINDLY... one

At times performances lose just a little of the meticulous discipline required of stage farce. Although the situation characters find themselves in are often ludicrous, nevertheless the characters must be recognisable. Cast in the role of Rupert is David Kay, totally believable as the cuckolded husband, but would have liked to have seen him act a little more menacing while wielding the knife and threating Charles. Kay has to carry much of the physical and emotional burden of the plot and his strong stage presence and vocal skills help him exploit this character. Particularly effective is the interchange between him and Edward (Michael Andrew) when discussing the merits of naturalistic dialogue, using as an example the line referring to Rupert’s and Charles’ long friendship starting in Oxford. Kay has to deliver this line in such a way that encourages Edward to demonstrate how it should be delivered: here pace and timing is excellent.

Kay is joined by actors Kate Wilcox (Sarah), Cath Messum (Madge), Matt Dennis (Charles), Maxina Cornwell (Mrs Cullen), Michael Andrew (Edward), Denise Tomlinson (Nurse) and Lynda-Louise Tomlinson (Angela). In some instances, there could have been a clearer contrast between the characters in the framing narrative and their other inner stories. Tomlinson is appropriately sympathetic as the nurse and makes a good entrance through the audience. Lynda-Louise Tomlinson is an effective stage prompt, keen to learn how to project her voice. Would like to have seen more of a grande dame performance from Cornwall, particularly in her opening scene. Dennis’s Charles is a little restrained as is his liaison with Sarah, here the relationship seemed rather forced.

KINDLY.... three

Messum’s Madge is delightfully sexy, and she does succeed in differentiating between her two characters – would be wise to heed intelligibility when using a higher vocal pitch. Wilcox is convincing in the framing narrative as the angry wife, but less so in her alternative role when she is required to act the cheating wife and display a besotted love for Charles.

Michael Andrew’s Edward is just superb as the ageing Shakespearean actor, now an alcoholic and bemoaning his lack of chance which would have placed him among the giants of Shakespearean actors. He is totally unaware that the play has switched from art to life and has invited his new agent to this performance. This actor has an incredibly strong stage presence, dominates the stage (at times deliberately) and is versatile in all acting genres. Whether playing the drunken fool, the confused actor, or portraying the madness of Lear, Andrew is magnificent. I would go and see his Lear anytime.

The RSS succeed in portraying an enjoyable evening of entertainment. Actors took their final bow remaining resolutely in character, and manfully allow Andrew to dominate the line-up. Kindly Leave the Stage is a light-hearted and highly entertaining play, well worth seeing.

Celia Bard
April 2019

Photography by Pete Messum

From → Drama, Reviews

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