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Wilde Weekend

by on 17 July 2020

Wilde About You

Wilde Weekend

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube.

Overview by Mark Aspen

Only the very few see the sad sight of an empty auditorium in our locked-down theatres, thousands of theatre-makers itch to put a show on stage, while hundreds of theatre junkies yearn for their fix of real theatre.

6.-our-empty-theatres-criterion-theatre-helen-murray7

Real theatre is a living breathing, three dimensional creature, in which the audience feeds off the stage and the stage feeds off of the audience.  When real theatre is reduced to a screen it becomes merely a pale imitation of itself.  But needs must and we have all become accustomed over the past few months of seeing our favourite theatres boiled down to the small world of on-line entertainment.  The bigger the theatre the bigger the reduction, of course.  Nevertheless, I have found myself hooked every evening on seeing Covent Garden, the National Theatre, or the London Coliseum squeezed into the small screen … and have enjoyed it (as second best).

But what about our smaller local community theatres, the non-commercial theatre?  Some have resident companies that boast large memberships, often into the hundreds.  On the western side of London, two good examples are the Questors (with its Judi Dench Theatre in Ealing) and the Teddington Theatre Club (with its Hampton Hill Theatre).  They too have very rapidly picked up the possibilities of the small screen, the screen of the computer and smart phone, to make new theatre.   Their itching-to-get-back members have exercised their skills alone but together, with Zoom and YouTube.

Questors has run its Scenes in Solitude programme of short plays on YouTube for the past six weeks, modest affairs, five minutes of new writing from its members, monologues or dialogues, rehearsed on Zoom.

Hampton Hill Theatre

Last weekend was the turn of Teddington Theatre Club, which jumped firmly in with its first public offering on-line, but what an offering.  Modest it was not, with 62 performers playing 127 different parts.  This mammoth undertaking was its Wilde Weekend, ambitiously attempting to perform all of Oscar Wilde’s known oeuvre, the complete canon of his 48 published pieces of work.  TTC has had a number of Zoom reading as private members events by way of “dry-runs”.  The Wilde Weekend pieces had been rehearsed on Zoom and were presented through Zoom onto YouTube.  So here we had live theatre, warts and all.  Moreover, it was completed in a continuous run, lasting well over its planned 25 hours.

Did it work?  Mark Aspen Reviews did not feel it was able to dedicate one non-eating, non-sleeping reviewer to 25 hours, but a small team of eight critics chose their own highlights.  Co-incidentally, most of these were around midnight and way into the wee small-hours.

Salome SkytteOne of the top favourites with our critics was Salome, which leaves behind the Wilde wisecracking cynicism for a deeper and, dare we say, spiritual look at the world with a retelling of the well-known New Testament passage.   Nick Swyft found Mia Skytte-Jensen “very alluring” in the title role, using all her seductive wiles to coerce Peter Hill’s credibly foppish Herod into giving her the head of the prophet Jokanaan, St John the Baptist (whose saint’s day had been four days before the performance).

avenue_rapp-1-819x1024 SophieFor Eleanor Lewis Wilde’s letter De Profundis teased out memories of a Parisian laundrette before progressing to the austerely less froufrou surroundings of Reading Gaol and much Wildean introspection.   Then, as a mood changer, to our surprise Oscar Wilde himself popped up to write a very up-beat theatre review, in Mrs Langtry as Hester Grazebrook.  Wilde may have off-balanced his review of the much-feted Edwardian beauty Lily Langtry, but saying far more about her aforementioned beauty than her acting skills, but the review was read with loving lyricism by Clare Cooper.

Into the early hours of Sunday morning ventured two intrepid critics, both looking forward to nocturnal world premieres.  Yes, you read right.  Here were two previously unperformed Wilde plays, albeit fragments of the full texts, La Sainte Courtisane and A Florentine Tragedy, both skilfully directed by Clare Cooper.  Thomas Forsythe was impressed by the “balance of spirituality and sensuality” in La Sainte Courtisane, while Quentin Weiver thought A Florentine Tragedy was “scarily Jacobean”.  However, so to speak, “what a shame that [they] should first see the light of day in the middle of the night”, as Thomas Forsythe put it.

HareAmong our reviewers we had half a dozen nightingales but only one lark, Heather Moulson, who was up bright and early on Sunday morning.  She first squeezed some pips from House of Pomegranates, the anthology of Wilde’s fairy tales, and enjoyed the rich juice of The Star Child.    An impressive duo sensitively “breathed life” into a “deceptively grim and moral” tale, “concluding with only a brief happy ending”.   All this before breakfast, but after a fortifying bacon and eggs, she was into a An Ideal Husband with her coffee, “a dark play”, but “there were many witty and memorial lines” buoyed up by “strong performances and sharp direction”.

Wilde Weekend was a truly intrepid enterprise, boldly experimental in which TTC had stuck its neck out in putting on a new art-form.  Everyone was on a steeply sloping learning curve.  The acting within these new constraints varied, with some excellent acting, but to be fair these pieces were not presented as fully polished works, as the lead-up time was limited and certainly filling 127 different on-screen roles, presenting well over 15,000 lines, is no mean feat.  It is a pity that TTC’s considerable and impressive technical team were not more involved as video cueing and lighting was a problem on which participants could have had some advice.  Most of our reviewing team commented on the incongruous backgrounds, although here again some performers had gone to considerable trouble, rose gardens in the daylight or intimate candlelight in the middle of the night.  TTC’s Artistic Director and the event’s formidable Mistress of Ceremonies (if that’s an OK term in 2020), Lottie Walker had gone to profligate expense in re-decorating her living room to make a suitable grand fin-de siècle backdrop for her hosting!!  Steve Wayman and Daniel Wain did the overnight hosting as the insomniac continuity guys, appropriately fortified we are told with Wilde Irish Gin.

With social distancing, we cannot shake TTC’s corporate hand, or even one or elbow tap, but TTC can still pat itself on the back, and we can put or own hands together to show that it has done a great job in showing us that local theatre is far from intensive care, but is alive and kicking and able to have a wild Wilde Weekend.

Mark Aspen, July 2020

Photography by Helen Murray, Charlotte Nadeau, Jane Morgan, Ghirlandaio Bigordi, Sergio Omassi and Teddington Theatre Club

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