norfolk news - edp24
the marble hall, holkham hall
written by annabelle dickson

special performance left me full of the festive spirit

leaving holkham hall on sunday night, i felt pretty christmassy.

i'm not sure if it was seeing the ghosts if christmas past, present and future after following the fable of ebenezer scrooge. but sipping mulled wine and munching mince pies beside an imposing christmas tree in a stunning stately saloon undoubtedly filled me with christmas cheer. it is the first time lord and lady coke have transformed the marble hall at holkham into a theatre for christmas.

the same players - the rain or shine theatre company - performed the taming of the shrew in holkham's pottery yard this summer and the christmas event attracted people in their droves. it was an informal evening - a bit like a christmas drinks party. the coke children helped with proceedings, and lady coke dashed about with a tray of mince pies. and the good-natured atmosphere was mirrored in a production which did not take itself too seriously as the cautionary tale was told with wit.

people seemed to enjoy the audience participation - with different roles of the audience being assigned a sound effect - among them the bells, christmas merriment and whistling wind. and there was even a chance to join in with some christmas carols which were sung by the ghost of christmas present.
the pace from the more light-hearted scenes to the sadder parts of the story was well timed and delivered in a captivating way by the five-strong cast.

as i drove back to king's lynn past christmas lights, having had my first mince pie of the year, i decided, the festive season had really started.


a christmas carol - rain or shine share the spirit of christmas with a kinlet audience - kevin shepherd

rain or shine theatre company, as their name implies, usually perform their productions in the open air, but on 20 december at kinlet village hall there was little sunshine and the precipitation was snow, not rain. the flakes that were falling could not have been more appropriate to the production on offer: a christmas carol by charles dickens. the hall was packed with well wrapped up people of all ages and they were treated to an excellent performance, full of emotion, humour and a touch of magic. the play was adapted from the novel and directed with a deft hand by james reynard. he also took the role of narrator, guiding us through all aspects (both good and upsetting) of a dickensian christmas with a comforting and commanding presence. the cast, though small in number, used their considerable talents to create the atmosphere of the time with a simple set and minimal props. the sound effects were particularly good. they were created using most of the audience. i am glad to say the good folk in the hall did not let kinlet down: the noise generated was always full-blooded and at times eerily atmospheric. at the interval we were kept in the seasonal frame of mind by a very welcome glass of mulled wine and, of course some delicious mince pies. a wonderful time was had by all and i, for one, am looking forward to their next production.
'bah humbug'  - 'a christmas carol' 
market theatre cowbridge, 22 december 2009
written by fennie somerville

if the wind outside the theatre wasn’t moaning at the time then there were plenty in the second and third rows of the audience to make up for it. ‘moan!’ cried the gentleman in the top hat and riding boots and they moaned (after some prompting) to chill even the thickest blood.

rain or shine theatre - a company reputed for its happy and burlesque productions in the fragrant softness of the british summer had embarked on their first winter tour.  and what better classic to start with than ‘a christmas carol,’  the second best christmas story ever told, or so the top-hatted gentleman said.

and what better place to end it than ‘the market theatre’ in cowbridge, just before christmas. weather permitting that was.

the problem with weather is that it always over acts. have you ever watched a film and seen drizzle? so when the weather chose an array of snow, ice and plummeting temperatures for the final night, we worried.  ‘bah humbug!’ it probably said.

would we have an audience?  would we even have players? rain or shine hailed from snowy gloucester and the radio had announced closures of both severn bridges.

but the show must always go on. in the event both actors and audience (well, most of them) made it. some came even from as far afield as yorkshire, thereby adding financial and geographical inconvenience to the meteorological inconvenience that was our lot this christmas-tide.

drawn by promises of mulled wine and mince pies, the audience drifted out of the dickensian weather and into the dickensian show. the gentleman in top hat and riding boots (born 1840, still going strong) strode about issuing instructions. a cranford-bonneted lady in bombazine black moved among the expectant throng selling flowers - or were they programmes?

eventually the last boozers struggled out of the bar and into their seats. the cranford-bonnet disappeared and an expectant hush descended.  the top-hatted figure whispered opaquely, ‘when you see me the second time douse the lights!’  brows furrowed in a tangle of perplexity. what if he didn’t reappear?

but all was well. the top-hat effected its second coming; our lights went down, their lights came up and the magic of theatre began.

now in shows like this there are many bricks and little straw with which to make them.  so the audience is pressed into service. not only must the wind moan, chains rattle and ghostly wailing chill the blood, but festive merriment must ring out too.  and then there is that clock that has to chime as only an old dickensian clock would chime.........

lines too must be spoken at critical stages. oh yes, we were not just passive spectators: we were, or so it seemed, half the show!  an equity card in every programme!  but once briefed (and suitably mulled-wined), we were away like an express: clanking chains, wailing furiously, festively merrying..........

bah humbug! craig roger’s scrooge managed to look both mean and fierce, instantly recognisable as the man who knows the cost of everything. he soon put a stop to our mirth as he terrorised poor little bob cratchit, (tom jordan) shivering mightily in his fingerless-glove corner.

fortunately, no actor remains playing a single character for very long. miniscule bob suddenly became a towering whitened spirit. jane lloyd's cranford bonnet becomes jacob marley.  flimsy barriers of age and gender are swept aside. even the top-hatted gentleman narrator (james reynard) dons wigs and shawls to populate our dickensian world. indeed, one might say that never in the field of comic theatre have so many been played by so few. 

queen of this genre is pippa meekings who, taking many stations in-between, moved effortlessly between fred, scrooge’s nephew and every bit the young dandy about town, and the homely mrs cratchit, all bosomy and flowing locks, serving christmas mini-pudding to all the cratchits, including little waving tiny tim.

only the anchoring scrooge remains himself throughout the tale. and it is an important tale. not just about how scrooge is redeemed. but of how people are reduced, says dickens, by unnecessary ignorance and want. christmas paints a bigger picture for all of us. thus, when the charity collector rattles her tin at scrooge, she rattles it at us all.

three curtain calls and the folk troop happily homewards, well pleased with this slick, witty, inventive and superbly costumed show. we may know the tale, but there is much pleasure in a new and fizzing telling. and intrigue in seeing so much delivered from a set so apparently insubstantial yet from which the mighty ghost of christmas yet to come rises majestically towards the roof.

‘how on earth did they do that? the departing audience wondered as they struggled out across the icy waste.





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