Players’ News!

The Scary Secrets Of Septimus Sloane

Reviewed by Theo Spring

Flagged as a musical melodrama, this delightfully light and amusing production might also have been termed a thriller or a whodunit, have a mystic theme, be a comedy or even a pantomime, such are its many theatrical facets.Ideas are ‘lifted’, amongst others, from William Shakespeare; Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray; from the rooms and weapons of the parlour game of Cluedo and the success of Blithe Spirit’s Madam Arcati to materialise the recently departed. The cast was a successful amalgamation of members of Chipstead’s Youth Theatre and the adult players and brought song, dance, mystery and a ubiquitous ‘body’ who had a starring role.

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Septimus Sloane, played in a gentle avuncular fashion by Phil Wright, has seven daughters, a wife who disappeared seven years ago and has now been officially pronounced dead, and a fiancée keen to get her hands on the Sloane fortune. All seven girls created very individual characters and there were some clear and tuneful vocals using new words to existing tunes, set to precise choreography by Kirsty Hudson. As the mainstays of the play it seems invidious not to name them all so Tara Baker was the lovelorn Daisy, Rowan Brown the sensible Susan, Maria Gallagher the scheming Sabrina, Victoria Bailey the disbelieving Samantha, Ella Bowers the thoughtful Sasha and Edelia Stones and Olivia Thynne as the young Stephanie and Sharon. Their simple matching dresses with a different colour cardigan for each of them helped to identify their ‘body’ which wore the cardigan and also helped us, as the audience, to identify who had been killed (no longer wearing the cardigan) and who hadn’t (still wearing one).

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Staff at Sloane Manor included one of the enigmatic twin butlers, given an appropriate obsequiousness by Nick Gane; Meryl Jones, an efficient Joyce Bricks as Septimus’ PA, an eavesdropping gardener Willie Growmore to whom Jon Laws brought excellent face-acting and the three below stairs staff. Cooking chicken soup on a wonderfully replicated Aga, Elayne Teague gave Beryl Close a grand accent. Debs Brooks as the housekeeper Olive was the Shakespearian witch who quoted “Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn, and caldron bubble” over the stirred cauldron and whose thumbs were able to twitch at approaching evil, and Vicky van Manen did a grand metamorphosis from old to young as Old Rene.

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There were five baddies to add to the plot. In fine singing voice and evil cackle, Rick Thompsett created Dr Darius Du Bad, with his sycophantic side-kick Craven Coward so amusingly played by Joe Ackermann. Then there were the three hoodlums Hughie, Llewy and Chewy – Connor Cecil, Sam Willmott and Sofia Nicodemo respectively, who doubled as the three clowns Bozo, Crusty and Coco – managing to keep their roles very different depending on whether they were being good or bad. Finally, we have the legals and the law, represented here by the other half of love-lorn Daisy, Bradley Adams as Melvin Close the lawyer and the comedy duo of Don Hindle as Inspector Little and Phil Brooks as PC Plenty, with the strong singing voice and great timing. And what was the cause of all the concern over money and murders? Septimus’ plan to marry his assistant Dr Sally Forth to whom Sharon Laws brought charm, intrigue and a certain amount of scheming. On-stage musicians were under the baton of MD Philippa Lucas and the two Directors making sense of a considerable amount of mayhem were Siobhan James and Peter van Manen.

The fun evening invited audience reactions – groans at some of the puns – and we even had our photograph taken – one for someone’s album!

Rules For Living – cast and crew


Edith – Jan Robinson
Francis – Geoff Thorn
Matthew – Michael Rahman
Carrie – Lauren Milsom
Adam – Lewis Wilmott
Sheena – Sharon Laws
Emma – Maria Gallagher

Director – Grace Hopkins
Production Manager – Jo Hopkins
Stage Manager – Nick Gane
Set Design – Alan Croft
Lighting Design – Jonathan Laverock
Lighting Operator – James Willis
Projection – Stephen Thurlow
Sound – Jon Laws
Properties – Mags Alexander
Furniture & Set Dressing – Clare Sparshatt
Wardrobe – Janet Bennett
Prompt – Linda Hall

The Ash Girl – cast and crew

The Ash Girl – Rowan Brown
Mother – Emilia Aris
Ruth – Olivia Thynne
Judith – Sofia Nicodemo
Princess Zehra – Ellie McConnell
Prince Amir – Dominic Semwenga
Paul – James Ali
Slothworm – Henry Barriball
Angerbird – Connor Cecil
Lust – Kieran O’Brien
Envysnake – Oliver Horle
Pridefly – Jack McCarthy
Gluttontoad – Charlie McCarthy
Greedmonkey – TBC
Sadness – Lauren Woods
Fairy – Connie Williams
Owl – Eddie McConnell
Otter – Ethan Simmons
Man/Father – Henry Barriball
Boy Mouse – Lorenzo Brunellesi
Girl Mouse – Emily Brunellesi

Director – Ian Brown
Assistant Director – Ben Jeffreys
Production Manager – Claire Ali
Set Designer – Linda Hornzee-Jones
Set Construction – David Franks
Stage Manager – Marie Ricot
Deputy Stage Manager – Alfie Earl Day
Lighting Design – Brian List
Lighting Operation – TBC
Sound Design – Peter Stoughton
Sound Operation – Connor Simmons
Furniture – TBC
Set Dressing – TBC
Properties – Clair Jeffreys
Wardrobe – Rosie Bottomley
Assistant Wardrobe – Anne Franks
Prompt – Julie Cumbo

Splendour Review

Reviewed By Theo Spring 

This modern, striking play must surely be an actor’s nightmare. Each scene opens in exactly the same way, with glass being swept up from the carpet with a dustpan and brush, but then the dialogue changes. Sometimes with subtlety and sometimes pointed up, but full marks to the cast for unhesitatingly knowing which scene they were in and never confusing them.

Full marks to the cast also for their interpretations of four very diverse women. Set in the ‘splendour’ of a dictator’s city home, in a set designed by David Franks and oozing wealth and status thanks to Anne Franks’ set dressing and furniture, the four await the arrival of the dictator’s husband. Bearing a similarity to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, he never comes, yet he is always expected, on his way or delayed for this and that reason, at least so says his wife Micheleine, but is she imparting the truth of her telephone calls to his office? Kirsty Cunnington was every inch the elegant well-heeled (and high heeled) wife. Loyal, used to the best and constantly trying to smooth over her husband’s non-appearance to fulfil an appointment to have his portrait taken, on camera, by a British photojournalist. This key characterisation was reminiscent of the proverbial swan – all calm above water but paddling frantically underneath as, in Micheleine’s case, her world gradually fell apart as it slowly becomes apparent that a civil war is being fought beyond the safety of the residence.
A war, however, is not exclusively outside the walls as Micheleine’s constantly acknowledged best friend is revealed through the scenes to dislike her intensely and here Jane Foster as Genevieve uses not only her words but her body language too, to indicate her feelings as she moves between friendship and animosity. It is Genevieve who, with a small grasp of the language of the country, is suspicious and soon outspoken about the interpreter’s often completely false interpretations, leading to mistrust. Katie Bignell is the kleptomaniac interpreter Gilma, using her sleight of hand and a copious shoulder bag to secrete her booty, seeming to delight in the mayhem, confusion and hurt her words are causing.

Mugged & Taking Breath Reviews.

Reviewed By Lauren Milsom & Noel Harris

A well observed and sensitively written double bill performed by our talented youth theatre. Two plays which appear very different but have common themes of friendship and  bravery. Most significantly both show how easily our perceptions of truth and reality can be changed or subverted.

The stage was stunningly set with a minimalist design of a giant tree centre stage, providing the perfect backdrop for the park setting in the first play, then becoming the centrepiece of the action in the second.

MUGGED by Andrew Payne 

The play opens with perfectly paced energy from Jonathan Neary (Dig) and Toby Maynard (Marky) whose witty banter quickly establish their easy friendship and shared status as the nerdy underdogs in their social sphere, whilst introducing us to their daily dilemma of choosing a route to school.   The reason for their quandary soon becomes clear with the arrival of their classmates, Leon (played with arrogant aggression by Ben Jeffreys), Tayl, (a confident debut by Oliver Griffin) and girlfriends Soph (a well-deserved major role for Maria Gallagher) and Mel (Tara Baker in another strong debut role).  Their entry on the scene establishes they are not friends with the other two but use brute force and aggression to dominate them in standard pack hierarchy.

One common fear unites them all: the muggers positioned in the park playground most mornings – directly in their path to school. Whether to take the long route round to avoid them or run the gauntlet is evidently a daily decision.

With time running short the girls and Marky attempt the direct route, but quickly retreat when Soph’s phone is stolen by the most menacing mugger. This turn of events shows the characters’ behaviour under stress, with Leon’s brutish bravado crumbling at the possibility of confrontation.

Marky, recognising the lead mugger (“his mum lives next door to my mum”) naively believes he can reason with him and bravely returns to the playground alone in hopes of retrieving the mobile.  The horror of the subsequent knife attack on Marky is effectively played out on the faces of the watching classmates.

Thus the teens are plunged into a murder enquiry and high profile media reporting, stylishly represented by the two news anchors Sofia Nicodemo and Olunibe Morgan, and on-the-scene reporter Bradley Adams. Early in the play the author has established that each character has something to hide, and from here on the audience witness the corruption of a seemingly simple case, when the witnesses all convince each other they have more to lose by telling the truth to the police than they have to gain.  Thus police assumptions and media bias present a horribly skewed picture of the tragic event as a gang related incident with Marky branded a knife-wielding delinquent equally to blame for the skirmish.

Onlookers and gawkers are used to great effect here, revelling in the media attention to lend credence to Marky’s character assassination, and perpetuate a lazily constructed stereotype of a troubled teen deserving all he got.

Dig, Marky’s only true friend, watches this scenario unfold with horror, and after much soul searching decides to tell the truth to the police. Armed with fresh evidence, the hypocrisy of the media is sharply highlighted with a dramatic about turn in their description of Marky’s character, depicting him, just as inaccurately, as a champion of justice; a flawlessly gifted high achiever popular with everyone. His teachers, family and classmates avidly latch on to this fictitious social hero the media have created and whose funeral they all attend.  Once again it falls to Dig to cut through the hype, remembering the true character of the friend only he knew well and who only he, amongst the crowd, truly grieves for.  Jonathan Neary’s thoughtful and sincere delivery of these final lines showed us a glimpse of the depth of feeling this talented actor can deliver and provided a touching ending the audience will long remember.


TAKING BREATH by Sarah Daniels

The stunning centrepiece tree, designed and constructed by Nick Gane, comes into its own in this second play of the night, as the focus for an ecological demonstration played out among its branches.

The play opens on three set pieces

  • The turbulent relationship between two sister dealing with their grandmother’s death
  • A band of Eco-warriors trying to save a tree “the lungs of the planet” from destruction
  • A young man lying comatose in a hospital bed, his worried family at his side

Three separate scenarios all intrinsically linked.

In Taking Breath five young people spend a night on a tree platform to prevent the destruction of the trees and some houses. One of the protesters, Elliott, tries to leave the tree, falls and is left unconscious. As he is lying there, he encounters Lucy, a servant who in 1913 worked in one of the houses that is to be demolished. The dramatic thread weaves backwards and forwards in time. In the opening scene, we learn that Elliott has been in a coma for a week. We then have scenes on the tree platform interspersed with Lucy telling Elliott about the suffragettes, how she was sexually harassed, how she had tried to frighten off the son of the house by telling him she had a boyfriend. Finally we have scenes in the hospital where Alana and Steve meet and we see them on the tree platform. Through her great-grandmother’s courage in adversity Alana finds peace with herself and strength to move on.

“Sometimes in life, the most courageous thing is to keep breathing.”

From the outset, Emily Foster pulled no punches as the aggressive, troubled Alana, older sister to the quiet, bookish Gemma (Gemma Bottomley). Alfie Earl Day gave a mature performance as Eco warrior / time-traveller Elliot taking the incredible developments in his life in his stride.

Monty Camisa Bundy, Ella Bowers, Kate Batcheler and Henry Barriball, fellow eco-warriors provided more light relief with well delivered comic earnestness.

Katie Bignell brought great energy to Lucy the suffragette, whilst Luke Steel and Victoria Bailey showed good emotional depth as Elliot’s concerned family.

Both plays were directed with great insight and sensitivity by directors Nick and Jane Foster, who produced well-paced, believable and mature performances from an excellent ensemble cast. Congratulations to all cast & crew on bringing these high quality productions to the Courtyard Theatre.

The Keeley Plate 2017

Keely Plate Winner - Jonathan Neary
Keely Plate Winner – Jonathan Neary

The Keeley Plate is an award for the most promising performance by a member of the Youth Theatre in the season, and what a season we’ve had.

The Keeley Plate committee considers plays from the last AGM until now.  That’s from Dial M for Murder ’til now.  The qualifying plays, where youth theatre members were represented, were Hospital Food, A Handbag, Twelfth Night, Satchwell Road Can Take It, Collaborators and A Doll’s House.  Only 50% of those were Youth Theatre plays.  It was wonderful to see Youth Theatre members having a full share in three so-called adult plays, very much to be encouraged.  The Keeley Plate Committee, made up of Grace Hopkins, Vicky Van Mannen and me (Michael Rahman) along with valued feedback from directors and others considered 39 youth theatre members, across 55 different roles.  What did we find?  Camaraderie in shaved heads, bravery with iambic pentameter, a movie and a sequel.

We’ll start with some new faces.  The first time on stage, back stage – their first stage with The Courtyard Theatre – can be daunting to the young, so we were so impressed to see Rowan Brown and Kieron O’Brien in Satchwell Road Can Take It.  So confident, good diction, they let their faces be seen.  We look forward to seeing more of you.

Moving on to those faithful ones who have returned to this stage.  We’ve come to know them over the last few years and have seen wonderful progression this year particularly from Edie Nelson, Jonathan Neary, Simon Perry, Zoe Kirk, Monty Camisa-Bundy, Emily Foster and Vicky Bailey.  We’re so excited to think of what their continued progression will mean for us, the audience, in the coming season.

Then we think of those we’ve seen from their childhood to their near adulthood.  We think of Katie Bignell, Ethan Elsdon and Ben Jeffries, none of whom have confined themselves solely to youth theatre plays over the years (Skellig, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Crucible).  We really have valued your performances over the years and truly appreciate the hard work and dedication you have brought to the stage. You’re probably on the verge of leaving the youth theatre.  Please don’t forget us.  How we truly value men and women in their ’20’s.  Hard to cast right?  Sometimes we lose our youth theatre members but there’s so many opportunities for exciting plays in the future if we know the likes of you will be available to be cast.

We must remember the two films which formed a part of Satchwell Road Can Take it.  Not least of all for the acting styles needed for this different medium, but also the involvement of our youth in the making of it too.  How forward looking that was.  The Chipstead Players are brave; it forms part of our reputation, and how encouraging it was to see our youth theatre embrace innovation and new ideas.  Laugh out loud funny it was too!

When thinking of awarding the Keeley Plate four people stood out to us.

Jonathan Neary – He appeared in the Satchwell Road film, tackled the iambics in Twelfth Night, but most memorable for his impressive character switch in A Handbag earning spontaneous applause mid-scene.

Jonathan in A Handbag

Vicky Bailey – She really did impress in Twelfth Night.  To convey multiple identities and character while spouting a whole glut of poetry is skilful indeed.

Ethan Elsdon – He portrayed true maturity in Hospital Food, acting in a challenging role.  Along with others he bravely shaved his head, raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust in the process.  He took the role to the Leatherhead Festival.  He then had a good stab at Shakespeare and the film in Satchwell.  A memorable year.

Monty Camisa-Bundy – He appeared in A Handbag but we agreed that his comic performance in Twelfth Night was a revelation.  Put him next to our seasoned Mike Strong in scene after scene and you forget there’s an age difference, truly hilarious.  Do more comedies please!

We wanted to mention you four in particular and are delighted to award the Keeley Plate this year to – Jonathan Neary.

(We were thrilled that Hope Elsdon, the holder of the plate over the last year, was on stage to present the award to Jonathan in person.  It was also so good to see a number of Youth Theatre members present at the AGM)

A Streetcar Named Desire Review.

Reviewed By Theo Spring – The Croydon Advertiser.

Without exaggeration, I was completely bowled over by this production which was extraordinarily good.

David Franks’ set design brought an instant touch of the architecture of New Orleans with its beautifully achieved fancy scroll work which topped the Kowalski apartment and joined it cleverly to Hubbell’s,  depicted as living above them. The whole layout had been carefully thought through, with its invisible but solid walls, an intimate outdoor area and its internal rooms. A major achievement.

A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire

The acting skills for the role of Blanche DuBois are so heavily demanding in interpreting an emotional, flighty, disorientated and lost character that amateur groups rarely present the production. Here, however, Siobhan Ames created a Blanche imbued with a history of lies, subterfuge, wheedling and affection, who carried the weight of the script and delivered the role in a faultless southern drawl – her performance was spellbinding.

Not only did the Players find such a leading lady, but cemented the production with a first rate cast who delivered their characters with equal ability  Angharad Mair Davies as Stella strongly brought out her divided loyalties of love for her sister Blanche and her husband Stanley, adding frailty and despair to the play’s emotional turmoil.

Anger and distrust were brought to the mix by Noel Harris whose Stanley was demanding and explosive, seeing through Blanche’s deceptions and wanting her to leave, going where he cared not. It is on the ability of these three characters that the success of the play rests but those in the smaller roles were equally able and contributed to its strength. Lewis Wilmott conveyed the hope and almost child-like character of ‘Mitch’ who fluctuates between the spruced-up beau bringing Blanche flowers to the urgent and angry man on hearing the truth about Blanche’s past. A chameleon delivery.

The almost unbearable heat is ever present during the play, endorsed by the men’s sweat-dampened vests. Blanche’s constant companion is a white perfumed hanky – artfully used to convey the heat and much more. This same heat frays tempers too, with neighbours Krissi Perry and Geoff Thorn as Eunice and Steve Hubbell loudly squabbling but happily making up too. Richard Haslam as Pablo makes the fourth in the crucial men’s poker game where alcohol and the heat create volatility. Joseph Ackerman faces Blanche’s seductive wiles when trying to collect a newspaper subscription and Lauren Milsom has two cameos as Rose and the nurse. Michael Rahman is the doctor who, as Blanche is finally institutionalised, realises that she will struggle against a straight jacket but could be wooed to submit quietly by a small bunch of flowers and a courteous invitation.

Costumes by Anne Franks and Rosalind Hayes added much to the vision of the 1940s era and under the expert direction of Julie Cumbo, the cast moved fluidly around the set, bringing a natural air to this famous play with its torrid overtones.

This very talented cast, directed with such in-depth understanding of the play by Julie Cumbo brought a truly West End worthy drama to The Courtyard.