Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Machine Gunners - Review - Royalty Theatre

The Machine Gunners  
Royalty Theatre
25th October 2016

This was promising to be an interesting show with a young cast, but as it turns out it was more interesting than anticipated. Unfortunately due to an accident just before the first night show the young lead Aidan Evans was unable to play his role and a stand in had to be found at the last minute. So we began the show with an apology from the Chairman as assistant director Peter Kelly would be taking the part of Chas McGill and would reading from the script at times. It also had to be said Peter Kelly is considerably older than the character of Chas McGill. However in true theatrical "the show must go on" style, the cast took up their places and the play began.

The play is a children's wartime adventure. The original story written by Robert Westall to entertain his own son, is full of wit and humour, the dialogue feels authentic - the kids talk and act like kids. It is great to hear a play in the north east dialect.
The story slips between narration by Chas and action and it moves smoothly from one to the other. Overall it has a Blytonesque feel to it - reminiscent of the Famous Five or Secret Seven - kids being kids but taking on roles more suited to adults, planning to save the day and be seen as heroes.

The stage was set with elements of each scene - a bomb damaged street, woodland, and the inside of Chas's home. Props and scenery were moved with ease by cast members to create each scene, a screen of trees brought forward for the woods, a table and chairs brought on stage for the inside of the house. Lighting was used to good effect, darkening for the scenes in the wood, then bright for the narration and the scenes in town. Sound effects combined with the lighting recreated the droning aeroplanes, explosions and gunfire. The tech was very well done.

As it turns out the chairman's apology was barely needed and any concerns the audience might have felt were quickly dispelled. It's a tall order to step into a role at short notice, and a taller one still for an adult to be asked to play a child. But, Peter Kelly not only stepped up he did so with style! Right from the start he was convincing as the character, capturing the cheekiness and ingenuousness of the boy. He got through the lengthy opening speeches without resorting to the script, and his assurance must have been hugely reassuring to the rest of the young cast - some of whom were on stage at this theatre for the first time. They did themselves and the theatre proud. If I had choose a man of the play - apart from Peter Kelly who was undoubtedly the hero of the hour - I would go with Lee Wilkins who gave a impassioned performance as the tough but vulnerable Glaswegian orphan, Clogger.

This is a great family drama, full of humour, some sadness, lots of adventure and it is a credit to the cast and team to have produced such a good show under difficult circumstances.

Tickets are just £8 and will be money well spent for two hours of entertainment and the play runs until Saturday 29th October.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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