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Review in the Farnham Herald
3-2-1 Lift-off for new Tilbourne Players
Not so long ago there were three very active local village amateur dramatic societies serving up a rich variety of plays and shows to their dedicated followers. Sadly, both the Bourne Players and the Boundary Players in Rowledge suddenly found themselves virtually homeless because of significant changes to the management of their village hall homes. Happily, Tilford Players were still firmly established in their village hall and came to an ‘accomodation’ with The Bourne Players that led to the launch of the new Tilbourne Players. And at least the late, lamented Boundary Players were able to make a gesture of goodwill by donating its remaining funds to the new company.
To celebrate the birth of the new venture the company invited its audience to Supper Theatre - watch a play and enjoy supper afterwards. It was a great success.
Faced with the time constraints of this format, director Ian Wilson-Soppitt cleverly chose to present Terence Rattigan’s classic British, mid-twentieth century one-act play, The Browning Version. The great strength and enduring pleasure of this play is that, however often you see it (and many in the audience would have seen it many times) it deals in raw experiences and emotions of love and hate, truth and lies, trust and betrayal but it ends on an uplifting high note of redemption and hope. And I also felt that the director and Stephen Warrington had refreshed some of the traditional interpretations of the leading role of Andrew Crocker-Harris, a teacher of Classics in a minor public school for boys.
There was a welcome freshness too, in those all-important opening minutes of a play when the audience can be won or lost. Young Joe Hyland-Deeson entered solo and silent and immediately captured the audience with an assured performance as young Taplow, the boy who touchingly presents the Browning Version of The Agamemnon of Aeschylus to the much maligned teacher as a leaving gift.
I imagine his confidence owed a great deal to the reassuring presence of Nigel Dams on stage with him. As Frank Hunter, a colleague of Crocker-Harris and occasional lover of Crocker-Harris’ wife, he played the part in an engagingly relaxed and natural style.
Noel Thompson can always be relied upon to get under the skin of his characters and he presented a convincing cameo of the devious, double-dealing headmaster. And Richard Amero and Sarah Owens appeared briefly as the new teacher and his wife, blissfully unaware of what might await them.
But, of course, at the heart of the play is the inevitable conflict that has arisen between an ageing, unwell and unworldly academic whose head is mostly in the clouds above Mount Olympus and his younger, attractive wife whose social ambitions and sexual appetites are not being satisfied.
Sara Wilson-Soppitt is an accomplished actress with considerable stage presence. She was cold and cruelly calculating in her attacks on her husband’s lack of attention to her as well as his lack of success as a teacher but she also conveyed the pathos of her rejection by Frank.
Finally, many of the critical reviews of the play over the years have described the character of Andrew Crocker-Harris as bitter and hated. That is certainly not how it was played by Stephen Warrington. His Crocker-Harris was a much warmer man. Of course he neglects his wife but not from spite. Yes he berates his pupils but only because he want to share his love of the classics with them.
Stephen Warrington’s Crocker-Harris starts as a querulous and pedantic academic only just in touch with the real world but ends with an almost Pauline conversion from a man with no future to a man with a mission.
Comments received so far:
"... thoroughly enjoyed Friday night’s Show and supper, and surprised how many folk we recognised. The actors and director did much more with the script than just deliver blocks of words and move about the stage. Together they managed to find unique and distinctive characters and acted them with tremendous spirit and confidence.
Ian explains in the programme how you came to do Browning and it is a minor miracle you put this together in just weeks."
"We were totally immersed and enjoyed it so much! It was exciting, sensitive, unpredictable and full of realism but beatifully dramatized. A real treat!"
"We couldn't believe the level of acting, production, costumes - everything in fact was so good."