Bourne Footlights took me on a brief trip to Italy

Bourne Footlights ANL-150622-173125001
Bourne Footlights ANL-150622-173125001
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REVIEW: Enchanted April by Matthew Barber, presented by Bourne Footlights

An enjoyable evening was had by all at Bourne Footlights’ production of Enchanted April at the Bourne Corn Exchange. The society were stepping away from their all-out comedy roots, I understand, with this heart-warming story of four mismatched and unhappy ladies in 1920s London. The women rent a house in Italy and are healed by the magical setting and their new-found friendships.

Confident performances were given by all the main actresses (Neena Quinlan, Mary Hagger, Karen MacQuarrie, Lynn Kirk), with Lynn Kirk as Mrs Graves giving a particularly well characterised performance as a woman much older than her own years. The cast all had to show progression and transformation and this was pleasingly done, although I would have liked to see Lotty (played by Neena Quinlan) soften slightly her brash enthusiasm towards the end of the play. Neena certainly had her work cut out to hold the play together, and she handled the huge volume of lines comfortably.

Costanza (Laura Harwood) and Frederick (Martin Tyrell) in particular showed a pleasingly natural stage presence. Laura almost stole the show with her effective characterisation and convincing Italian accent. Ian Gibbs, playing Mellersh, is clearly a local favourite and his comic business with a towel was well received. Although I found him a little flamboyant at first, he showed an endearing change of character as the play progressed, from uptight solicitor to loving husband. Nigel Stacey as Mr Wilding provided a good counterpoint to the women’s husbands, and created a gentle and charming persona.

The cast had presumably been directed to be at the front of the stage and to face the audience for good portions; while some of this was clearly specified in the script, at other times I felt it detracted from the characters’ interaction. The cast enjoy good voices and characters and could have been encouraged to exploit the space more fully, achieving a more naturalistic performance style in keeping with the dialogue.

The set was well imagined and crafted, and there was a simple but extremely effective transition from London to Italy. The use of different tablecloths to define various interiors was a nice touch, with the cloths chosen seeming to add to our impression of the different characters and underline the ladies’ downtrodden, housewifely personas. Although some scene changes were a little laboured, the transition to a train carriage was well handled and the sound and lighting team came into their own here. The effects supported the performers very well throughout and Mark Thomas’ first-time lighting design was particularly effective. It is rare to see costumes so carefully thought out, and I praise the team for reinforcing the characters’ emotional changes through their clothing.

My party mostly enjoyed the novel seating arrangements which added to the relaxed theme of the show, and the Footlights have a wonderfully warm and welcoming front of house team – something so often neglected. It is perhaps a tradition of the Footlights to thank the director and crew at the end of each performance, but I would have preferred this to be shelved. Having been caught up in the story and the characters, it rather spoiled the illusion to have the cast come out of character to give a speech, and to see the director appear on stage. I wanted to revel in the illusion the show created and enjoy the warm feeling of the ending right until the lights came up.

I very much enjoyed this brief trip to Italy and look forward to seeing more of the Footlights’ work in future. At £8 a head, it’s the best value holiday you’ll get all year!