The Graveyard Slot

Fri 12th October 2012

reviews

Alex Marrow

at 00:38 on 13th Oct 2012

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The Graveyard Slot portrays the archetypal, investigative mystery, with the classic motifs of bangs, twists and the sinister, old housekeeper. The play is performed in the style of a radio show with the characters reading from transcripts and using microphones for both talking and sound effects. The Wardrobe Theatre is a very small but atmospheric venue which leaves little room for manoeuvre. However, the cast of six used this to their advantage, demanding the audience’s attention by means of well-delivered lines and comic timing.

The play opens with dulcet piano, played by Sara Garrard, whose interludes and snippets were perfectly suited to the mood throughout the performance. Hanna-Marie Chidwick, who co-directed the show with Matthew Watt, also provided musical entertainment in the role of Frances Ecclehart. The play revolves around her friend, Janet De Bastian, and Janet’s Aunt Ida. Gemma Reynolds and Natalie Jones conversed in wonderfully posh British accents, which I felt was necessary, as the actors could not rely on their physical performance, due to the constricting nature of performance that stemmed from the radio script. Aunt Ida’s search for her late husband’s safe combination leads her to hire a mystic, Madame Izmama, performed by Katalin Gulyas, who was also responsible for many of the amusing sound effects. Some of these included replicating crunching gravel with cornflakes and tin foil mimicking the rain. Madame Izmama and the housekeeper, played by Miranda Bate, plot to steal the old woman’s fortune, with the aid of “actress” Nellie Fry, posing as an investigative journalist. Nicola Phibben, who was the stand out performer in my eyes, performed this and several other roles, successfully evoking laughter from the audience on many occasions. Her performance as Rufus the dog was impressively realistic. Fortunately, the villains were apprehended and the play concluded with slight resemblance to an episode of ‘Scooby Doo’.

There were a few faults to this production. It is a problem that arises from the difficulty of trying to perform a radio show and a play at the same time. The use of a script will always limit the scope of an actor’s ability, but was essential in expressing the fundamental concept of the production. The performances were good but the writing didn't lend itself to mind-blowing acting exhibitions. The production as a whole was pleasant and enjoyable, but it didn't leave any significant impact upon the audience.

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Anwen Jones

at 10:27 on 13th Oct 2012

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Described as celebrating the 'spookiest time of year with a feast of funny and fright' I was unsure of what to expect as I entered the Wardrobe Theatre, glass of wine in hand, to watch Hecate Theatre's new production The Graveyard Slot. My uncertainty yet intrigue only progressed when I viewed the intimate set and stage, consisting of two microphones, a couple of cobweb covered speakers, a table with an assortment of household objects and a dust-ridden keyboard. What was this show? A frightful, horror-filled play looking at the spooky things that happen near Halloween or a comedic take on things that go bump in the night? As Sara Garrard entered, took a seat at the keyboard and began skillfully running her fingers up and down the keys, the mysterious and spooky music which followed told me I was about to find out.

What ensued was a mish-mash of comical characterization, a tale of ‘unexpected happenings’, a bundled plot to steal a posh old aunt’s hidden inheritance and the odd advert for llama cigarettes. What should have been a typical light-hearted scary story – an old house with secret passageways, a suspicious maid whose voice was so low and labourious I first mistook her to be male, a gaggle of hysterical girls and a foreign mystic with an accent like something between Dracula and a German woman – in fact turned out to be an original and innovative performance. Praise should go to Matthew Watt and Hannah-Marie Chidwick for devising a piece which operated on two levels – that of a radio play, and then of a radio play being performed as an actual play. Admittedly, this complex set-up did sometimes hinder the acting ability of the cast because of the presence of online scripts, but as a whole the concept was daring and different, two aspects which should always be celebrated in theatre.

This is not to say that the cast was not a group of obviously competent actors. The facial expressions and subtle character insights demonstrated their ability to play a role within the radio play while also performing as an actor to the audience; this double-layered aspect is extremely difficult to achieve and, although each member of the cast managed to grasp this to some extent, the standout performer of the evening was undoubtedly Nicola Phibben whose turn of phrase and outstanding comic characterization in each of her roles left the audience laughing almost every time she spoke.

Admittedly, there were times within the production when energy and excitement seemed to ebb and flow but I can only put this down to the difficulty of the concept as well as a few minor issues with the script. What propelled the audience’s enjoyment instead, was the presence of the radio sound effects. Using tin foil for rain, two shoes for the uneven step of Rona the strange maid and the actors' own voices for the creak of a door added hilarity to the play that continued to till the end.

As a whole, The Graveyard Slot was an innovative piece of theatre with an obviously dedicated cast and director. Sara Garrard’s music added an intensity and beauty to the script and production giving a sense of mystery and uneasiness to the otherwise comedic performance. Perhaps the difficulty of staging a play about a radio play hindered some theatrical performance but I have no doubt that Hecate Theatre Company’s exceptional acting ability will once again flourish come their next production.

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