The Boxford Masques - Joe Soap's Masquerade
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The Boxford Masques - Joe Soap's Masquerade

30th July to 3rd August 2014.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Highs and lows in wartime Welford

Razzmatazz and sadness of Joe Soap's Masquerade – this year's Boxford Masque

The Boxford Masques: Joe Soap's Masquerade, at Welford Park, from Wednesday, July 30, to Sunday, August 3

Organising and putting on a Boxford Masque is not easy, especially since this year's Joe Soap's Masquerade required a giant you-can-fire-people-from-me cannon and a circus tent. This proved, however, no problem to the dedicated team who work, unpaid, to continue the tradition.

Last Wednesday, on a sunny evening, the audience gathered in front of elegant Welford Park to enjoy this superbly costumed masque, set at the end of the First World War. Written by Geraldine McCaughrean, the story is of three deserters who seek shelter in the barn and who, despite the risk of discovery, help the staff to put on a circus to celebrate the coming of peace.

Charlotte Peake (ably played by Lizzie Lewis) has instructed her staff, led by Tails the butler (Simon Fenton, a dead ringer for Downton Abbey's Carson) to use the circus tent left in the barn by English showman and circus proprietor Lord George Sanger to put on a show. The snag is that no one has any talents. Enter three deserters, Joe Soper (Jon Harding), Archie (Peter Estdale) whose girlfriend Nancy (sweet-voiced Ella Wilson) is a housemaid and Shelly (Nick Harris heartbreakingly believable as a shell-shocked young soldier).

A band of young lads and moppets in holey black tights throw themselves with gusto into making the circus happen, organised by Joe, and the staff catch their enthusiasm, but reality comes when the deserters' officer Howe (Joe Hornsby) recognises the men.

As well as the razzmatazz, there is sadness, for Charlotte's godson and Mary's (Jackie Shaw) son are missing. Mary's younger son (Rory Robertson-Shaw giving a. moving performance) reads a letter he has received from his brother.

Throughout, the music written by Paul Kissaun with words by Geraldine McCaughrean, sets the atmosphere from the jolly opening number to Peter Estdale's bewildered, poignant singing of his heart, having turned to dust in the war. Difficulties with microphones in the first half particularly affected Beulah Fenton (Betty the Post) but there were no problems in the second half – she sang superbly

So many people worked hard – Deborah Camp as choreographer, Dave Stephens as deputy MD leading the musicians and director Ade Morris doing a magnificent job in drawing everything together in an evening that was a mix of humour and terrible sadness.

The star of the show? Well, there was the redoubtable Annabel Bailey as Britannia, but the final accolade must go to that glorious, tumbling, laughing, enthusiastic bunch of children.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN